The Lao word for Hello is “Sabai dee”, usually said with a smile. Lao people traditionally greet each other by pressing their palms together and bowing the head slightly, although it is acceptable for men to shake hands. Touching or showing affection in public is considered offensive. Please be discrete. The information in the Do’s & Don’ts cartoon (at the bottom of this page) will help you understand the local customs and make your interaction with the local people enjoyable.
Lao people appreciate neat and modestly dressed visitors. Be aware that nude sunbathing or swimming is considered impolite. For women it is recommended to keep a shirt on or to wear a sarong over one’s swimming suit (check what the locals around you are doing).
Please show respect while visiting temples. In temples or religious sites, both men and women should have covered shoulders and legs, while shoes and hats should be taken off. Women should not touch a monk or a monk’s robes. It is also important that you do not touch sacred items or enter sacred sites without permission.
Please remember to take your shoes off before you enter a Lao person’s home. Sleep in the place your host has prepared for you and follow their directions. Lao people speak softly and avoid confrontation. Please do not shout or raise your voice. In Laos your head is ‘High’, your feet ‘Low’, and it is polite to gently crouch down when passing someone who is seated. Touching someone’s head is viewed as impolite.
In the village
Please do not distribute gifts to children as it encourages begging, but give them to an established organization or village elders instead. Always ask permission before taking a photo of people and respect their wishes. Try to connect to people before taking pictures, as it can become an even more memorable moment.
Requests from society
- Please help keep Laos clean and beautiful by not leaving litter. Picking up rubbish sets a good example for Lao youth.
- Please do not buy wildlife, antique Buddhas or other sacred items. Instead, support local craftsmen by purchasing new, quality handicrafts.
- The use of drugs is illegal in Laos. The consequences may be severe for you and Lao society.