Extract from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad
‘Pssst! Want to change money? Opium? Marijuana?’ Women, standing on the steps of the 1901 building, mutter the offer from behind hands and I succumb to temptation.
‘How much?’ I ask and, with that sign of encouragement, I’m whisked into the hidden walkways of the market and negotiations start.
‘Eighteen.’ says the younger one and I laugh, aware that laughter is a good lubricant in Asia.
‘Twenty.’ I reply knowing it’s the rate she gave a young man just 10 minutes ago.
‘Nineteen,’ she tries again to which I give the same reply as before. Conceding, to what is a fair exchange rate she hands me a few rubber-band-held-bundles, each containing, I hope 10,000 kip. A quick flick through convinces me it’s all money and my first illegal transaction is complete.
It’s hard to believe that such huge bundles, casually dropped into my bag, are worth so little: all those zeros are still confusing me. I’m a kip millionaire yet the money is leaking out of my daypack. 3,500 kip to replace a small towel, 15,000 for a basic room, 14,000 for an Indian meal and for another 4,000 I can walk up a gigantic rock hill, Phousi, for a 360-degree view over Luang Prabang, (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) the Mekong River and surrounding mountains.