People and Culture in Laos

Remember how your parents used to tell you to keep your elbows off the table during meals? Or that it’s rude to slurp your soup? Well there’s good news guys, these American cultures and customs don’t always translate to other countries! While the local people you meet won’t expect you to be fluent in their language, culture and customs, it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

Do you know how kissing, snoring and other things sound in other languages? That’s right, even sound effects can be translated!

The most important thing to remember while you’re abroad is that things will be different. But, different doesn’t mean wrong. Be open, be curious, and read more about the culture you will be stepping into. Get excited about LIVING the life you’ve only dreamt and read about until now!

People and Culture in Laos

Official name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Population: 6.7 million

Capital City: Vientiane

Geography: A landlocked nation in Southeast Asia occupying the northwest portion of the Indochinese peninsula, Laos is surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. It is twice the size of Pennsylvania. Laos is a mountainous country, especially in the north, where peaks rise above 9,000 ft (2,800 m). Dense forests cover the northern and eastern areas. The Mekong River, which forms the boundary with Burma and Thailand, flows through the country for 932 mi (1,500 km) of its course.

Flag of Laos

Culture in Laos:

  • Conservative dress is always recommended, and visitors should keep in mind that the Lao dislike foreigners who come to their country and dress in what they deem a disrespectful manner. This includes men appearing shirtless in public, and women bearing their shoulders and thighs.
  • Feet are considered unclean – refrain from stepping over any part of people who are sitting or lying on the floor.
  • Do not touch people’s heads for they are considered sacred.
  • Women should never touch Buddhist monks or novices (or their clothes), or hand objects directly to them.
  • DO NOT kiss in public – hand holding is the most intimate level of romantic interest that is acceptable in public.
  • DO cover yourself up if you are going into a shop or restaurant while wearing a swim suit.
  • DO NOT point your fingers upward – beckon with you hand pointing down.
  • DO keep your cool and smile a lot!

Phrases to know before you go:

Hello Sa bai dee

Good-bye Laa gawn

Thank you Khawp jai

Thank you very much Khawp jai lai lai/khawp jai deuh

You’re welcome/it’s nothing Baw pen nyahng

No problem Baw mi banhaa

How are you? Sa bai dee baw?

I’m fine/I’m not fine Sabai dee/baw sabai

Yes Chow

No Baw/baw men

Excuse me Khaw toht

I don’t understand Baw kao jai

Do you speak English/French? Passah Angit/Falang dai baw?

How do you say that in Lao? Ani passah Lao ee-yahng?

Where is the toilet? Hawng nam yoo sai?

May I wear shoes here? Sai gup pen nyanhg baw?

Where are you going? Pai sai?

I’m going traveling/to the market/to eat Pai tiao/pai talat/pai gin kao

I want to go to . . . Koi yak pai . . .

Do you have . . . ? Mii . . . baw?

drinking water nam-deum

a room hawng

I would like . . . Kaaw . . .

coffee (black)/with cream café dahm/café sai nom

tea nam saa

How much kip/baht/dollar? Tao dai keep/baht/dollah?

Expensive/too expensive Paeng/paeng poht

Can you make it cheaper? Loht dai baw?

Help! Soi neh!

Call the police! Toh-ha tam louat!

Other Resources:

Useful Phrases

Lao Phrasebook