The kip is the national currency of Laos P.D.R
. As of this writing, the exchange rate is about 10,200 kip to one U.S. dollar
The kip currently comes in seven different denominations:
- 100 kip a small note with green ink, the same basic shape as a U.S. dollar, but it looks as if it got shrunk in the wash
The front shows a farming scene. A woman in the foreground holds a scythe and an armful of just-cut rice. There's also a man on a small tractor, two women standing at a table, and some sort of rice de-husker thing. In the background is Vientiane (the capital of Lao) showing palm trees, Pha That Luang (the most important monument in Laos), a few houses on short stilts, a wat, a field of rice, and a big power line tower. In the upper right-hand corner is the circular Lao seal which is a collage of a hydro-electric dam, power lines, a forest of trees, rice fields, and a highway all surrounded by stalks (stalks?) of rice and one large gear.
The reverse (the back) show two trucks on a bridge spanning a river, two long boats passing beneath, a factory or something with four large silos, and a soldier with a rifle slung over his right shoulder.
Note: This and the 500 kip note are the only ones currently circulating that show the old Lao seal replete with it's now-removed star and hammer-and-sickle. The front of the note shows "100" in Lao, the "1" looking like a lazy "9"*; the reverse shows the "100" in Arabic numeralsthat is, it looks like "100". The 100 kip note isn't seen much anymore as they're only worth about a cent. The post office seems to still use them though; I bought some dinosaur stamps for my nephew and got three crisp 100s in change so I guess they're still printing them.
- 500 kip a small note with burgundy-colored ink
The front shows a country scene with tractors busy doing farming stuff, electrical towers passing overhead, a river snaking through the land, and three men working on a pipe on what I believe must be a hydro-electric dam.
The reverse shows eight women in the Pakse area in southern Lao picking coffee beans, woven baskets slung over their shoulders. The women all wear the traditional Lao skirts although the one-color ink on the note doesn't do them justicein person Lao skirts are simple, yet classically beautiful in deep blues, purples, burgundies.
Note: Like the 100, it has the old Lao seal. The front shows "500" in Lao, the "5" looking like a cool meandering ampersand*; the reverse shows the "500" in Arabic numerals.
- 1000 kip a beautiful note with deep green and blue inkseasily my favorite of the Lao currency
Okay, a quick aside...
Money can be so damn boring... blah blah blah, this is our leader, this is a building, this is the Land of Dairy Queenwhatever. Look at the Euro, all that work and hubbub and for what? A bunch of boring, no-soul-having, ugly-ass notes. Anyway...
The 1000 kip note is beautiful for two reasons. First, the colorsa nice balance of blues and greens. Second, and more importantly, because it shows some of the real people of Lao. On the front three women stand almost shoulder to shoulder in their respective tradional hilltribe dress. From the left to the right they are from the Hmong, Lao Loum (who live in the lowlands), and Lao Theung (who live in the lower mountain areas) tribes. In the background is Pha That Luang. The new Lao seal is tucked in a corner; the star and hammer-and-sickle being replaced by a mini Pha That Luang.
The reverse shows eight buffalo and two cows grazing in a field adjacent to a rice field. As on the 500, the denomination on the 1000 is shown in Lao on the front and in Arabic on the back.
Note: the 1000 is the first kip note to start including one of those "Hey, don't go counterfeiting me!" vertical security strips as part of the paper.
- 2000 kip an attractive mostly blue inked note with a bit of burgundy
The front shows a picture of Kaysone Phomvihan, the now-deceased (November 1992) former president of Lao. In the background is a straight-on shot of Pha That Luang.
The reverse shows a hydro-electric dam.
Note: This is the first of the "new" notes which all seem to share the same look, just different colors and a slightly different layout. I wouldn't call these notes ugly, they're not. But they are made a bit, well, ordinary by their same-ness. These new notes also start showing the denomination in both Lao and Arabic on each side. Holding the 2000 kip note up to a lightsource will reveal a hidden image of Mr. Phomvihan.
- 5000 kip a mostly burgundy note that is almost identical to the 2000 kip note
Again, the front shows Kaysone Phomvihan and Pha That Luang in the background. The main difference is that the colors are reversed from the 2000 kip note. Also, the picture of Pha That Luang is not quite a straight-on view.
The reverse shows a cement factory in Vang Viengwait a minute! Cement factory!? I change my mind, this is my favorite note! The sheer natural beauty! Vang Vieng actually has scores of caves and beautiful mountain cliffs that rise straight out of the ground. Why these aren't on the back are anyone's guess.
Note: holding the note up to a lightsource will reveal a hidden image of Pha That Luang.
And the recently introduced (Q2 of 2002) and most welcome
- 10,000 kip a mostly blue inked note with a brand-spanking new, yet quite similar, design
Ah, a 10,000 kip note, that's betterless notes to carry around; don't have to break out the "I-just-won-big-at-the-track" roll of cash to pay for your room at the guest house.
The front of the 10,000 kip note takes the look of the 2000 and 5000 notes and just plays with them a little. Kaysone Phomvihan is now much biggerwhy, he's growing like a weed!and is now more towards the center of the note. In the background is the same view of Pha That Luang that appears on the 5000 kip note.
On the reverse is a picture of a modern highway bridge spanning a river (although it doesn't look wide enough to be the Mekong).
Note: holding the 10,000 note up to a lighthouse will reveal a hidden image of Kaysone Part V: the Reckoning.
- 20,000 kip almost identical to the 10,000if the 10,000 were Superman, the 20,000 would be Bizarro
Even better, 20,000 kip all in one notenice! The 20,000 is Mary-Kate and Ashley close to the 10,000 note. The biggest difference, besides being mostly red and orangish/brown, is that Pha That Luang is replaced by Hor Pra Koew, a beautiful building in the tradional Lao/Thai style with that cool looking layered roof with the nagas on the ends. It's, well, a bit bright and reminds me of when we used to get proofs back from the printer and the colors were all wrong.
The reverse shows another hydro-electric dam on a rather serene little river. On it's banks lay fields and a hill and forest in the background. The forest and one of the fields are printed in green ink, which against the red ink would make for a nice Christmas feel... if not for the orangish/brown ink which leaves it instead looking a bit ugly. But hey, it's one note that takes the space of four 5000s!
Note: holding the 20,000 note up to a Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring™ will reveal a hidden image of Kaysone Phomvihan Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine!.
There are no longer any kip coins in circulation.
* - you can see a Lao 1 and 5 (as well as a bunch of other Lao numbers/letters) at
Notes: There used to be 10, 20, and 50 kip coins, as well as 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 kip notesthey were wee small, like a bookmark cut in half. Back in late 1999 the kip was about 3,500 to the dollar but went to about 9,000 to the dollar in just the space of a few weeks. Yikes! You can see a tiny image of a 1000 kip note at
Ho-hum personal anecdote: I was in Phonsavan after having taken in the strange and mysterious Plain of Jars and was trying to purchase a flight on Lao Aviation to Luang Prabang. Anyway, I converted the necessary amount of dollars into a huge roll of 5000 kip notesthe largest denomination at the time (all rolled up they were about the thickness of a can of soda if memory serves) and presented them to the man at the airport. "No kip" he said, "only dollars.". Ha HA! said I.
Gritchka points out that Lao used to have the "at" as well. One hundred of them made up one kip. Yeah, the at is long gone.
Want to see what a 1000 Lao kip note looks like in person? Just ask and I'll send one your way!