Returning to SE Asia for 3 weeks this coming December. I was in Cambodia last year and was pleasantly surprised that you could get US currency from ATM's and that all merchants accepted US Dollars.
This year I'm going to Laos and Vietnam. Do merchants prefer US Dollars? If so, should I make arrangements to take dollars into these countries, etc.
Many thanks for any help with this,
US$ can be readily used in Vietnam, and most prices are quoted in $ - just like in Cambodia. I believe US$ can also be used in Laos.
ATM's will issue local currency although it is possible to get US$ through the banks by using your credit card. If I were you, I would be tempted to just carry US$ cash since it is your home currency - and change a small amount of it it local currency as you go. Smaller denominations (eg $20) are handy for general use. Maybe bring half in 100's (for a smaller wad of cash) and the rest in 20's. You can also change the $100 down at a bank, or use it for the more expensive tours, etc.
Also be sure to spread it around the baggage - don't put it all in one place. (eg some in your day wallet, some in your money belt, and maybe some in your day pack - it depends on how your organise yourself).
Vietnam - I agree it's good to come with some US$ in cash but you'll find you're paying Dong for most smaller day to day expenses: it's only really hotels, travel agents and fancy restaurants who quote and accept US$ so for meals and drinks you're best off with Dong. If you want to change up your $ into Dong it's better to have $100 bills as you'll probably get a better rate - banks might be OK, but private money changers, e.g. in hotels, don't like the smaller bills. Personally I think it's safer to come with a bit of cash but then to get cash out of ATMs - it's a reasonably safe country but wandering around with wads of cash is probably not a great idea.
From memory,it was a similar situation in Laos, certainly in the cities, although in the smaller towns they might only accept kip.
one more tip regarding changing dollars in Vietnam.
Please be aware that exchange rates are controlled by the government. Until recently they kept the rate low (in order to boost exports) so there was a significant difference between official rate and (black) market rate.
My experience was and is that the jewellers and gold shops offer by far the best rates. Banks and forex bureaus have more government restrictions. The jewellers need to buy their gold with dollars and they work according the international rates of gold and dollars. Most of them even have signs (some for dollar rates others for gold price)
Didn't find dollars widely accepted in Laos. Mainly accepted for tours and hotels. Restaurants have prices in local currency but will accept dollars only to change then into local currency at a bad rate. Changing money at a bank and using local currency is a better deal. ATMs only dispense local washers.
In Vietnam, dollars are interchangeable at all but bars and street food stalls. Most prices for tours & guest houses are displayed in dollars and if paying by Dong they will covert the dollar into local Dong using the current bank rate. Because of the zeros Dollars are easier to use, but ATMs only dispense Dong. Personally, I'd use Dong from the ATMs as I don't think it's a great idea to carry a lot of cash around.
in recent years USD seem to have become less widely accepted in Laos, especially for small transactions (large transactions being stuff like renting property, expensive purchases of best quality weaving, paying for the highest end resorts). have seen market vendors directing tourists to the nearest moneychanger instead of accepting their USD. the Lao government had this campaign to encourage the use of Lao kip over foreign currencies (the campaign billboards & stickers are everywhere in the towns/cities). & if you pay in foreign currency, you will get change in Lao kip at a usually not-so-great rate.