Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strongly developed sense of courtesy and respect. Everyone who adheres to the latter will receive a warm welcome.
The generally accepted form of greeting among Lao people is the nop. It is performed by placing one’s palm together in a position of praying at chest level, but not touching the body. The higher the hands, the greater the sign of respect. Nonetheless, the hands should not be held above the level of nose. The nop is accompanied by a slight bow to show respect to persons of higher status and age. It is also used as an expression of thanks, regret or saying good-bye. But with western people it is acceptable to shake hands.
When entering a vat or a private home it is customary to remove one’s shoes. In Lao homes raised off the ground, the shoes are left at the stairs. In traditional homes one sits on low seats or cushions on the floor. Men usually sit with their legs crossed or folded to one side, women prefer solely the latter. Upon entering guests may be served fruit or tea. These gestures of hospitality should not be refused.
Since the head is considered the most sacred part of the body and the soles of the feet the least, one should not touch a person’s head nor use one’s foot to point at a person or any object. Moreover men and women rarely show affection in public. It is also forbidden for a woman to touch a Buddhist monk.
Do’s and Dont’s in Laos
The Lao word for hello is “sabai dee”, usually said with a smile. Touching or showing affection in public will embarrass your hosts.
Lao people traditionally greet each other by pressing their palm together to “nop”, although it is acceptable for men to shake hands.
In Laos your head is “high”, your feet “low”. Using your feet for anything other than walking or playing sport is generally considered rude.
Touching someone’s head is very, very impolite.
Lao people appreciate clean and neatly dressed visitors.
Bathing nude in public is impolite.
Please remember to take your shoes off before entering a Lao person’s home or temple.
Remember, your head is “high”, your feet “low”. It is polite to gently crouch down when passing someone who is seated. Never, ever step over someone in your path.
Kissing and hugging in public is impolite, please be discrete.
Lao people speak softly and avoid confrontation. Please do not shout or raise your voice.
Before you take a photo of someone ask if it is OK.
Please do not distribute gifts to children as it encourages begging, but give to an established organization or village elders instead.
Try eating delicious Lao food whenever you can. It helps local business and Lao farmers.
Please show respect and dress neatly while in temples and when taking photos.
There are many other sacred items and sites in Laos, please don’t touch or enter these places without permission.
Monks are revered and respected in Laos, however women should not touch a monk or a monk’s robe.
Please help to keep Laos clean and beautiful by not leaving litter. Picking up rubbish sets a good example for Lao youth.
The illegal sale of wildlife and wildlife products endangers many species native to Laos. Help protect Lao wildlife by refusing to buy wildlife products.
Please help prevent forest fires.
Laos loses a little of its heritage every time 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, quality handicrafts.
The use of drugs is illegal in Laos. the consequences may be severe for you and Lao society.
Sex tourism is illegal in Lao PDR and child-sex tourism is a serious crime. Please help protect children in Laos from sexual abuse and exploitation by reporting suspicious behavior.
Source: Lao National Tourism Authority