Do and Don't Do in Laos

When visiting Laos, there are some customs and beliefs that travelers should be aware of before coming to the country in order to avoid offending any of the locals.

Here are some helpful hints to keep in mind while visiting:

• A formal greeting for most Lao people is the “Nop” (joining one’s hands together in a praying gesture at chin level). Handshakes are also commonly used among male friends and with foreign visitors.

• The Lao word for “hello” is “Sabai dee”, say it with smile and you’ll be well received. The head is considered high. It is not acceptable to touch Lao people’s heads, so bear that in mind.

• Dress neatly, keep quiet and take photo without flash and not too close when you see the alms giving of the monk in the early morning

• Dress neatly when visiting religious shrines or temples

• It is OK to wear shoes if you just walk around a temple compound, but don’t forget to remove them before entering the chapel.

• At some temples, women in pants or short skirts are required to put on a Lao skirt as another layer before entering the place. Lao skirts are usually provided or available for hire on spot (if this is required).

• Don’t hesitate to take photo at local people but you should ask them a permission or  give them a smile before do it.

• Feet are low. Placing them on furniture or pointing at things or people with your feet is not acceptable.

• Despite the heat, Lao/Laotians dress conservatively. If you don’t want to be a “black sheep” dress neatly and moderately (don’t show too much skin) or you’ll get strange looks from the locals.

• Personal cleanliness is valued highly in Laos. Anyone who has strong body odour tends to get disgusting looks.

• Before entering a Lao person’s home, take your shoes off and leave them outside the house or on stairs.

• It is polite to gently crouch down when walking past someone who is seated, especially older people

• Lao people usually serve water to guests arriving at their home, it is polite to accept it even if you don’t want to drink (you don’t have to drink it).

• In offices, never place your feet on a desk while sitting on a chair, that’s very impolite. Some foreign specialists/advisors have been thrown out doing this, so be especially careful if you come to work here.

• In a Lao gathering, keep a low profile and you’ll maximize your chances of social success in Laos.

• Most Lao people swim in rivers or waterfalls with at least shorts and a T-shirt. It is more polite to do this rather than walk around in swimsuits or bikinis. Also if you are in the country and have to bathe in the river in the evening, women should wear a sarong.

• You might find it hard to communicate with locals if you don’t speak Lao especially in the countryside where not many people speak English. If things don’t quite work the way you expect, remember to keep cool, don’t lose your temper or raise your voice. It won’t help you, it will only make you look bad.

• Learn some basic Lao phases and practice them with the locals you meet, they will be impressed and you will be well received.