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Jul 05

A couple of quick notes

Although the situation concerning the availability of net access has changed dramatically in the last five years, it is still somewhat fiddly to get photos online. Internet cafes, even in Laos, are broadband connected, and time is charged out at 100 kip a minute (about A$1.10/hour). Nonetheless, uploading pictures is difficult. This is not necessarily because there is a lack of facilities for getting your files off the camera, but because it takes time to firstly sort through the hundred or so photos taken each day for the small handful that are worth posting, then to post-process the photos, and then to upload them and link them. Post-processing is time-consuming – you can’t just upload a bunch of 6 megapixel images weighing 2 to 3 megabytes each. You need to resize them, then compress them suitably with jpeg compression (I use around 7 on the Photoshop scale). Then there’s cropping and retouching work that can be done. Uploading them takes a while as well – broadband here can be unreliable. So, rest assured, I have photos, but you will have to wait a while to see them.

Currency in Laos
Laos is one of those countries, like Italy (pre-Euro) and Indonesia, whose currency comes with an extra two or three zeroes tacked on the end for good measure. (Okay, that’s being flippant for countries whose economies have gone through major turmoil in past decades.) The range of Lao banknotes is remarkably small, coming in 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000 and 20000 kip denominations. There does’t seem to be any coinage. While the currency conversion from A$ to Kip is somewhat fiddly, conversion from US$ to Kip is a kindly 1 to 10,000. So, their largest banknote is worth US$2.

On our first day, going to the bank, I handed the teller two US notes totalling $30 and received a fistful of cash in return. With so many banknotes and so many zeroes floating around me, I felt momentarily “rich”. That was until I saw the Lao woman next to me struggling to cram bricks, almost as big as cinderblocks, of 20000 kip notes into a duffel bag that would put a Hollywood gangster’s money briefcase to shame. In order to avoid such silliness, and the death of forests whenever the local Lao decide to withdraw cash to purchase land, the economy has adapted such that virtually all vendors accept payment in Thai Baht or US Dollars, with change given in Kip, all calculated with the swiftness of routine. This system of three currencies is officially illegal, but of course the practicality of things demand it.

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