Home » Dos and Donts in Laos
Tips - Dos and Don'ts in Lao
If you are travelling to Laos, either for a short visit or for a longer
stay, it is important to know what you should or shouldn’t do
in this country.
Foreigners can sometimes find it difficult to navigate the cultural
norms of Lao culture, especially first time visitors. Knowing what might
be considered offensive to the Lao people can help avoiding troubles
Laotians are hospitable, friendly and soft people. They have a very
relaxed attitude to life. You should have no troubles navigating Lao
culture and interacting with locals as long as you use your head, eyes
and your common sense.
Compiled here are some tips I think might be useful. Some might be
similar to those available elsewhere on the internet, and some are my
- 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. Click
here to learn more Lao words or phases
- The head is considered high. It is not acceptable to touch Lao
people’s heads, so bear that in mind.
- Feet are low. Placing them on furniture or pointing at things or
people with your feet is not acceptable.
- 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.
- In Lao homes, if the host (especially elderly person) sits on the
floor you should sit there as well, don’t sit anywhere higher
if you want to be seen as a respectful person.
- It is polite to gently crouch down when walking past someone who
is seated, especially older people
- Stepping over someone on your path is very impolite, similarly
stepping over food is disgusting and some Lao won’t eat the
food that has been stepped over.
- 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 maximise
your chances of social success in Laos.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 loose your temper or raise your voice. It
won’t help, 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.
These are just some basic tips, but they should be sufficient to help
ease your stay in Laos.
Whatever you do, observing the locals and following suit is the key
to keeping yourself from troubles and/or embarrassment.
Safe Travel in Laos
"A traveller without observation is a bird without wings"
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