Tag Archives: foreign exchange

The coolest thing I ever got on vacation (and no, I don’t mean giardia)

I’ve been a lot of places (Argentina, Belize, Uruguay, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, England (3x), France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain (4x), Italy (2x), Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand), and of all the souvenirs I’ve brought back, I think the Cambodian entry visa in my passport has to be the best of all of them. Everyone else just gives you a rubber ink stamp mark. The Cambodians take an entire page with this beautifully engraved visa sticker.

Cambodian Visa
Cambodian Visa

Is that not the coolest foreign travel souvenir you can think of?

Actually, to be entirely honest, the coolest thing I bring back from every trip are the memories of the places and the people. I had been forewarned about how Cambodia was (and probably still is outside of the ultra-luxury hotels) a largely cash economy. I arrived armed with five hundred US Dollars in cash. I was insufficiently forearmed with information at the time to know that A: the US Dollar is widely accepted and usually preferred over local currency, and B: the exchange rate is much better at the exchange booths in town rather than the airport, if you must in fact exchange currency. So, when I arrived at the airport in Siem Reap (the city amidst the ruins of Angkor), I went to the foreign exchange cart (yes, a cart, wheeled outside on the curb in good weather) to get fifty or so dollars changed into riel. In all the hubbub (trying to keep an eye on my luggage, watch for my driver, and then pay attention to the currency exchange, I was a dingbat and left the pouch where I had all my money on the counter on top of the cart. I didn’t realize I had done this until I was checked in to my hotel and my driver had gone. To compensate, I went to the local bank, got a cash advance from my credit card, and carried on (the cash advance is another story altogether). My last day in Cambodia, my guide said, “you’ve got almost two hours before your flight leaves. Go ask the airport lost & found office if they have your money. What have you got to lose?” So I went to the lost and found after checking my luggage. The lost and found guy started giving me the third degree – what color was the envelope? were there any markings on it? Was it in a pouch? The currency exchange booth guys saw it left on the counter, and turned it in. It was locked up in the airport director’s safe. I had expected to never see it again, as that $500 represented at the time two years pay for the average Cambodian. I feel certain that had I made the same mistake in New York, even at a high-class hotel, the envelope would just have disappeared with nary a trace. The guys at the exchange cart were so scrupulously honest that they never even looked in the envelope to see what was there, they just turned it in. Gives you renewed faith in humanity to know that people for whom that kind of money would have made such a HUGE difference were honest enough to turn down the opportunity to take advantage of it.