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Tipping Customs in Laos

To tip or not to tip? That is the question on many travelers’ minds when they visit a new country. 

If you are traveling to Laos, then you should make yourself familiar with the currency and tipping etiquette. 

Whether you are in a restaurant, in a spa, in a hotel or in a taxi you might wonder if you should give the waitress, masseuse, porter or driver a tip, right? You will also likely ask yourself what is the correct amount to give?

You will have all the answers below

Are you supposed to tip in Laos?

First things first, remember that tipping is never compulsory in Laos and that you should think of it only when you are really satisfied by someone’s service. It is an individual reward that aims at supporting high-level service, helpfulness and friendliness.

Contrary to many others Asian countries, tipping in Laos is not traditionally expected, but in such a poor country, a small tip can go a long way.

There are no hard and fast rules about tipping in Laos, and travelers who decide not to will not be frowned upon. 

Below are some guidelines regarding tipping customs in the Golden Land as well as suitable amount to tip according to the place you are

Something to keep in mind

Before continuing further on who and how much to tip, there is something you should keep in mind.

Keep the change?

Depending on where you’re eating, the tipping culture could be vastly different. If you were to order street food and tell the vendor to keep the change, there’s a high chance that they might insist you take it back – whether through humility or confusion at a perceived overpayment – even if it’s just LAK20,000

Doing as the locals do is sound advice for any travelers, and you’re unlikely to see a local tipping a street food joint so don’t worry about it too much. If the food really was that delicious, order another one or leave a few thousand kips on the side and make your escape before they have the chance to thrust it back into your palm.

Eating in restaurants or cafes is another story. It’s worth keeping in mind that the waiting staff in such places often work long hours with little breaks for less than $10 a day.

If you order a snack and a coffee that comes to, for example, 95 thousand LAK, then it’s common to simply leave behind the remaining 5 thousand change that you’re unlikely to miss, but which could help to make all the difference for a young waitress with a family or a university course.

If you’re heading to an area for a prolonged amount of time, leaving a tip each time isn’t necessary but can see you rewarded with better service and preferential treatment as a regular.

Naturally, the pricier the restaurant, the more you’ll be expected to tip. Once you start to hit the high hundreds with your bill, you can start to think about tipping 10% and up for good service, though make sure that service charge isn’t included in your bill already.

Fair fares and the knead for tips

In any big city in Laos, and certainly in the touristy areas in Luang Prabang, finding a tuk tuk driver that will actually use the taxi meter can be a real pain. With that in mind, it’s worth rewarding the drivers who do, with a small tip.

There’s no need to break the bank; if it comes to 89 thousand kips for example, give him 90 thousand kips and don’t expect the change.

They’ll be grateful for it and it might convince them to continue earning an honest living and not quote $30 for a trip that’s virtually around the corner.

As anyone who has visited Laos will know, massage shops can be found on virtually every corner, making for fierce competition between shops and price wars that can make it easily affordable for a tourist.

Massages are personal and catered for the receiver and can be tiring work. Not only that, the competition means that more often than not the masseurs can wait around for hours without a single customer, only to receive a pittance of the massage fee once the house has taken their cut.

Again, tipping isn’t expected but it’s more than appreciated, so you may want to consider tipping the masseur perhaps 30-50 thousand kip on a bill of 200 thousand kips and giving it directly to them.

It won’t break the bank, but it can make a person’s day.

Sweet dreams and the guide price

There aren’t many things worse than not double checking your booking and arriving at your hotel weary and jet-lagged, only to discover you’re on the fourth floor and there’s no elevator.

Spare a thought for the poor bell boys and porters who’ll have to lug your luggage up there! These jobs, along with housekeeping jobs in a hotel, are quite often low paying with long hours and high standards, so a tip of 10 thousand kips per bag carried or per room cleaned can go a long way.

Tour guides can be very hit and miss in Laos. Some can absolutely make a trip, while others may carry a vibe that they’d rather be anywhere else. The amount you tip should vary with the service and length of time the tour guide is with you.

For great guides who have been with a group the whole day, it’s not unusual for them to be given upwards of 500 thousand kips – a large amount for someone who will only earn around 5 million kips per month.

If you’re not happy with the service, there’s no obligation to tip but keep in mind that everyone has good and bad days, and the hours can be long and exhausting.

Use your own judgement

As the locals say, it really is “up to you”. There’s no expectation of tourists to tip but it will certainly be appreciated.

It can be easy to pass through a town that you’ll never visit again without tipping, but good service and satisfaction should always be rewarded.

Keep in mind the amount of money people in restaurants and hotels earn and think twice before scooping those coins out of the change tray.

Who to tip and how much?

Below is the detailed guide of who you should tip and how much. Note that it is just the general recommendation. Who you tip and how much you give them all depend on your satisfaction of the services.

Restaurants

With the average starting salary for waiting staff sitting at about US $100 a month, with employees working six days a week, leaving a small sum of money will sure be more than welcomed.

There is no standard amount of gratuity to leave at a Laos’ restaurant, but 10% of the total bill is probably around average. Feel free to leave more if you felt that the service was excellent.

An increasing number of more upmarket establishments are already slapping a seven percent service charge onto the bill. However, how much of this makes it into employees’ pockets vastly varies.

If eating from street stalls or fast-food joints, no tip is necessary.

Tour guide & driver

Guides will accompany you throughout the entire tour, while giving you cultural and local knowledge and they will also serve as your translator if you need it.

As mentioned earlier, tipping is not compulsory but can be given at your discretion, with some guides more than others hinting towards a tip at the end of a trip.

If they have pulled off an impressive performance and made your trip informative and fun, then giving a little extra at the end will go a long way. It is good tipping etiquette to leave around 10% for your tour guide.

And if you are with a group, then a quick whip round at the end for a good guide will make that smile even wider.

Finally, leave a gratuity for the driver (if this person is separate from the tour guide) of around US $1 or 2 per day.

Hotels

If you are staying in a hotel in Laos, generally, give the bellman around US $1 per bag that he carries to your room and give the maid around US $1 a day. You are not obligated to tip any of the other hotel staff unless you feel led to do so. 

Remember that Laotian workers do not make much money and rely on gratuities. A one US dollar tip may not seem like much to you, but it be almost half of a typical worker’s daily income.

And contrary to what you might think at first, tips are more welcomed in high-end establishments since staff wages are usually rather low.

Also note that many of the upmarket hotels levy a 10% service charge, but unfortunately this does not always make it to the staff.

Spas and massage

Massage parlors and spas are plentiful and affordable in Laos. Most of the staffs working in massage parlors are young people coming from the countryside who send most of their meager wages to support their family back home.

If you are happy with your spa services, then tip your therapists as much or as little as you like will be a great way to show your appreciation.

Taxis

Tipping your taxi driver is up to you. Do keep in mind that Laotian taxi drivers will not necessarily expect tips, but because they do not make much money, they will appreciate them.

If you feel as though your taxi driver went out of his way to help you or was extra friendly, consider leaving him a few dollars. Another option is to let him keep the change after rounding up to the nearest dollar. 

Tuk tuk & Motorbike Drivers

For tuk-tuk and moto drivers, tips again are not expected – especially seeing as you, as a foreigner, are probably already being drastically over-charged.

Of course, you can use your own discretion, but if you have hired transport for the day to explore Angkor Wat or Phnom Penh and your driver has impressed you, then feel free to dish out an extra couple of dollars.

And if you have hired a private vehicle for the day and paid a set fee to your hotel or a tour operator, a tip at the end of the day will go a long way as the chances are they only receive a very small portion of the cost you have paid for the car.

Temples and religious sites

Wats, temples, and pagodas are usually free to explore but often have contribution boxes at the entrances for the worship, the maintenance of the places, etc.

If someone shows you around or a monk blesses you, it is polite to leave a few thousand Kyats, the local currency, in the contribution boxes at the end of the visit.

Extra tips

It is important to not tip everywhere. If the service is poor, or if they demand for tipping and you feel like it is not worth it, keep your money for yourself.

In many Laotian restaurants, change will be returned in some sort of bill holder. If you leave the change, there it will often be taken by the restaurant proprietor. If you want to make sure the tip goes to the staff who have served you, leave the tip on the table or give it to the individuals directly. 

Tips is also appreciated by parking watchmen, especially for parking that are “free” and not asking you ticket fees.

If a local helps you out like taking you somewhere or finds an important person for you, or allow you to take some photo, they would be looking for you to provide a small amount. It is probably wise to always have some small Kyat notes for when these occasions arise.

If possible, it is nicer to give the tip in a small envelope rather than just handing the person loose cash, especially for package tour guides.

Small gifts are also appreciated, such as pens, cigarettes, t-shirts or perfumes. Laotian are fond of western products that are usually difficult to obtain in the country. When offering presents, note that they might initially refuse it. This is just politeness.

Laos is a developing economy, which means that the majority of the population is still living on an average wage. If you truly enjoy the service, a small tip will perfectly represent your gratuity for the service provided. K1000 may be less than USD1; not much for you but maybe a whole meal for the staff member that served you.

Frequently asked questions

Q. Is it customary to tip in Laos?

A. That said, it is not customary but highly recommended especially at the tourist sites. Do give some small tips if you satisfy with the services that you have.

Q. What is the average local salary in Laos?

A. The average monthly salary of a worker in Laos is about $250 per month; those in high paying jobs bring home around $500 per month.

Q. How much budget do I need per day to travel in Laos?

A. For the guided organized tour for the group of 2 pax in Laos, the expected budget will start from $80-90 per person per day. Depending on the accommodation, the restaurant, or the activities you will join, the budget can go up to $150-200 per person per day.

Check out the detailed Laos trip cost here

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.

Check our full guide about Laos weather and best time to visit

Q. How to book cheap ticket to Laos?

This requires some simple efforts and skills. Read our full guide on how to get the cheapest ticket possible to Laos

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
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The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

Vang Vieng
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Vientiane
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The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

4000 Islands
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Phonsavan
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Nong Khiaw
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Laos PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Family
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The combination of fun and educational activities

Cycling
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Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

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

Luxury
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Unique experience combined with top-notch services

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

Trek & Hike
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Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

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

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

Laos PLANS BY TIME FRAME
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yellow-icon About 1 week
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Laos BLOG ARTICLES

The Rocket Festival (Boun Bang Fai) is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced by ethnic Lao people near the beginning of the wet season in numerous villages and municipalities, in the regions of Northeastern Thailand and Laos. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets. Local participants and sponsors use the occasion to enhance their social prestige, as is customary in traditional Buddhist folk festivals throughout Southeast Asia.

The festival in Thailand also includes special programs and specific local patterns like Bung Fai (Parade dance) and a Beautiful Bung Fai float such as Yasothon the third weekend of May, and continues Suwannaphum District, Roi Et on the first weekend of June, Phanom Phrai District Roi Et during the full moon of the seventh month in Lunar year's calendar each year. The Bung Fai festival is not only found in Isan or Northeasthern Thailand and North Thailand and Laos, but also in Amphoe Sukhirin, Narathiwat.

...more

A report from Andy Jarosz from BBC Travel about his day trekking to the remote 100 waterfalls in Nong Khiaw 10 years ago (in 2012). The experience that you cannot miss when visiting the area. Check out the details as below so that you have some ideas of what to expect.

In the last four years, the rural village of Nong Khiaw has seen a steady stream of adventure travellers who want to experience the 10km trek before it disappears.

Strictly speaking, the name of the 100 Waterfalls Trek in northern Laos is misleading, since it is impossible to say how many waterfalls tumble through the thick jungle along the steady 10km ascent, with each one tumbling immediately into the next.

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Laos has announced a full reopening to tourism today that allows vaccinated arrivals to enter the country without any testing requirements.

Government Spokesperson and Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, Madame Thippakone Chanthavongsa, spoke during an announcement broadcast live across social media.

She said that as the number of Covid-19 cases had significantly decreased, and in order to ensure economic recovery, the National Taskforce for Covid-19 Prevention and Control and the government of Laos had coordinated with a number of sectors to determine new entry measures in line with the global situation.

After canvassing public opinion and consulting with experts, the Taskforce has set out the following measures for entry to Laos, effective from 9 May onward:

All international checkpoints will be open for entry and exit by Lao citizens, foreign residents, tourists, and other types of visitors.

Citizens of countries that have bilateral or unilateral visa waiver agreements with Laos may now enter Laos without the need for a visa.

Citizens of countries that do not have a visa waiver agreement with Laos may now apply for a visa at a Lao embassy or consulate abroad or via the e-Visa online system. Visa on arrivals will also be reinstated at certain international checkpoints.

Fully vaccinated foreigners or Lao citizens carrying a vaccination certificate may enter Laos without any screening or testing for Covid-19 when arriving by land, air, or water.

Non-vaccinated citizens of Laos, foreign citizens, or residents aged 12 years and over must take a Rapid Antigen Test (ATK) at least 48 hours prior to departure and present the results upon arrival.

Foreign arrivals in Laos that become infected with Covid-19 must bear responsibility for any and all medical costs involved in treatment.

Private vehicles may now enter and exit the territory of Laos via checkpoints as prior to the pandemic. Guidelines regarding this measure will be drafted and publicized by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Madame Thippakone said that ministries and tourism departments, as well as tourism businesses, must now be fully prepared to welcome foreign tourists.

At the same time, she announced the reopening of entertainment venues and karaoke bars, however, such venues must ensure they fully comply with Covid-19 prevention measures.

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Laos is preparing to commence a new phase of reopening to tourism that will require Covid-19 tests prior to departure and on arrival.

Dr. Sisavath Soutthanilaxay said during an announcement by the National Taskforce for Covid-19 Prevention and Control yesterday that the country is now actively preparing for a full reopening.

Under new entry regulations, which will be officially announced at a future press conference, arrivals in Laos will be required to undergo two Covid-19 tests.

According to Dr. Sisavath, tourists will be required to take an RT-PCR test 72 hours before departure, as well as an RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Test) on arrival.

“The wait time for results will depend upon the number of travelers arriving,” said Dr. Sisavath.

Those who have been infected with Covid-19 and recovered will not need to take an RT-PCR test, however, an official medical certificate will be required.

Arrivals with a negative RDT test result may enter the country freely, while those who test positive will need to quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel.

Those with serious symptoms will be hospitalized.

The news comes after Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh agreed to a full reopening of the country to tourism on Tuesday.

The PM said that he agreed “in principle” to the reopening and that relevant sectors should “draw upon lessons from neighboring countries” when drafting new regulations.

...more

The Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism has sent a proposal for a full reopening of the country to the Prime Minister of Laos for consideration.

Check more detail below.

...more

The government of Laos has officially set 13 April 2022 the first public holiday date of Lao New Year (Pi Mai).

A notice issued by Prime Minister’s Office confirms the holiday date and prohibits government offices and departments from holding Lao New Year parties in a bid to promote austerity and set an example for the wider population.

The notice states that the National Taskforce Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control and relevant provincial taskforces should issue coronavirus prevention measures related to celebrations in each locality. 

While the country’s biggest festival was canceled in 2020, scaled-back Lao New Year celebrations were held in 2021, allowing residents to participate in the celebration with their families, at their workplaces, and at temples in accordance with Lao traditions.

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