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Travelling tips: Getting to Know the Do’s and Don’ts in Lao

It can be hard to adapt to the cultural norms of Lao especially for first time visitors. Things that may be considered normal for us might be offensive for them. Laotians are hospitable and friendly people and has a very relaxed and positive attitude to life. Lao people are easy to get along with as long as you use your head wisely with a little bit of common sense. Below is a list of do’s and don’ts in Lao. It’s better to take note of them before you fly to their place to avoid any trouble and misunderstandings.

  • Greet Lao people by placing your two hands together in a praying gesture below your chin. This is called the “Nop” greeting. Handshakes are also used especially for male friends and foreign visitors.
  • “Sabai dee” is the Lao version of the word “Hello”. Say this word with a smile while greeting Lao people and they’ll surely appreciate it.
  • The head is considered high in Lao. Avoid touching Lao people’s heads to avoid trouble.
  • The feet is considered low. Placing them on top of a furniture or using them to point things or people is not acceptable.
  • Never place your feet in top of your desk inside their office. This is considered as impolite and some foreign visitors are kicked out because of this.
  • Cleanliness is one of Lao’s top priority. So if you have body odor, better clean yourself thoroughly or else they’ll be disgusted by you.
  • Take your shoes off and leave them outside if you visit a Lao person’s home.
  • Inside their home, if the owner of the house sits on the floor, you should sit on the floor as well. Don’t sit anywhere higher because this is considered as disrespectful for them.
  • Gently crouch down when walking past someone who is seated. This is a polite gesture that Lao people has been doing especially for older people.
  • Stepping over someone in your path is considered as an impolite gesture. The same things goes for stepping over food. Lao people won’t eat food that’s been stepped over.
  • Lao people usually serve water to guests who visited their home. Accept the water even though you’re not thirsty and they’ll surely appreciate it.
  • Keep a low profile during Lao gatherings.
  • Dress neatly when visiting religious shrines or temples.
  • Remove your shoes once you enter a temple, it’s ok to use them outside though.
  • Women wearing short skirts/shorts are required to put on a Lao skirt before entering a temple. These skirts are available for rent or lend on the spot.
  • Laotians still dresses conservatively even under the scorching heat. Consider doing the same even when you’re sweating if you want to fit in or else you’ll get strange looks from the locals.
  • Lao people wear shorts and t-shirts when they swim in rivers or waterfalls. It’s polite to do the same instead of swimming around wearing your swimsuits or bikinis. Women is advised to wear a sarong too especially if they want to bathe in the river.
  • It can be hard to communicate especially if you don’t know how to speak their language. If you’re having a hard time doing it, keep your cool and don’t loose temper. Doing so will make you look bad.
  • Before traveling to Lao, it’s important to learn basic Lao phrases and practice them until you get it right. Once there, the locals will be impressed on how you speak their language and you’ll surely be well received.

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