Do’s and Don’ts in Laos

Source: LonelyPlanet


A Guide to Culturally Sensitive Travel in the Lao PDR, published yearly by the Lao National Tourism Authority.

The Lao National Tourists Authority {LNTA} publishes a little pamphlet nearly yearly on the ‘DO’s and Don’ts in Laos, a guide for culturally sensitive travel in the Lao PDR’ but many of the recommendations are highly applicable to its neighboring countries like Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and China. It’s a great little pamphlet done with humorous cartoon-ish drawings by Chongkham Phonekeo and designed by Paul Bloxham. Among some of the top ‘rules’ are [which could also be found in the intro section of socially aware guidebooks]:

AAA. The use of drugs is illegal in Laos and the consequences may be severe for you and Lao society. Their youth emulate foreigners so by taking drugs you’re destroying their society and culture. Besides in areas such as Vang Vieng and Muang Sing, who knows if your supplier might also make money by turning you in to the police.

1. The Lao word for ‘hello’ is ‘sabai dee’, usually said with a smile. Touching or showing affection in public will embarrass your host.

2. In Laos your head is ‘high’, your feet ‘low’, using your feet for anything other than walking or playing sports is generally considered rude. Do not point with your feet/toes and do not have your feet raised/or propped up on tables.

3. Touching someone’s head is very very impolite! [Not even childrens’.] It is polite to gently crouch down when passing someone who is seated. Never ever step over someone in your path.

3A. Monks are revered and respected in Laos. However, women should not touch a monk or a monk’s robe.

4. Lao people appreciate clean and neatly dressed visitors! Please show respect and dress neatly while in temples and when taking photos. Dress appropriately, no tank tops or shorts in temples, no low cut neck-lines, or revealing clothes.

5. [While bathing daily and personal hygiene is appreciated], Bathing NUDE IS IMPOLITE and rude to their culture!

6. Please remember to take your shoes off before entering a Lao person’s home. [Several weeks back while swinging thru Vang Vieng for a night I was appalled to be having dinner with a local friend who operates a guesthouse and it was his chance to have dinner and unwind a bit and I could hear this foreigner searching for him, going through the guesthouse’s little shop, going through the reception area, and walking into his private quarters to insist that he wanted to buy a minibus ticket from him while his wife was ‘managing’ during his dinner time. There were more than enough workers/help to have sold him the ticket and to just barge in on his dinner let alone into his private quarters was one of the rudest acts I’ve witnessed but the saddest part was that the foreigner most likely wasn’t even aware how rude he was in going into someone’s private area!]

7. Kissing and hugging in public is impolite; please be discrete!

8. Lao people speak softly and avoid confrontation. Please do not shout or raise your voice.

9. Before taking a photo of someone, ask if it’s OK.

10. Please do no distribute gifts [such as candy] to children as it encourages begging, but give to an established organisation [a school, monastery/temple/kyaung] or village elder instead.

11. Try eating delicious Lao food whenever you can. It helps local businesses and Lao farmers.

12. There are many other sacred items and sites in Laos. Please don’t touch or enter these places without permission.

13. Laos loses a little of its cultural heritage everytime an antique is taken out of the country. Please do not buy antique buddhas or other sacred items. Instead, support local craftsmen by purchasing new yet quality, handicrafts.

14. The illegal sale of wildlife and wildlife products endangers many species native to Laos. Help protect Lao wildlife by refusing to buy wildlife products.

15. Please help to keep Laos clean and beautiful by not leaving litter. Picking up rubbish sets a good example for Lao youth.

If you’re going to do any trekking, the Nam Ha Ecotourism Project also provides guidelines for do’s and don’t’s for trekking and you may read them at their website [google Nam Ha] or via links with the boatlanding’s website.

For citizens of the USA, their embassy in Vientiane notes in a memorandum that it’s a Lao ‘secret law’ which stipulates that it’s illegal to have sexual relations with a local Lao and violaters are subject to fines and impisonment.