I'm after some advice if possible! I'm not sure how to go about spending whilst travelling.
I am, excitingly, planning a 5 week trip to SE Asia next month. I'll be flying from UK to Thailand and then making my way through Laos, down through Vietnam and through Cambodia back to Thailand.
I've never been travelling before and I don't really know how best to spend whilst I'm out there. So there's 4 different countries and currencies. I don't want to take all that cash away with me and my current HSBC debit and credit cards charge a fortune. I've had a look at online guides but couldn't really work it out as it spoke mostly about euros which isn't the currency I need.
Any advice would be massively appreciated!
#1 hanb has been a member since 3/4/2014. Posts: 1
US dollars are widely accepted in Laos, somewhat in Vietnam, and are (more or less) the main form of currency in Cambodia, so I'd definitely trade in a fair amount of pounds for dollars before you go -- make sure they're crisp and unmarked or torn, and be sure to especially save some for Cambodia. Everyone figures out their own security for themselves; some money belts and the like. My personal strategy for security is simple: don't get drunk and make stupid decisions.
While it's always good to have some USD in tow, the most secure way is to just bring an ATM card and take out cash as needed. Be sure to check out the ATM before using it -- look for loose and suspect parts that don't belong, especially around the key pad and card slot, and always cover your pin number typing hand with your other hand. ATMs are very prevalent in Thailand and there are also plenty in Vietnam; Laos now has its fair share in the cities but no so much in small towns; Cambodia is still a ways behind. Obviously you have to pay the fees if using ATMs, and they do add up. I use a card from Charles Schwab bank that charges no exchange fee on ATM withdrawals and reimburses all ATM fees anywhere in the world... Not sure if you can get that in the UK but might be worth looking into. Otherwise I'd prefer to just swallow the fees rather than risk bringing my whole travel fortune in cash.
Some people also use travellers checks but I've never tried it. Seems like it would be a pain to find a bank that will honor them, but maybe it's easier than I think.
Other things to consider:
Vietnamese Dong, Lao Kip and Cambodian Riel are non-transferable currencies. This means that you will not be able to exchange them for another currency anywhere other than within those countries. So don't take a pile of Kip back to the UK and think you can just exchange them for pounds at the bank! Thai Baht, on the other hand, is generally transferable worldwide.
Do your best to get a handle on the exchange rates before you enter the countries. Scammers expect that naive travelers "fresh off the boat" won't know the exchange rate well enough and will often use this as a way to scam. This is especially true in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, where a single Dollar, Euro or Pound is literally worth thousands in the local currencies -- it's not so easy to keep it all straight.
If you'll be traveling with a smartphone (which I would recommend for use of maps on the go; you can get local sim cards easily and cheaply), download the XE app, which instantly calculates exchange rates for several currencies. I use it constantly in countries where I'm not familiar with the currency -- before you pay for something, you can just type in the number and see exactly what you're paying in terms of Pounds or whatever currency you're most familiar with.
Take some USD as a backup(I like having around $200 cash as backup, mostly USD but I will mix in a little local currency as well).
ATM's the rest of the time. Credit cards will likely charge you a fee for cash advance but debit cards shouldn't cost much, take both though just in case one doesn't work(I have 2 debit cards and a credit card and glad I do).
If your current cards have stupid withdrawal fees find a bank with a better fee and open an account with them. It is good to have an extra debit card etc you can store away safely as a backup as well.