Lao culture is easy going and generally very accepting. The Lao people have no problem with Lady Boys or public intoxication. They take a “live and let live” attitude toward most behavior. However, there are still several things you should never do in Laos.
Don’t touch a monk
Touching a monk or novice is considered rude, and is totally taboo if you are a woman. Women should also be careful not to accidentally brush up against a monk’s robes on the street, in a temple or sharing a tuk-tuk. Women should not hand anything directly to a monk, but instead should pass the item to a male intermediary. The only exception to this rule is giving morning alms to monks by placing the offering of food or money into the monk’s alms bowl.
Don’t argue with police
Should you be stopped by the police for any minor offense, it’s inadvisable to put up a fight or go to the police station. Often the underpaid police force is simply looking to extort money from tourists. Just pay the bribe and be on your way. It’s no use making rational arguments about the dozens of Lao people you’ve seen doing the same thing that you allegedly got stopped for. The justice system is not the same in Laos as other countries, and the best thing for everyone is to comply, save face and move on.
Don’t trek without a guide
While Laos is a comparatively safe country in terms of violent crime and theft compared to its neighbors, it’s not without its own brand of danger. 260 million cluster bombs were dumped on Laos from 1964 to 1973, and thousands of ‘unexploded ordinances’ still litter the countryside, killing or injuring over 100 people every year. If you are trekking, stay on the path and better yet, go with a guide who knows the land and the language and can keep everyone safe.
Don’t touch anyone with your feet
Stepping over someone who is seated is the height of rudeness in Lao culture, since the head is high and the feet are the lowest part of the body. The same goes for accidentally kicking or brushing another person with your feet at a table or in a car. The best bet is to keep your feet on the floor, not tucked under you or on a chair or (heaven forbid) propped up on a table.
Don’t wear your shoes inside a home or temple
As in much of Southeast Asia, shoes belong outside and house shoes or bare feet are worn in the home. In Laos, this line of thinking extends to certain stores and restaurants as well. When in doubt, follow what others do. Even if your host tells you that you may keep your shoes on, if his or hers are off, you should remove yours as well. The Lao want to save face and may tell you one thing when they would actually like you to do something else.
(To be continued)
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