Become a millionaire: just go to Laos!

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You too, can join the ranks of Bill Gates and become a millionaire. Just come to Laos! By Karn G. Bulsuk Keep the change!

You too, can join the ranks of Bill Gates and become a millionaire. Just come to Laos!

By Karn G. Bulsuk


Keep the change!


In Laos, even you can be a millionaire!

For around 130 USD, you can be the proud owner of 1,000,000 Lao Kip. But with a bottle of water going for 3,000 Lao Kip, and a decent bowl of noodles setting you back 15,000-20,000 Kip, that millionaire status won’t last long. The prices are simply mindboggling, and it takes quite a bit of getting used to when someone says that something is thousands of Kip, just to realize that it’s just a bit of loose change.

To an outside observer, it would seem that money in Laos is worthless. At Pho Zap, a famous local restaurant selling Vietnamese Pho, the owner is seen carrying around in his hand a gigantic stack of notes as change for his customers. It’s quite entertaining to see the owner zipping from table to table, expertly plucking bills from his pile after his customers hand him 20,000 kip.

At least it's not in US Dollars...
The massive numbers were a result of the hyperinflation that plagued the country during the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis. Not convertible anywhere else in the world, their bank notes range from 1,000 to 100,000 kip, with not a single coin in sight – the denominations of coins issued in the past would be too small to even pay for a small piece of candy.

Despite the country’s status as a developing nation (even among other more advanced developing nations such as Thailand), the cost of living in Vientiane is relatively high given that a significant amount of food and manufactured products are imported from neighboring Thailand. While a bowl of noodles or rice with a side dish would set you back 40 baht in the heart of Bangkok’s business district, in Vientiane it would cost you around 80 baht or more.

In the short to medium term, it doesn’t look like prices will come down. Lao boasts very few factories and manufacturing capability compared to its competitors in the region, with very little incentive for that to change: a full 75% of people still languish as substance farmers in the countryside, representing a staggering 4.9 million people out of the 6.5 million people - the same number of people living in Los Angeles - and they would find it difficult to afford the goods on offer.

Not worth much I'm afraid...
Investors would find it difficult to achieve economies of scale if selling to only those in Vientiane, while selling to the rest of the country would be extremely difficult given that the country boasts only one railway station on the border with Thailand, with unpaved roads by and large the norm, and even unpassable during the rainy season.

Despite the relatively high prices, I still think that visiting Laos gives you a boost to your ego. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can just hand someone a million bucks and tell them to keep the change!

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: Become a millionaire: just go to Laos!
Become a millionaire: just go to Laos!
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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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