Spending Lotsa Money!

While traveling, I was the only one between the two of us that had an ATM card (Charles Schwab) that reimbursed ATM fees (usually around $5/visit) and a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (Chase Marriot). This was vital for us, and resulted in David coining a song that went something like this “Spending lotsa money, lotsa Jenny money!”. Currency absolutely fascinates me. To get an idea of the currency in each country, see below.


Currency: Dollar (doll-ar)
Description: Smaller sized paper/polymer bill, purple
Division: One dollar is divided into 100 cents. Common bills are $2, $5, $10, $50, $100 & $1,000. Coins are 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, $1
What S$2 can buy in Singapore: 2 bottles of water, 2 cans of coke, 1-2 rides on the metro, an ice cream cone, 1-2 mango lassi
Approximate Value of S$2 in USD:  $1.59

Exchange Rate: USD$1 = S$1.26


The Thai baht was our favorite currency!

Currency: Baht (bot)

Description: Paper bill, green, with picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also called King Rama IX), the longest serving monarch in the world (65 years). Reverse side: more pictures of king, bridge in Bangkok.

Division: One baht is divided into 100 satang, which are infrequently used. Common bills are ฿20, ฿50, ฿100, ฿500, ฿1000. Common coins are 50 satang, ฿1, ฿2, ฿5, ฿10

What ฿20 can buy in Thailand: 12 minutes of a 1 hour foor massage, 4 packs of 3 cookie Chips Ahoy imitation cookies, 4 bottles of water, 3 eggs, 10 pack of oreos, bowl of cooked rice, can of soda, 2 small change purses, shared taxi (songtao) ride across town

Approximate Value of ฿20 in USD: $.64
Exchange Rate: USD$1 = 30 baht


The number amount was often hard to find on Kip, resulting in lots of confusion on how much a bill was worth.
Currency: Kip (though U.S. dollars and Thai baht are also accepted)

Description: Longer paper bill, ₭1000 bill is blue with picture of cows (agriculture), 3 traditional women, and a temple.

Division: 1 kip is the smallest amount. Common bills are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 kip. There are no coins used.

What ₭1000 can buy: 2/3 of a post card, 3 minutes of internet use at a cafe (i.e. it can’t buy much of anything)

Approximate Value of ₭1000 in USD: $.12

Exchange Rate: USD$1 = 8000 kip


Using two currencies at once was a little crazy!

Currency: Riel (real), US dollars (Thai baht also accepted)
Description: Small paper bill, purple/brown/green, picture of school on one side, picture of Independence Monument on the other side.
Division: US dollars in all sizes available. Also riel bills are 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000. Coins are not used.

What 100 riels can buy: nothing
Approximate Value of 100 riels in USD: 2.5 cents
Exchange Rate: USD$1 =  4000 riel

Note: The second (current) riel currency went into circulation in 1980, after the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975-1980, which abolished money. The first riel currency existed from 1953-1975.  In rural areas the riel is used for virtually all purchases, large and small. The United States dollar is also used particularly in urban Cambodia and tourist areas. In these areas, US dollars are the main currency. ATMs only give out US dollars, and Cambodian riel is only used a change since American coins are not in circulation there.


Looking at all this currency stuff after being back in the states, it seems so confusing and exchange rates so crazy (thousands of a currency as worth a dollar?!). But, when you’re out there, you pretty much stop thinking in dollars, and in a day or two, spending ₭135,000 kip for one night at a guesthouse seems normal. You start to think in terms of the currency, and the thousands become irrelevant. You don’t always translate back to U.S. dollars, you just begin to recognize that ฿150 is a bad price for mango sticky rice because you paid ฿20 for it at the market the night before!

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