Malaysia’s currency is the Malaysian ringgit, which is pronounced rin-gay and written as RM. There are 100 sen in one ringgit, which is also often referred to as a dollar. Notes come in RM1, RM2, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100 notes, while the available coins are 1 sen, 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen and 50 sen.
Generally speaking, the cost of living in Malaysia in higher than in many Asian countries, especially Thailand and Laos, although it is cheaper than is Indonesian and significantly less than in western countries. Those on a tight budget should be able to spend just $20 a day, although this will only buy the absolute basics and $35 a day will allow you a few small luxuries. Those who can afford to spend $150 each day will be able to stay in some of the country’s top hotels and dine in style, while for those with a real taste for luxury $275 a day should be more than enough to experience the best of Malaysia.
ATMs are abundant in all Malaysian cities, especially in shopping areas. The most reliable machines are attached to banks and it is probably best to stick to these as ATM machines to occasionally swallow cards.
Travellers’ Cheques and Credit Cards
Most major credit cards are generally accepted in top of the range hotels, shops and restaurants throughout Malaysia. Check for surcharges added to your bill before you pay as these are illegal. Travellers’ cheques in pounds sterling or US Dollars can be cashed in most banks and even some shops.
Changing Your Money
It is illegal to carry more than RM1000 into or out of Malaysia, so most of your money will need to be changed within the country. Although there are a large number of banks located around Malaysia with money changing facilities, the best deals are found at licensed moneychangers’ kiosks. These kiosks pop up all over Malaysia and tend to stay open until about 6pm.
The official currency of Laos is the Laos kip (LAK), which comes in 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 kip notes. Although this is the country’s only official currency, Thai Baht and US Dollars are also accepted in many places, especially tourist areas, which can make life easier if you are travelling to Laos from Thailand. You will need a ready supply of kip notes for use in smaller towns and villages as well as for small purchases.
Because it is such a poor country, the cost of visiting Laos is low, even compared to other Asian countries. Accommodation and transport are cheap and most people should be able to get by comfortably on $15 USD per day, although you can spend a lot more if you choose to eat and sleep in exclusive hotels. If you need to save money, it is possible to spend as little as $10 USD per day by eating at the local markets and staying in the cheapest hotels or guesthouses.
Make sure you bring a good supply of cash and traveller’s cheques with you as most places don’t accept credit cards and finding a cash machine can be difficult.
Changing your Money
There are banks located in all main towns and these can exchange all major currencies. The best rates can be found in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, where competition is higher than the rest of the country.
Traveller’s cheques can be cashed in exchange bureaus and banks, which can be found all over Laos and traveller’s cheques in US Dollars, are preferred.
You cannot exchange kip outside of Laos, so make sure you convert your cash before leaving the country.
Cash machines have only recently made their way into Laos, and even now they can only really be found in Vientiane. Unfortunately, even in Vientiane the number to ATM machines are limited and they often break down. Also be aware that there is a limit to how much you can draw out at a time and there are quite hefty charges for doing so. To avoid potential problems it is best to make sure you draw enough money for your trip before entering Laos or take traveller’s cheques as these can be cashed in most of the tourist areas.
Tipping is not common practice is Laos and will not be expected of you. However, generosity will always be appreciated, especially as the average salary is very low.
Cambodia has its own currency, which is known as the riel and comes in denominations of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 riel notes. However, visitors are most likely to come across the 500 and 1,000 riel notes, while changing 50,000 and 100,000 riel notes can be rather tricky and should be done at up market hotels as well as fancy restaurants and banks.
In addition to the riel, US$ are also widely accepted throughout Cambodia, and the pricing for hotel rooms and often food and other items in tourist areas tends to be quoted in riel. Travellers who have just come from Thailand will also be able to spend any leftover Baht in areas close to the Thai/Cambodian borders. It is a good idea to carry a selection of US$ and riel notes and take good care of them as notes that are torn and crumpled will usually be rejected.
While the cost of visiting Cambodia is cheap by Western standards, it is quite a bit more expensive than in the neighbouring nations of Laos and Thailand. The biggest costs here are accommodation and transport, although both can be done cheaply by those who are on a shoestring budget. By cutting back to the absolute necessities it is possible to send just US$10 a day, while those who want a few little luxuries such as beer should allow themselves US$25. A budget of US$100 a day offers access to some of the country’s best hotels and restaurants, while the sky is the limit for those who can afford to spend US$200 per day.
Changing your money
Banks can be found in all major tourist areas of Cambodia and while these establishments offer to change currency, local moneychangers generally offer much better rates. Changing riel into other currencies can be rather tricky and costly, so it is best to avoid changing large amounts of cash unless you really need to.
The number of ATMs in Cambodia is on the rise and although there are incidents of cards being swallowed, this is becoming less common. ATMs usually accept just MasterCard and Visa and dispense cash in US$.
Travellers’ cheques and credit cards
Traveller’s cheques and credit cards can usually be used in up market hotels and banks in most tourist areas of the country. However, changing travellers’ cheques elsewhere can be difficult, and it is best stockpile some cash before heading out into the countryside.
Although tipping is not expected it can make a big difference as wages are extremely low and even a tip of $2 might almost double the waiter or waitress’ wages.
The currency used in Thailand is the Baht. Baht notes come in denominations of 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (brown). All notes feature pictures of the current king, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and you must be careful when handling the notes not to tear them as it is an offence to defile his image. Coins are large 10 Baht coins, 5 Baht, 2 Baht and 1 Baht. The two Baht and 1 Baht coins look very similar, although the 2 Baht coins are slightly bigger and have a picture of The Golden Mount on the back.
Satang coins are much smaller and bronze coloured. There are 100 satang in one Baht and these coins are available in 25-satang and 50-satang pieces.
Compared to the West, Thailand is actually a very inexpensive country for visitors. If you are willing to dine at small street stands or markets, you can eat a good meal for less than 50 Baht. Public transport is very cheap too, as are clothes and accessories.
For those travelling on a tight budget, 500.00 Baht a day should be enough anywhere in Thailand. If you want to stay in comfortable hotels and eat at restaurants, you should increase your budget to around 600.00 – 1000.00 Baht a day outside Bangkok and major tourist hot spots such as Phuket, where you can expect to pay around double.
For those with deep pockets, there is no end to the luxury that you can find in Bangkok and key tourist destination. Bangkok boasts some excellent dining options, top of the range hotels and shopping opportunities.
Changing Your Money
Banks or legal money-changers offer the best rates. ATMs that accept Visa and other credit cards are easy to find throughout Thailand, although an obvious exception is small villages to the north of Thailand. Many exchange booths will give you a cash advance on your credit card.
When buying Baht, US dollars are the most eagerly accepted currency and it is a good idea to have a supply of travellers’ cheques as they receive a better rate than cash. British pounds are the next-best alternative. Credit cards are becoming increasingly acceptable in shops, hotels and restaurants, with Visa being the most useful, followed by MasterCard.
Pad thai on the street: 40 Baht
Bottled water: 10-12 Baht
Bus fare: 6-16 Baht
Small Singha beer: 70-100 Baht
Souvenir t-shirt: 200-300 Baht
Cinema tickets: 120-170 Baht +
Average Room Prices Baht:
Budget: 130 (limited number) -600 Baht
Mid: 600-1500 Baht
High: 1500+ Baht
Tipping is not generally expected in Thailand, although change is often left at the end of a large, expensive meal. However, most Thais will generally only leave a token tip of 20 baht or so.
There is often a 10% service charge will be added to your bill at many top class restaurants and in this case tipping is not expected.
OK fellow travelers, you have decided on a holiday to Thailand. You have prepared yourself by buying books and looking at travel brochures. Spoken to your friends who have been there before, and you are ready to experience all that is on offer. Well now I will let you know the things that you don’t know.
This report is generalities because your age, sex, budget, mode of transport and destination are unknown. Therefore for this episode we will concentrate on Bangkok and feature other destinations later. Is that OK? We also assume that you are flying in to Bangkok.
As you approach and prepare for touch down, you can see the size of Bangkok from the window. But only night flights can heighten the sense of excitement as you stare at the fairy lights of the city, which disappear into the distance. Bangkok is immense and not to be taken as a sleepy backwater. After you disembark it is easy to follow the directions or just follow the other passengers to the immigration area where they check your passports, visas etc.
Depending on the time of arrival the duty free shops may be open as well as cafes and retail shops. Toilet and shower facilities are available for your convenience, and very important, there are Automatic Teller Machines located in the walkways. You should use these machines to obtain Thai currency. These machines are connected to the banking system and you will get the best possible rate of exchange without any additional fees.
Once you have passed through immigration descend the stairs and collect your luggage. Now you are required to pass through customs, and lets hope you are not the one with contraband and get caught. Every thing is going good right? As you exit the door to the public area persons offering taxis or cars will swoop you on. If at this stage you have not changed money at an ATM then there is a moneychanger near the door. They don’t give a good rate and charge a fee. Try to avoid this situation.
Now proceed outside and you will see the ‘taxi meter’ stand with lots of cabs. You go to a booth to organize the ride to your destination and there is a surcharge. You [the customer] also have to pay the toll. Now if you arrive on a Sunday tell the driver not to take the toll way, as the traffic is light and no quicker. The shuttle bus is also located in this area and around 70 baht for a ride into town. The train station is across the road, and once again depending on time of your arrival dictates what mode of travel you should take.
For those who are traveling on organized tours someone may pick you up and spirit you away to your hotel. But for the budget or backpacker where every dollar counts, it should be made aware to you that there are thousands of rooms available?everywhere. After check in, it may be time to explore or snore. Factors of age, time and jet lag will determine your activities on arrival. However lets say after 2-4 hours you are ready to explore. Armed with your translator or dictionary or what ever, out you go full of confidence. Use your brains ask the management of the hotel about the immediate area and a few places to see. Perhaps they will suggest a private car or tour. It is not a bad idea for the first day until you get your bearings.
Remember there are some unhappy experiences to be had as well if you fall into the wrong company. But you are an adult now and can handle anything, right? Wrong? Not in a country that speaks a tongue other than your own. Bangkok is not a city for the faint hearted but its vibrancy and love for fun is hard to be beaten. Many beautiful sights can be seen in this city devoted to ‘Sanuk’.
Good Luck and I hope this story adds a little to your life.
To the readers of this piece: I am sure that you all went through a similar experience when considering the destination of your holiday. You decided in one manner or another that a trip overseas was for you.
After speaking to all your friends especially those who had traveled before, a short list of destinations was considered. At some stage over a month or so you decided on the destination and the method of travel. For the young it nearly is always backpack, because a greater experience can be had on a smaller budget, and lets face it you are fit and can more easily cope with sleepng on the floor, and as statistics show you stay longer on holiday.
For those who are in the 35-50 age group other priorities are clearly defined, with other interests other than rafting or elephant trekking. Suitable literature should be obtained on the country of destination, to prepare you for differences in cultures, language, and day to day existence. As a seasoned traveler I cannot stress this ‘preparation’ highly enough. Especially in a country that speaks a tongue that is not your own.
If you think that it is going to be easy ‘just a walk in the park’ — think again. Every country has its wise guys and they seek out vulnerable persons and take advantage of them. So being armed against that type of situation by reading books will help you understand. I am not going to promote any books but there are many around that shed light on to every subject.
Anyway… Why did you select Thailand?– Was it the history, food, nightlife, the beach? Whatver the reason, it was the right reason. Remember tourists descend on Thailand from all over the world, most with a good deal of money. The Thai government welcomes you to swell their coffers with your foreign currency, and hope you have a great time and return soon. The Thais only see a walking money bag. They do not resent you, but your presence only reinforces their position, that they are not as well off as you. So, in their attempt to raise their standard of living sometimes surharges are applied to foreigners, and in many instances quite a lot.
It is often said ‘you farang, you have money too much’ They only see the holiday aspect of your life and can’t understand that you have saved money for a long time to travel. This is their pleight, most cannot save money. Now that we understand that you are a “rich farang” and nothing will ever dissuade them from their belief you can get on with your holiday, remembering always that you have the money and the Thais will do their best to separate you from it.
I am writing this from serious experience, having fallen into every trap that was about. A few simple rules will help enormously- never bullshit about your wealth or status, try not to overdress. Neat casual, but not dinner suite with all the trimmings. Dont try to impress by offering to buy drinks for everyone.