Financial tips for travelers to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos

Last Updated on 9 May, 2024 by admin

Traveling in Southeast Asia presents a mosaic of cultural experiences, and understanding the local currencies is crucial for any traveler. Currency knowledge not only helps in managing your finances efficiently but also enriches your interaction with the local markets and communities. This article focuses on the financial aspects of traveling in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, providing travelers with essential insights into the currencies, banking services, and practical tips to navigate the financial landscape of these countries.

Vietnam’s Currency and Financial Tips for Travelers

Overview of Vietnamese Dong (VND)

The Vietnamese dong (VND) is the official currency of Vietnam, characterized by its non-convertibility on the international market. As of the latest updates, the dong trades at approximately 29,000 VND to 1 British Pound (GBP) and 16,000 VND to 1 US Dollar (USD). The currency is issued in various denominations with the largest commonly used note being the 500,000 VND bill. This note is roughly equivalent to 17.50 GBP or 31.50 USD. While these large denominations may seem cumbersome, they are a regular part of transactions within the country.

Using Money in Vietnam

Vietnam’s economic landscapes include a wide acceptance of various forms of currency. In urban areas and tourist centers, the US dollar is commonly accepted in many shops, restaurants, and hotels. However, local street vendors, cyclo (rickshaw) drivers, and small markets predominantly deal in dong, necessitating tourists to carry local currency. Coins, though recently introduced for low-value transactions, remain unpopular compared to notes.

Challenges and Tips for Currency Conversion

Navigating the exchange rates and conversion processes can be daunting for many travelers. It is advisable to exchange some money into dong upon arrival, either at official currency exchange counters in airports or at licensed gold shops, which often offer competitive rates. Being familiar with the exchange rate is critical, especially when dealing in larger denominations to avoid overpayment. Using dong simplifies transactions and helps tourists avoid the high prices often charged to foreign travelers unfamiliar with the system.

Banking Services

In Vietnam, ATMs are widely available in cities, and they accept major international credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard. For more extensive travel away from urban centers, it is prudent to carry cash as ATMs may be scarce. Travelers’ cheques, while still accepted, are becoming less popular and can generally be exchanged in banks for a fee.

Understanding Cambodia’s Currency System

Overview of Cambodian Riel (KHR)

The Cambodian Riel (KHR) is the national currency of Cambodia, yet it is also non-convertible on international markets. The Riel trades at around 7,500 KHR to 1 British Pound (GBP) and 4,100 KHR to 1 US Dollar (USD). While this might make the Riel seem undervalued, it plays a crucial role in everyday transactions throughout the country, particularly in rural areas and less touristy locations.

The Role of US Dollars in Cambodia

Interestingly, the US Dollar serves almost as a second official currency in many parts of Cambodia, especially in cities and major tourist destinations. This dual currency system allows for a unique flexibility in transactions. In places like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, prices in markets, hotels, and restaurants are often quoted in USD, simplifying purchases for tourists who can avoid the frequent currency conversions. However, it’s important for travelers to carry small denominations of USD, as change might be given in Riel, and large bills can be hard to break.

Financial Infrastructure

The financial infrastructure in Cambodia has been evolving rapidly. The Australian ANZ Bank and a local Cambodian bank have partnered to form the ANZ Royal Bank, introducing the country’s first international ATMs. These ATMs can be found in major cities and are compatible with international banking networks, offering services in both KHR and USD. Despite these advancements, the spread of ATMs is still limited to larger cities, with very few facilities available in rural areas. Travelers venturing beyond urban centers should plan accordingly and ensure they have sufficient cash in both currencies.

Currency Exchange and Tips

Currency exchange is widely accessible in Cambodia. Tourists can exchange their home currencies for Riel or US Dollars at the airport, banks, and dedicated currency exchange outlets. The rates are generally favorable, and many of these places offer services without added commissions. For those carrying travelers’ cheques, particularly in USD, these can be easily converted into cash in major cities. However, travelers should be aware that using credit cards might attract high transaction fees and are not as widely accepted as cash or checks.

The Currency of Laos: Laotian Kip (LAK)

Overview of Laotian Kip

The Laotian Kip (LAK) is the official currency of Laos and, like its neighbors, is non-convertible on the international market. Currently, the Kip is trading at around 19,000 LAK to 1 British Pound (GBP) and 10,500 LAK to 1 US Dollar (USD). While these figures suggest high numbers, the actual value handled in everyday transactions can seem inflated due to the currency’s low individual unit value. Banknotes in Laos commonly range from small denominations up to the largest commonly used bill, 100,000 LAK.

3.2 Usage of Foreign Currencies in Laos

In Laos, the acceptance of foreign currencies such as the US Dollar and the Thai Baht is fairly widespread, particularly in tourist-frequented areas and major cities. However, in more rural or remote areas, Kip is predominantly the only currency accepted. Travelers should be prepared to handle transactions in Kip to avoid confusion or payment issues. It’s also advisable for travelers to keep a range of denominations in Kip for smaller everyday expenses where using larger foreign currency bills would be impractical.

Banking and Financial Transactions

Laos’s banking system is less developed compared to its neighbors. ATMs are relatively new and are not as widespread, although the number is gradually increasing in urban areas. Most ATMs dispense Kip and a few might offer US Dollars. The acceptance of credit cards is still very limited to larger hotels, restaurants, and some stores in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. As in other parts of Southeast Asia, cash is king in Laos, and having enough cash on hand is essential.

Practical Financial Tips for Travelers in Laos

Navigating Laos financially requires a bit of preparation:

  • Cash Preparation: Ensure to have enough cash in both Kip and US Dollars before traveling to rural areas.
  • Currency Exchange: Exchange rates in Laos may vary significantly between locations, so it’s advisable to exchange some money at reputable banks or hotel exchange services where rates are more stable.
  • Understand the Exchange Rates: Familiarize yourself with the current exchange rates to manage your spending and avoid being overcharged.
  • Smaller Denominations: Carry smaller denominations of Kip for everyday purchases, as making change for large notes can often be challenging in smaller shops or rural areas.


Traveling through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos offers an enriching experience filled with diverse cultures, stunning landscapes, and historical insights. Understanding and navigating the currency systems in these countries are crucial for a smooth travel experience. By preparing ahead with the right currencies, knowledge of where and how to exchange money, and handling financial transactions wisely, travelers can ensure they enjoy their journey without monetary hassles.

For the latest updates on currency exchange rates and more detailed financial advice for each country, travelers are encouraged to check financial news sites, use currency conversion tools like, and consult travel forums for up-to-date traveler experiences.

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