As of Jan 11th 2017 the currency exchange rate is 8206 Lao kip to 1 USD. Just when I finally had a good grasp on the dong (zing) along comes the kip. Laos seems to run on a 8000 to 1 rate, so it’s better to use kip (not that you’ll have much of a choice). The unfortunate thing about Lao currency is that the denominations are so small you have no choice but to walk around with a pretty big wad of cash. The largest note is 50,000, making it worth just a little over 6 USD, so if you pull out the max at an ATM, usually 1.5 million, you will receive 182 USD in hopefully a wad of thirty 50,000 kip notes or if you’re unlucky, seventy-five 20,000 kip notes. Often times vendors had a difficult time breaking the 50k notes, so you had to know when and where to use your big money. You really had to pay attention, as the bills were very similar (all had the same dude) and the amounts were only written in English numerals in one place on each bill. That, and if you didn’t pay attention, there were several people willing to give themselves a ‘tip’ if you didn’t look like you knew what you were giving them. Twice, I was given several small bills as change and they would leave out a 2,000 note; I wasn’t ready to put up a stink over a quarter, and I think they knew that, but it was just annoying.
The national dish of Lao is larb, there are a few variations, but the main idea is a meat with herbs and mint served with sticky rice. Again, not a food critic, but neither McKayla nor I were impressed with the delicious sounding larb, it was pretty bland. Lao loves to grill, kebabs were served at a few big gatherings and you’d often smell meat grilling nearly anywhere there were people. Most food, though, seemed to be borrowed from other countries. Thailand was often just across the Mekong so there were several good Thai dishes, and as usual, in SE Asia, you could always find a sandwich on a baguette if you weren’t feeling like eating local. The street food carts in Vang Vieng were especially good when it came to making a variety of sandwiches or pancakes on the cheap. I was surprised by the number of Indian restaurants; they had a heavy showing in Vientiane and even a few other towns. In most all other restaurants we’ve been to around the region the local dishes usually had their own section of the menu, but that wasn’t the case for most of Lao. I think the craziest thing we ate other than the larb was probably some very interesting street food that involved a crisp pancake stuffed with bits of hot dogs and veggies (as mentioned in the Vientiane post). Thankfully, we weren’t in Lao for the food, and though it was mostly basic, we didn’t have many bad meals.