Laos Travel Tips: Avoid These Mistakes

29 Jan, 2024 | A-> Z Guide

Travel more safely and respect the local culture in Laos by avoiding these common local travel mistakes.

When traveling in any foreign country, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the local customs and traditions as well as safety considerations. Laos is no exception. Below, we share common Laos travel mistakes to avoid, ensuring that your trip is a smooth and respectful one.

Touching the monks

Generally speaking, you should avoid touching people you don’t know without their permission, but this goes doubly for monks in Laos, especially if you are a woman.

Not only should you make sure you do not touch a monk, but you should not even come into contact with his robes either. 

If you want to give something to a monk, you should not do so directly as a woman. Instead, you should pass the item to a man, and ask the man to give it to the monk. Doing it like this is considered a way of respecting the vows that the monks took.

Trekking without a guide

You might be tempted to head off into the cloud forests of Laos without a guide, but it really is important to hire one. Your guide can help you navigate tricky terrain safely, and can bring you to locations where you can spot wildlife such as gibbons or elephants. On your own, you might miss these extraordinary creatures.

There is another very good reason to bring a guide as well, and that is the fact that there are still some unexploded ordinances (UXO) in Laos from the Vietnamese War. Needless to say, this is not the kind of thing you want to trip over. Your guide can help you stay safe and steer clear of UXO.

Arguing with the police

Laos is a friendly country, but the police are very strict. If a police officer confronts you, try not to argue with them. It is fine to assert your innocence, but you should cooperate and continue to be civil. If you disrespect the Laotian police, you will only make your life harder.

Wearing shoes inside temples/local houses

Laos is a country that discourages wearing shoes indoors. If you enter a temple or somebody’s home, you should remove your shoes at the entrance. In fact, sometimes even business establishments may require people to take off their shoes before stepping inside, although this is not as common, and usually only for special situations.

It is also important not to show people the bottoms of your feet for any reason, even unintentionally. So, for example, you should not sit in a chair and then prop them up on a table. A person across from you might think you are doing it “at” them, and take it as a rude gesture.

Taking photos without asking

The people of Laos can get offended if someone takes their photos without asking their permission first. So, always ask. Oftentimes, you will receive a “yes,” and then you can go ahead and snap your shot. But if someone tells you “no”, do not argue. Respect their wishes and put your camera away. There will be plenty of other opportunities to photograph the locals during your vacation.

Wearing bikinis and short clothes on the street

In Laos, it is rude to wear revealing clothing. So, do not run around in bikinis or swim trunks. It is okay to wear swimwear at the resort, but off the premises, you need to cover up.

You do not have to be covered from head to toe, but you should at least cover your knees, and preferably, your shoulders. An easy way to cover your shoulders if your sleeves do not is to wear a shawl.

Show affection in public

Public displays of affection are another mistake to avoid in Laos. It is okay to be publicly affectionate with a platonic friend of the same sex (i.e. you can hold their hand). But it is not acceptable to show physical affection of any kind with someone of the opposite sex. Even a quick peck on the lips or cheek may be considered too much. It is wiser to avoid physical contact altogether until you are back at the resort.

FAQ

Is it safe to drink tap water in Laos?
No, there are a lot of pollutants in the tap water in Laos, so it is not safe to drink. Instead, you should drink bottled water during your stay, or water that has been purified. Ask for no ice in your drinks, as ice could be contaminated.

What is Laos food like?
When you order a meal in Laos, you will usually receive some soup, a stew, and a grilled dish that comes with a side of greens and some sauce.

Ingredients typical in Laotian cuisine include sticky rice, cellophane noodles, rice noodles, bamboo shoots, Asian basil, chilli pepper, lemon grass, ginger, tamarind, fish, pork belly, and other delicious meats, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. This is a very vegetarian- and vegan-friendly place to visit.

Along with the tasty cuisine in Laos, be sure to try some of the famous Lao coffee with condensed milk.

Is it essential to tip in Laos?
In Laos, workers do not expect tips the way they do in the western world; if you eat at a restaurant or take a taxi, you will not offend anyone if you do not tip.

Nevertheless, we recommend you tip around 15%, just as you likely would in your home country. Many Laotians do not earn a lot of money, and a tip can make a real difference in their day.

Plus, if you are in a small community and you tip generously, word will get around. You may motivate people to provide you with better service (or encourage them to expect your tips).

Is Laos suitable for a family vacation?
Yes, Laos is an excellent destination for a family vacation. Laotians are friendly and welcoming to children, and there are plenty of activities that are suitable for kids of all ages. Children will enjoy exploring cities, caves, cloud forests and temples. If your kids tire of walking, a Mekong River boat ride is a great option to take in more of the scenery while enjoying a relaxing ride. Many children will also appreciate a visit to an elephant sanctuary.

Just remember that your children need to observe the customs of Laos as well. So, you will need to go over the etiquette rules with them before your arrival. If your children are forgetful, give them regular reminders throughout the trip so that they continue to respect the locals and their ways.

What is the etiquette in Laos’ temple?
Here are the basic rules of etiquette for visiting temples in Laos:

  • Take off your shoes when entering the temple.
  • Do not touch monks or novices, especially if you are a woman.
  • Do not touch any statues or icons of religious figures such as the Buddha.
  • While dressing conservatively is important everywhere, it is extra important when you are visiting a temple.
  • Check before taking photos, even if no one will be in them. You might be prohibited from photographing some parts of the temple.
  • Be quiet and polite. Switch off your cell phone ring tone before you enter.
  • Follow any other rules you are instructed to obey at the temple.

Is wi-fi easily accessible in Laos?
Yes, in many parts of Laos, it is pretty easy to find free wi-fi. Check at hotels, restaurants, guest houses, and public transit depots.

If you are venturing into the wilderness, it is important to be aware that some parts of Laos are very remote. Not only will you not have wi-fi there, but you might not even have cell phone network access. Be sure to carry the communications equipment you will need (this is yet another reason to explore Laos’ wilderness with a guide).

What is the cost of traveling when in Laos?
The local currency in Laos is the Kip (LAK). At the time of this writing, 1 US Dollar = 20,559.51 Kip. But you do not need to convert your money into Kip; most vendors in Laos accept US Dollars and Thai Baht. Because Laos is so popular with tourists, costs are often listed in US Dollars. So, we will also give cost estimates in US Dollars.

Lodgings can cost anywhere from around $5 to $60, depending on whether you stay in a dorm room at a hostel or a luxury resort.

Food is also very affordable; you can get a meal with multiple courses and a beverage for around $10.

When you factor in transportation costs and miscellaneous expenses, you should be able to visit Laos for anywhere between $50 and $100 per day.

Plan Your Trip to Laos

If you are looking for more travel tips for Laos, Exotic Voyages can assist. As we help you plan your vacation, we can offer you additional insights into Laotian culture and help you learn all the rules of etiquette you will need to observe during your tour. To get started now, design your trip.

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