Temple Etiquette in Laos
Temple Etiquette in Laos


Temple Etiquette in Laos


Some of the best attractions in Laos are its incredible temples. Steeped in history and tradition, these temples are a focus point for modern Lao society to keep ties with its rich history and culture. Many of these temples are hundreds of years old and built on sites that have been places of worship for thousands of years. With their unique architecture, brilliant colours, and dazzling motifs it is no wonder that travellers want to visit these fantastic monuments.

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang
Wat Phou, Champasak
That Luang Stupa, Vientiane Capital

Despite Laos being such a laid back and relaxed country, it is still a very conservative country, especially when it comes to temples. These are sacred places for the Lao people and they expect visitors to behave accordingly. To help make sure you are being respectful we’ve explained below the best way to behave while visiting Lao’s incredible temples.


Lao people are conservative dressers and they expect visitors to dress accordingly while visiting their temples. Simple, plain, demure, and subdued colours are best. 

Men and women are expected to wear a shirt that covers their shoulders. A clean t-shirt is ok but it’s better to wear a collared shirt. Singlets and tank tops are cool and allow a lot of airflow but are not appropriate to wear inside the grounds of a temple.

Women are expected to wear a skirt that covers their knees, ideally a traditional sinh. If this is not an option for you, then at the very least you should wear long pants. Men should wear long pants, or at the very least clean shorts that cover the knees. Leggings and exercise shorts might be comfortable while exploring jungle trails but are not very appropriate to wear in a temple.

Home | Sao Sinh
Traditional women silk shirt and skirt (sinh) 

Think about what you would wear if your parents wanted to take you a Sunday Mass at a local church back in your home country. If you wear something similar to that, you’ll be in the right ballpark. 


Greeting a monk with "nop"

These temples are operating as places of worship and quiet contemplation. Monks live at the temple and will be busy maintaining the temple or perhaps meditating. Keep this in mind as you explore the temple and act respectfully by speaking softly. Many of the frescos and murals are quite old so please don’t touch them. If you are lucky enough to meet a monk while at the temple, please be respectful. To greet a monk you should give a traditional ‘nop’ – both hands pushed together with palms and fingers touching, as if in prayer, and held with the tips of your fingers in front of your chin while making a short bow. Women are forbidden from touching monks, so please don’t try to do so. Men should avoid touching monks as well, and do not try to shake their hands, unless they offer it first.


The temples of Laos are beautiful places and you are welcome to take photos of them, or photos of yourself and friends in the temple, however please be mindful of the expected dress code and behaviours as described above. Monks will be working and meditating there throughout the day so please don’t distract them with an elaborate photo shoot or tik tok dance challenge. If you wish to take a photo of a monk, please ask for their permission before doing so. If you are polite and respectful, they will more than likely be happy to oblige you. 

Paper Lanterns in a temple in Luang Prabang
Living Like Buddha: Lao Rite of Passage - Backyard Travel

Making Donations

Monks survive on the food given to them by the community during the morning alms ceremony. Temple upkeep and repairs are paid for through cash donations from the local community and occasionally local business. Some larger temples may ask for an entry fee, which goes towards the cost of temple upkeep. If you would like to donate to the temple, then the best thing to do is to donate food during the morning alms ceremony. The best food to donate is simple staples such as rice, fruit and vegetables. If you would like to donate cash, please speak to the senior monk of the temple to organise this. If you would like to organise a donation of goods like mosquito nets, then again it is best to speak to the senior monk to understand what the monks could best benefit from. 

Morning alms ceremony
Monks give blissing during the Morning alms ceremony

Lao’s temples are beautiful places, great for quiet reflection and peaceful introspection. If you follow our guide and act respectfully you’re sure to have a great time and get the most out of these holy places. 


David Ormsby

David is a writer, explorer, adventurer, outdoor educator, and guide. He was worked across the Asia Pacific in a number of different roles within the eco-tourism and outdoor industry. Since 2016 David has lived and worked in Laos, and brings a depth of experience to his writing in Laos.