Foreigners, particularly first-time tourists, may find it difficult to understand Lao customs. Knowing what can be disrespectful to the Lao people will help you avoid humiliation and potential trouble.
READ ALSO: Thailand Do’s and Don’t’s
Laotians are warm, courteous, and gentle people. They have a pretty laid-back outlook on life. As long as you utilize your mind, eyes, and common sense, you should have no issue navigating Lao culture and connecting with people. In this guide, we will share some of the most common tips and reminders on how you can conduct yourself properly and navigate through the social and cultural scene in Laos. Keep reading to learn more.
What are the Do’s and Don’ts for First-time Travellers in Laos?
A gesture of respect is the best way to break down any language or cultural barriers between locals and foreigners. And as someone who’s visiting a country for the first time, it is your responsibility to do your research and get to know what the norms and taboos are in the country you’re visiting. Taking the initiative to learn will only gain you warm and positive reception. Here’s a good start:
- Use a formal greeting known as “Nop” (joining one’s hands together in a praying gesture at chin level). Handshakes are also popular among male friends and international tourists.
- Learn how to say “hello” in Lao and other greetings. “Hello” is “sabai dee,” and if you say it with a smile, you will be warmly acknowledged.
- Keep your feet low. It is not polite to place them on furniture or use them to point at things or people. That said, it’s also rude to put your feet on a desk while sitting in a chair at an office. Some foreign consultants/advisers have been booted out for doing so, so make sure to use extreme caution if you come to work in this country.
- Do observe personal cleanliness. Otherwise, you might attract unpleasant looks.
- Take off your shoes before entering a Lao person’s home. Remove your shoes and place them outside the house or on the stairs. If the host (especially an elderly person) sits on the floor, you should sit there as well; if you want to be considered as respectful, don’t sit any higher. It is polite to gently crouch down when walking past someone who is seated, especially older people.
- Gently crouch a down when walking past someone seated or in front of you, especially older people.
- Keep a low-profile and you’ll maximise your chances of social success in Laos.
- When visiting religious shrines or temples, dress neatly.
- It is acceptable to wear shoes when walking around a temple grounds, but remember to remove them before entering the chapel.
- Dress conservatively. Lao/Laotians dress conservatively despite the heat. Dress cleanly and reasonably (don’t reveal too much flesh) if you don’t want to be a “black sheep” or you’ll get unusual looks from the locals.
- Women wearing shorts or short skirts are required to put on a Lao skirt as a top layer before visiting specific temples. Lao skirts can be rented or lent on the moment.
- The majority of Lao people swim in rivers or waterfalls while wearing at least shorts and a T-shirt. This is more courteous than walking around in swimsuits or bikinis. Women should also wear a sarong if they are in the country and must bathe in a river.
- Do not touch Lao people’s heads as the head is considered an important part of the body.
- Do not step over someone or on food. Locals treat food that have been mishandled or stepped on as dirty or disgusting.
- Do not make public displays of affection. Laotians do not generally publicly express romantic emotion between friends or lovers, nor do they give public hugs. Outside of marriage, it is prohibited for foreigners to engage in sexual intercourse with a Lao. This applies to both heterosexual and LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) partnerships.
- Don’t shout at, argue with or rush a Laotian. The Lao people are very kind; they do not wish to quarrel with anyone publicly. Laos does not have a significant bargaining culture. Don’t try to negotiate the price any further. Laotians are incredibly sluggish, which explains why service at businesses and restaurants is likewise slow. Maintain your patience! and don’t expect anyone to hustle because you’re in a hurry. If you are used to rushing, relax, appreciate the calm without rushing, and unwind in the Lao way of life.
- Don’t touch a monk in Laos. If you are a first-time visitor to Laos, touching a monk or novice is considered impolite and completely unacceptable, especially if you are a woman. Women should also take care not to rub the cloak on the street, in a temple, or when riding in a tuk-tuk. Women should not donate something directly to a monk in Laos custom, but should instead transfer the item to a male mediator. The only exception to this regulation is giving morning offerings to monks in the form of food or money.
- Do not wear your shoes inside a home or temple in Laos. Shoes are left outside the house, as is customary in most of Southeast Asia, and visitors enter barefoot. A lot of establishments and restaurants in Laos cater to this culture as well. Even if your landlord tells you that you can keep your shoes, you should nonetheless remove them. Laotians desire to keep their faces and can tell you one thing while truly wanting you to do another.
There you have it! These are just some of the most important things that you need to note when visiting Laos, whether for work or leisure. Remember, it’s better to be extra cautious than carefree and rowdy when visiting Asian countries since most of the people from these nations are modest and conservative. By taking note of these simple reminders, you can ensure to get along with the locals, or at the least not offend any of them.
READ NEXT: How to Apply as a Teacher in Thailand