Your tailor-made tours specialist in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar & Laos
- Travel Tips & Guide -

Laos Local Etiquette

We thought that it might be informative for some of you that are interested in traveling to Laos to learn some of the basics concerning Lao culture and the “Do’s & Don’ts” associated with the customs of the people’s traditions and daily lives.

Generally speaking, Lao culture is easy going and very accepting. People have little problem with individuals’ rights, taking a ‘live and let live’ attitude. 

You will likely feel freer than in your home country. However, there are some things that you should never do in Laos for your own safety and the preservation of the country.

Follow these simple rules, and you can make your way through Laos without offending the locals

Things to Know

As in many Asian cultures, the concept of face plays a big role. Being confrontational, losing your temper, or showing strong negative emotions in public are all considered very negative in Lao culture. Not only will you lose face and look bad, you will also find that this sort of behavior is not productive in accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Avoid doing anything that may cause you or your Lao friends to lose face.

Lao culture is strongly hierarchical. Respect must be given to those of higher social status, and to elders. Education, profession, age, and clothing all help to place a person within this hierarchy and to shape the way that that person is treated by others. A person’s social status also determines how they should be greeted.

It is not common to touch someone’s hand when greeting them. The typical Lao greeting is called the Nop and involves pressing your palms together and bowing your head slightly.  Typically, the person of lower status offers the Nop. Laos of very high social status, such as monks, are not expected to return the Nop.

It is considered rude to lie. Even white lies, which are generally more acceptable in Western culture, are taboo. If someone says something to you that seems a bit too direct, don’t take offense—just understand that honesty is the cultural norm in Laos.

There are also important customs and etiquette surrounding the feet. They are considered to be the lowest and least clean part of the body. You should never show someone the bottoms of your feet, point with your feet, or have your feet higher than the level of someone else’s head.

Check below top things you should do or should not do in Laos and some basic etiquettes you may encounter in the country.

18 Dos and Don'ts in Laos

Here are the list of 9 things you should do, and 9 things you should not do in Laos

9 Dos in Laos

1. Do dress conservatively

Especially when going on a city tour to visit temples and sacred sites. Even if you are walking around the streets of town it is most respectful to dress covering your shoulders and knees. If you have only brought along sleeveless tops, then bring along a scarf to shroud your shoulders with.

2. Do greet correctly

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 will be well received. 

3. Do ask permissions for pictures

Watch where you point that camera. Stupas and landscapes are fair game for tourist photographers, but people are not. Always ask permission before taking a shot of locals. It is even more true when meeting hill tribes in remote villages. 

Avoid taking photos of monks when they are meditating, it is considered as rude. If you wish to take picture of monks, make sure you do not disturb them and always try to stay at a decent distance.

4. Do participate in festivals

As long as they do not disrespect the proceedings, tourists are very welcome to participate in any traditional celebrations going on at the time of their visit. Moreover, it is a good way to meet people and get to learn more about Lao culture. To make sure you do not miss any important celebrations, visit our article about "Events & festivals  in Laos"

5. Do take off your shoes inside 

As in much of Southeast Asia, shoes belong outside and house shoes or bare feet are worn in the home. In Laos, this line of thinking extends to certain stores and restaurants as well. 

When in doubt, follow what others do. Even if your host tells you that you may keep your shoes on, if his or hers are off, you should remove yours as well. As it is the case all over Southeast Asia, always take your shoes off before entering temples.

6. Do go local

The Lao people appreciate the effort of your trying to observe their way of living. Eat the delicious local food and share the local Beerlao with them. They will greatly appreciate, and you will be well received.

7. Do shop responsibly and ethically

Weak laws and lax enforcement have led to illegal poaching of the wild animals that were once prevalent in Laos. It is illegal to take ivory or animal pelts out of Laos. They will be confiscated, and you will be fined. 

When visiting local markets and shops, make sure you are not looting the precious natural and cultural resources. Luckily handicraft tradition is well alive in Laos and many crafted items can be purchased as souvenirs. Read more about our shopping tips in Laos.

Here is our guide for Shopping in Laos

8. Do show respect to the elderly 

Lao people all have great respect for the elderly. As you are traveling in Laos, it would be appreciable when meeting them to bow your head while making your greeting and smiling.

9. Do bring some gifts

When visiting rural villages, kids would be glad to receive some gifts. Giving them money is not a good idea neither since it incites them to beg. Instead, make gift of school supplies such as books or pens, they will be delighted for sure. 

Insider tip: when giving an object to someone you should use two hands. This is especially true when a younger person gives something to an older person. 

9 Don’ts in Laos

1. Do not touch a monk

Touching a monk or novice is considered rude and is totally taboo if you are a woman. Women should also be careful not to accidentally brush up against a monk’s robes on the street, in a temple or sharing a tuk-tuk. 

Women should not hand anything directly to a monk, but instead should pass the item to a male intermediary. The only exception to this rule is giving morning alms to monks by placing the offering of food or money into the monk’s alms bowl.

2. Do not trek without a guide

While Laos is a comparatively safe country in terms of violent crime and theft compared to its neighbors, it is not without its own brand of danger. 260 million cluster bombs were dumped on Laos in the 1960’s and are still killing or injuring over 100 people every year. 

If you are trekking, stay on the path and better yet, go with a guide who knows the land and the language and can keep everyone safe.

3. Do not argue with police

Should you be stopped by the police for any minor offence, it is inadvisable to put up a fight or go to the police station. Often the underpaid police force is simply looking to extort money from tourists. Just pay the bribe and be on your way.

It is no use making rational arguments about the dozens of Lao people you have seen doing the same thing that you allegedly got stopped for. The justice system is not the same in Laos as other countries, and the best thing for everyone is to comply, save face and move on.

4. Do not touch anyone with your feet

Stepping over someone who is seated is the height of rudeness in Lao culture, since the head is considered high and the feet are the lowest part of the body. The best bet is to keep your feet on the floor, not tucked under you or on a chair.

5. Do not shout, argue or rush

Lao people want to save face at all costs, and they do never shout or argue loudly. Service can be slow in shops and restaurant. Practice patience, and do not expect anyone to rush because you are in a hurry. Take it easy, bite your tongue and enjoy the unhurried, unstressed Lao lifestyle.

6. Do not make public displays of affection

The Lao are not publicly affectionate among friends or romantic partners, and public hugging or kissing is frowned upon. It is against the law for foreigners to engage in sexual activity with a Lao person outside of marriage. If you do, it is at your own risks.

7. Do not do drugs

Alcohol is free flowing, and you may be encouraged to drink more than you would like. But you might also find that some illegal drugs are prevalent.

Exercise extreme caution. If a tuk-tuk driver offers you prostitutes or drugs unprovoked, your safest bet is to turn him down. Some dealers are in cahoots with the police and will turn in their clients.

8. Do not bathe or walk around in a bikini

You will see Lao people swimming fully clothed, wrapped in a sarong or sometimes in jeans. It is advised for women to bring a sarong. You can always take it off once you are in the water, but you will avoid uncomfortable stares. 

In the same vein, walking around town in swimwear is not culturally acceptable for men or women, so when you go swimming or tubing bring a shirt or sarong to cover up when you get out of the water.

9. Think before riding a motorbike

Motorbikes are a popular mode of transportation in Laos, but ride at your own risk. There is no trauma center in the country, and should you get into an accident, you will have to get across the border to Thailand for treatment. 

There is rampant drinking and driving in Laos, which makes the roads more dangerous at night. Many people, including children, drive without a license. If you do take to the road on two wheels, drive defensively and always keep your eyes open.

Here is some more safety and precautions for Laos

Some basic local etiquettes in Laos

Taboos in Laos

Since the Lao people generally believe in Buddhism, it is important to understand the taboos of Buddhism when getting along with Laotians. In general, the following four points are particularly important:

  • Don't criticize Buddhism.
  • Don't be unkind to the Buddha. In particular, do not touch the Buddha with your hands or lower parts of your body; do not climb or step on the Buddha, litter the Buddha, or put it in your pocket.
  • Don't lose your respect for the monks. Do not stand or sit above the monks, and do not speak rudely to them. Women also need to remember not to sit on an equal footing with monks or touch them.
  • Disrespecting Buddhist temples is not allowed. When visiting Buddhist temples, take off your shoes before entering, don't talk or laugh loudly.

Etiquette at Luang Prabang's morning alms ceremony

Tak Bat is the morning alms ceremony in Luang Prabang, during which Buddhist monks leave their wat and file down the streets in silence, collecting food and offerings from the local people. In recent years, Tak Bat's simple beauty has made it a popular tourist attraction, but in fact it is a living religious tradition and must be treated with respect.

We highly recommend attending Tak Bat, as long as you follow a few simple rules:

  1. Observe the ritual in silence
  2. Only donate to the monks if your contribution is meaningful
  3. Do not buy sticky rice from the vendors along the monks' route. The local market is the appropriate place to buy food.
  4. If you are not making an offering, keep a generous distance from the procession
  5. Do not use flash when taking photographs, and certainly don't stand too close to the monks in order to get a good shot. This is very disrespectful and disturbs the peace of the ceremony.
  6. Never make physical contact with the monks

Following these rules, and informing others who may be unaware of them, will help to preserve the dignity and integrity of the almsgiving ceremony.

Interpersonal Communication

In interpersonal communication, Lao people are sincere and courteous. When meeting others at a social occasion, the most common greeting manner is Namaste. In some foreign affairs dominated by young people, Laotians sometimes shake hands with others. But for women, the Namaste is more suitable. Generally, Lao women are extremely deferential on social occasions and won't walk about in front of guests; they usually squat and sometimes even kneel in front of them while delivering items to guests.

Blessing Etiquette

Lao people have a traditional blessing etiquette – Tie. This is widely used in some occasions such as greeting and farewell, weddings, festivals, travel, etc. The main function of the tie line is to tie the soul, remove evil and devil, as well as gather good fortune. After tying the string, it is best to wear it at least for three days until it falls off, which will be more effective. When Laotians tying the knot for you, don't forget to do Namaste to them.

Temple Etiquette

When visiting temples, cover up to the knees and elbows, and remove your shoes and any head covering. Sit with your feet tucked behind you to avoid pointing them at Buddha images. Women should never touch a monk or his belongings; step out of the way and don't sit next to them on public transport.

Meeting Etiquette

You can expect to meet lots of new people and make lots of new friends in Laos. Laotian are easy-going, and foreigners are quickly forgiven for minor mistakes in etiquette. However, to avoid embarrassing anyone, or causing anyone to lose face, you should have a general idea of what is expected when meeting someone for the first time.

  • If you are with a Lao friend or host, wait for them to introduce you.
  • Laotians typically use first names, with the all-purpose title Than in front of them.
  • To perform the typical Lao greeting, called the Nop, press your palms together at about the level of your chest, and bow slightly.
  • When someone offers you a Nop in greeting, it is considered rude not to return it. However, you are not expected to return the Nop to children, waiters, or street vendors.
  • When practicing a Nop, people always say Sabai Dee (Hello/How do you do), you also need to reply with a Sabai Dee.

Dining Etiquette

The people in Laos pride themselves on their hospitality. As such, there is a good chance that you will be invited to a meal. Whether this invitation involves going to a nice restaurant or to someone’s home, make sure that you know the basics of dining etiquette before you go.

  • Remove your shoes when you enter someone’s home.  This also applies to some restaurants, as well.
  • Avoid stepping directly on the threshold of someone’s home. Instead, step over the threshold.
  • Most Lao food is eaten with a fork and spoon, not with chopsticks.
  • Some foods may be eaten with your fingers. Make sure you always use your right hand, though, and never lick your fingers after eating.
  • Finishing all of the food on your plate indicates that you are still hungry. It is good etiquette to leave a few bites, to show your host that you are full.
  • Seating is often arranged by social hierarchy, so it is best to wait for your host to introduce you and tell you where to sit.

Business Etiquette

Business culture in Laos is formal, and very hierarchical. Business relationships form slowly, and it may take a few meetings to build up the trust needed to complete a business transaction.

The culture of respect, politeness, and harmony means that you will often have to read between the lines and pay close attention to non-verbal communication to know what is really being said.

  • Try to make appointments at least a month in advance.  Punctuality is especially important in business settings, so arrive a few minutes early to any appointment or meeting.
  • Men should wear dark colored business suits. For women, conservative suits, blouses, or business dresses are appropriate.
  • Business cards are an important part of business etiquette. If you are given a card, accept it with your right hand, look at it for a few seconds, and place it neatly in your wallet.
  • If you are handing out your business card, offer it to the person with the highest social status first.
  • Always show respect, humility, good humor, and avoid any displays of negative emotions.

Frequently asked questions

Q. Is Laos safe to visit?

Laos is generally a safe country to visit, but it's smart to exercise caution, especially when it comes to dealing with strangers (both Laotian and foreigners) and travelling alone

Here is our full guide of Laos safety and precaution.

Q. When is the best time to visit Laos?

The small, landlocked country of Laos is best visited between late October and early April, when the weather’s warm and dry throughout.

River travel is best between November and January, when high water levels make passage easy along Laos main waterway, the Mekong River. Visiting the Bolaven Plateau is also pleasant at this time of year.
Laos’ geography plays a major part in shaping its climate, and cool temperatures can still be found in the highlands, which lie mainly in northern, eastern and central regions.

The green season falls between late May and October, when the rains return to the country.

However, showers are usually short and sharp, having little impact on your exploration. At this time of year, the country comes to life, with waterfalls beginning to flow once more and the lush scenery attracting a variety of wildlife.

Here is more about Laos weather and best time to visit

Q. Do you need a visa to visit Laos?

Well, to visit Laos you must obtain a visa unless you come from one of the visa exempt countries. You must hold a passport valid for six months and one empty page.

Nevertheless, there is nothing to worry as it is very easy to apply for Laos visa as for most of the visitors. You can apply for either visa online (e-visa), visa on arrival, or visa at the Laos embassies all over the world.

For more detail, check out the Laos Visa Policy

Q. How to find the cheapest flight to Thailand (or anywhere)?

It will require a little effort to do some research on Google and compare the price via some platforms. Read our full guide to find the cheapest flight to Laos here.

NOT READY YET?

We believe you have the right to arm yourselves with as much information as possible before making any decision.

Check below our detailed tips & guide for every places to visit in Laos, recommendation regarding the inclusion in each theme you prefer, and what you can do based on the time frame you have.

PLACES TO VISIT IN Laos
Luang Prabang
bee-white Luang Prabang

The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

Vang Vieng
bee-white Vang Vieng

Vientiane
bee-white Vientiane

The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

4000 Islands
bee-white 4000 Islands

Phonsavan
bee-white Phonsavan

Nong Khiaw
bee-white Nong Khiaw

Laos PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Family
bee-white Family

The combination of fun and educational activities

Cycling
bee-white Cycling

Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

Must-see
bee-white Must-see

Check out all the must-see places and things to do & see

Luxury
bee-white Luxury

Unique experience combined with top-notch services

Honeymoon
bee-white Honeymoon

Easy excursions combined with unique experience making the long-lasting romantic memories

Trek & Hike
bee-white Trek & Hike

Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

Cruise
bee-white Cruise

The combination of some must-see experience and the cruise tour along the mighty rivers

Unseen
bee-white Unseen

Reveal off-the-beatentrack routes, least explored destinations, and unknown tribe groups

Laos PLANS BY TIME FRAME
white-icon About 1 week
yellow-icon About 1 week
white-icon About 2 weeks
yellow-icon About 2 weeks
white-icon About 3 weeks
yellow-icon About 3 weeks
white-icon About 4 weeks
yellow-icon About 4 weeks
image
Already got a plan? REQUEST A FREE QUOTE
SPECIAL Laos TIPS & TOURS

Search for your nationality below to see our special Laos travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.

Australian
bee-white Australian
United States
bee-white United States
United Kingdom
bee-white United Kingdom
Canadian
bee-white Canadian
German
bee-white German
French
bee-white French
Laos BLOG ARTICLES

On June 7th, 2012, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased travel recommendations for more than a hundred countries and territories, including Vietnam and Laos in the list of "safest to travel".

Time to travel now? We do not think so! Let's check more detail below.

...more

Bucolic Wat Phou (Wat Phu, Vat Phou, Vat Phu) sits in graceful decrepitude, and while it lacks the arresting enormity of Angkor in Cambodia, given its few visitors and more dramatic natural setting, these small Khmer ruins evoke a more soulful response. While some buildings are more than 1000 years old, most date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The site is divided into six terraces on three levels joined by a frangipani-bordered stairway ascending the mountain to the main shrine at the top.

Visit in the early morning for cooler temperatures (it gets really hot during the day, and on the lower levels there isn't any shade) and to capture the ruins in the best light. Make sure to grab a map at the entrance as there is little to no signage here.

...more

Buddhist Lent Day (Thailand Wan Khao Phansa, Laos Boun Khao Phansa) is the start of the three-month period during the rainy season when monks are required to remain in a particular place such as a monastery or temple grounds. Here, they will meditate, pray, study, and teach other young monks. In the past, monks were not even allowed to leave the temple, but today, most monks just refrain from traveling during this period. You will still see them out during the day.

It is said that monks started remaining immobile in a temple during this time because they wanted to avoid killing insects and harming farmland. Apparently, traveling monks were crossing through fields, thus destroying the crops of villagers and farmers. After catching wind of this, Buddha decided that in order to avoid damaging crops, hurting insects, or harming themselves during the rainy season, monks should remain in their temples during these three months.

Tired of reading, listen to our podcast below:

...more

Initiated in 2006 by an NGO working for years with the elephants, this annual meeting of Laos Elephant Festival became one of the big festivals of Laos, followed by thousands of Laotians who move to attend a number of exercises, parades, and elections of the most emblematic animal of Laos. Fifty elephants are walking around for 3 days in the streets of the small provincial town. A large market takes place for the occasion with all kind of local (or Thai) products.

Home to the country’s largest pachyderm population, Xayabouly Province is the natural choice to host this growing event that also aims to raise awareness about the need to protect the endangered Asian elephant, which has played such a vital role in Lao people’s livelihoods, culture and heritage.

...more

The highlight of the year in Wat Phu Champasak is the three-day Buddhist festival, held on Magha Puja day on the full moon of the third lunar month, usually in February. The ceremonies culminate on the full-moon day with an early-morning offering of alms to monks, followed that evening by a candlelit wéean téean (circumambulation) of the lower shrines.

Throughout the three days of the festival Lao visitors climb around the hillside, stopping to pray and leave offerings of flowers and incense. The festival is more commercial than it once was, and for much of the time has an atmosphere somewhere between a kids' carnival and music festival. Events include kick-boxing matches, boat races, cockfights, comedy shows and plenty of music and dancing, as bands from as far away as Vientiane arrive. After dark the beer and lòw-lów (Lao whisky) flow freely and the atmosphere gets pretty rowdy.

...more

When the three months of Buddhist Lent come to an end in October, it is the perfect time to visit temples and celebrate the end of the rainy season. In Laos, this is called Boun Awk Phansa (Sometimes translated as Boun Ok Phansa or Boun Ock Phansa) and various religious and local traditions can be observed during this time. Moreover, there are plenty of festive activities are organized throughout the country with floating flower boats, candles, fireworks, lavishly decorated wats and an old-time carnival … all make for a magical Boun Awk Phansa festival in Vientiane, Laos. 

...more
CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
Vietnam
bee-white Vietnam
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Thailand
bee-white Thailand
Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country's glittering temples and tropical beaches.
Cambodia
bee-white Cambodia
There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
Myanmar
bee-white Myanmar
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.
loading
back top