Tight fisted autocratic regimes have a tendency to try to control everything, from speech to their own currency. The problem lies in the fact that if you do not own something, you cannot control it. So for both speech and currency, both seem to slip out of control. When it comes to speech what better example is there than Cambodia where the people have grown strong or Vietnam where the black market for money exchanging is thriving.
Sure you can find black markets for money exchanging in a lot of places. Bangkok, New York, Paris, but Vietnam is special. In Vietnam with a swipe of your ATM card you can pull out about 21,000 dong for every dollar that you withdraw. 21000 dong isn’t bad, that can buy a liter or two of street beer or an overflowing bowl of fried noodles, but if you have a pile of cash you can go a different route.
In markets, big and small, signs dangle over glass counters, 23,000, 24,000 and even 25,000 dong for each dollar you sell to them. About 15% difference per dollar. That isn’t a simple fee, it is a huge loss. If you want to avoid this loss, all I can say is take dollars with you and exchange them in the best place you can find. It is easy to find a deal better than the governments required ATM offer.
If anyone is interested in the long economic explanation of why this happens tell me and I might update this post.
This tip goes with every country. Wherever you are look around and find the best place to exchange money. Sure some places like airports are inherently bad places to exchange money, but in many cases, so are banks. The best deals I have ever found have been in small markets where the locals want to buy your foreign currency far more then you want to buy theirs.