Cultural Tips - Dos and Don'ts in Lao PDR


Perhaps I should have subtitled this "How not to embarrass the rest of your countrymen while on holiday." The National Tourism Authority of Lao PDR publishes a handy booklet that provides guidance to visitors on how to enjoy their stay in the country and not offend the sensibilities of the citizenry. What follows are excerpts from this booklet.

General Advice - show respect and use your head and eyes and common sense will guide you well in navigating Lao culture safely.

When in Laos, try and do as the as the Lao do and remember; don't touch heads, don't loose your cool with people and don't flash your flesh. The rest is about manners, shoes left outside, accepting hosts' greetings and not upsetting religious feelings.

The Lao are very friendly and hospitable and a minimum effort will make your trip smooth and memorable.

Respect the culture and you will earn its respect in turn.

Welcome - a kiss or embrace from a stranger is insulting and humiliating. Traditionally, Lao people use the 'NOP' on meeting and using it will win you instant friends if performed sincerely.

How to use the 'NOP'?

Raise your hands in a praying gesture. The higher you go, the more respect you show, but don't be over the top!

A handshake will suffice, but try to use the Lao greeting of 'Sabai Dee'.

Feelings in public - Public displays of affection are taboo in Lao society, so don't cause shock or embarrassment by kissing or cuddling in front of people.

Modest dress and discreet behavior will ensure you don't attract unwanted attention or embarrass others.


Modest dress and discreet behavior will ensure you don't attract unwanted attention or embarrass others.


Foot and Head

In Buddhism and general Asian society, the head is very important to the souls and its purity, while the feet walk the earth and all that is deposited on it. Raising your feet to headheight, putting them on furniture or pointing with them is taken as a deliberate insult or sign of barbarism.

Don't gesture with your feet or touch an Asian head. You would be asking for trouble.

Here, as in all things, check out what local people do with their feet and shoes and try to follow suit.

Shouting - never raise your voice to Lao people as they never react well to it. Even shouting to friends or for taxis will cause shock and worry.

Lao is a land of calm and patience, and shattering the peace will do you no favors.


Appearance - Bodily hygiene and cleanliness are of the highest standard in Lao and a visitor's failure to meet these standards is not well received. Wash yourself and your clothes daily or prepare to be laughed at and avoided!


In a Lao House - Shoes are generally no-go indoors. Use your eyes and common sense to maximize your chances of social success.

Keep your head and general profile low at gatherings.




Religion - Religion is a major part of daily life and remains the practice of the massive majority.

Show respect in temples and shrines, watching how locals behave in such places. Dress neatly when visiting temples and religious shrines. You should never go shirtless, or in shorts, miniskirts or hot pants.

It is acceptable to wear shoes when walking around a temple compound, but not inside the chapel where the principal Buddha image is kept. Visitors are welcome to relax and be peaceful in all temples.

Every Buddha image is regarded as a sacred object, no matter how big, small, old or new. Never climb onto a Buddha image to take a photograph or do anything which might indicate a lack of respect.

Keep your head lower than the buddahs and monks. Buddhist priests must not be touched by a woman or to accept anything from the hand of one. If a woman gives anything to a monk, she first hands it to a man, who then presents it. Don't turn your back on a buddah.

Environment - You will rarely be alone in Laos, even when you seem to be, and pollution is not well received.

Bins are scarce, so use your plastic bags to return rubbish to towns or villages.

Drugs - the penalties may be severe for you and even worse for the Lao society.


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