Do's and Don'ts While Travelling Laos
Do's and Don'ts While Travelling Laos


Do's and Don'ts While Travelling Laos


Laos is a beautiful country full of friendly people. Even though Lao people are extremely warm and friendly, they have a very unique culture which is probably quite different from your own. Navigating these cultural differences can be something of a challenge and people can accidentally offend their charming hosts without realising it. At Discover Laos Today we want everyone to get the most out of their time in Laos, and to help you with this we’ve put together this handy list of do’s and don’ts. Once you understand a little bit more about Lao culture you’ll be ready to have a great adventure, impressing locals along the way!


The first thing to know about Lao culture is that is very non-confrontational and operates on the notion of saving face. To a western perspective this can sometimes appear evasive, not owning up to mistakes, or admitting when things go wrong. When this is pointed out to them, Lao people will often respond by smiling. This is due to embarrassment, not rudeness. 


DO – accept that things don’t always go the way they are planned. If things go wrong, try to focus on finding a solution

DON’T – try to place blame on individuals. Accept mistakes as accidents and try to find a solution.

DO – stay calm if things go wrong

DON’T – get angry or shout

DO – keep on a happy face

DON’T – focus on the negatives


Remember the two unofficial mottos of Laos; bor pen yang (not a problem/no worries) and Laos PDR; Please Don’t Rush



Another important factor in Lao culture is the concept that the head is higher than the feet. While this might seem obvious, it has a deeper meaning in Laos, rooted in Buddhist beliefs. In essence it means that the head is holy and the feet are dirty. 


DO – take off your shoes when entering someone’s home and some business (if you see a shoe rack or pile of shoes at the front door then you should follow their example and take off your shoes)

DON’T – point at things with your feet. This is considered extremely rude

DO – sit cross legged, with your feet behind you, or kneel when sitting on the ground

DON’T – sit with your legs out in front of you

DO – return high fives from local kids

DON’T – ruffle people’s hair or rub their head. While this is a sign of paternal affection in many western countries it is extremely disrespectful in Laos and most of South East Asia

DON’T – step over someone who is seated

DO – a slight bob if walking past someone who is seated, especially someone who is older or respected



Even though Lao people are very laid back and relaxed, it is still a very conservative society which values modesty. As you go deeper into more rural areas that are less exposed to western culture this becomes more apparent and these guidelines become more important.

DO – try to look after your appearance. Keep your hair tidy and your face clean. Lao people take great pride in their appearance and appreciate it when you do the same.

DON’T – wear dirty or tattered clothes

DO – wear clean clothes that do not reveal too much skin or are very tight. Shorts should come down to the knees and tops should cover the midriff. 

DON’T – have public displays of affection such as kissing on the street

DO – be respectful of the Lao culture 

DON’T – be loud. Lao people place a lot of emphasis on modesty and decorum. Shouting to get the attention of a friend on tuk tuk driver is extremely rude

DO – think about what to wear after swimming in a river or waterfall. Consider a sarong for women or light shirt for men that you can put on after swimming so you are clothed when returning to town



Popular tourist destinations such as Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng have seen plenty of tourists, but it doesn’t take long to get into more remote areas. Many of these more remote areas are quite poor and will not have had much exposure to western tourists or culture. This can be a blessing in disguise as you can become a minor celebrity in a small remote village, with all the adults gathered around you, offering you beer and food while children steal glances of the stranger from their hiding spots behind trees. These kind of experiences make for an incredible journey, as long as you are prepared to deal with some difficulties along the way


DO – share the excitement of locals

DON’T – be surprised by the generous hospitality

DO – give thanks for drinks or food offered

DON’T – expect the locals to speak any English

DO – have a basic knowledge of Lao language

DON’T – expect western standards of accommodation

DO – be prepared for some rustic bathrooms and accommodation

DON’T – expect to know what you’re eating

DO – try everything offered

DON’T – expect to find working ATMs outside of large towns

DO – carry plenty of cash in case you can’t find an ATM or for emergencies

DON’T – show off your large wads of cash. While you’re not likely to be robbed, it is impolite and you may find prices start to increase

DON'T - take photos of children. No matter how cute they are, they aren't tourist attractions



Some parts of Laos are considered a ‘party town’ and you may see drugs being offered for sale. Just because they are being sold, doesn’t mean that they are legal. Punishments for drug use and possession can be extremely harsh ranging from fines of hundreds of USD to imprisonment. As well as being illegal, drugs may not be safe. 


DON’T – use illegal drugs in Laos

DO – be aware of your surroundings and avoid places where people are openly using drugs



Motorbikes and scooters are a great way to get around Laos and see the country. Cruising along mountain roads with wide, sweeping corners revealing incredible vistas is one of the most memorable experiences travellers can have in Laos. However motorbikes can be dangerous, and without the correct gear, license or insurance, very expensive. 


DO – enjoy your time on a bike

DON’T – ride a bike without a helmet

DO – make sure that your insurance will cover you in the case of motorbike accident

DON’T – ride a bike without the appropriate licence

DO – make sure that you have the correct paperwork for your bike

DON’T – ride a bike while drunk

DO – be aware of hazards on the road such as other cars, potholes, and loose gravel

DON’T – ride beyond your skill level

DO – drive defensively and obey the road rules



Even though Laos might seem exotic and very different from your home country, for the people that live here it is all very normal. Keep this in mind when interacting with the locals. While they will often be very happy to show you what they are doing, it is always polite to ask before taking pictures or touching anything.


DO – greet people with a ‘nop’ and say “sabaidee”

DON’T – get offended if locals cannot understand you 

DO – ask permission before taking photos

DON’T – laugh at things that seem odd or different

DO – show thanks to people who show you interesting things by saying “Khop Chai Der”

DON’T - touch anything that isn’t offered to you

DO – return any objects shared with you in the respectful Lao manner of right arm extended palm up, holding the object, with the left hand under the elbow or forearm of the right arm


Laos has some great food and fantastic restaurants, ranging from imported steaks served in a five star resort to delicious noodle soup from a road side stall. With this wide range of settings, there is a wide range of expected behaviours. Tipping is not part of the Lao culture, but is appropriate in an upmarket restaurant. However leaving a tip for a $1 bowl of noodles could be considered rude.


DO – try a wide range of Lao food. It’s all delicious!

DON’T – eat any wildlife

DO – leave a tip if the service was great

DON’T – expect all menus to be in perfect English

DO – learn the names of a few basic dishes so you can order food without an English menu

DON’T – leave the lid off your sticky rice basket after you have finished eating. Some Lao people believe that this invites evil spirits to the table and can give you bad luck

DO – try eating Lao style and share dishes

DON’T – forget to wash your hands before you eat, especially if sharing dishes or sticky rice

DO – try some of the spicy dipping sauce

DON’T – be ashamed to ask for a dish to be prepared with less chillies than a Lao person would normally use. Popular tourism destinations will be used to catering to a western palate, but the deeper into the countryside you go, the spicier the food becomes. Try saying “pet noy neung” (little bit spicy) “pet noy noy” (tiny bit spicy) or “pet falang” (westerner level spice)



Laos is a very easy going country and you’re sure to have a good time. From five star resorts with western standards of service, to family homestays in rustic accommodation; Laos has something for everyone. As long as you follow these guidelines, have a bit of flexibility, and a positive outlook, you will have a fantastic trip full of new experiences. 


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.