What to Do in Laos to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist (Plus What NOT to Do!) | The Invisible Tourist

“If you like things easy, you’ll have difficulties. If you like problems, you’ll succeed.” ~ Laotian proverb.

Ever wondered what the secret is to having the most enjoyable trip possible? Welcome to my “Be Invisible” series – your ultimate guide for how to avoid looking like a tourist on your next adventure and guaranteed to boost your entire travel experience.

Bursting with helpful tips and tricks, I’ve asked locals from particular cities around the world to share their insider knowledge on the best ways travellers can become “invisible” when visiting their city and enjoy it like a local. If you’re ready to challenge travel stereotypes, overcome language barriers and embrace what I like to call invisible tourism, you’ve come to the right place!

This Laos travel guide was written by Marie from A Life Without Borders. The best way to see Laos is by being an invisible tourist, so I’m very excited to share her 8 crucial tips for how to best blend in amongst the Laotians and provide an insight to culture in Laos.

If you’re planning a trip, these Laos travel tips from a local’s perspective will help you have a more enjoyable experience and know what to expect before you go. Read on for more! 

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Is Laos worth visiting?

Laos, officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is a small landlocked country situated amongst other more famous South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar.

Home to stunning waterfalls, rivers and nature, peaceful temples and remote villages, Laos should definitely be on your travel bucket list, even in the rainy season. 

Visitors to Laos will immediately notice the lack of tourist crowds and drop in lifestyle pace in comparison to its Southeast Asian neighbours. This means you will also stand out more than in other busier countries that have more tourists travelling through them.

TIP: Let’s face it; unless you are Lao, it is honestly really difficult to not look like a tourist in Laos. I’m a tall, Caucasian woman with different coloured hair – I’m always going to stand out! Having lived in Laos for almost four years, I’ve finally learnt to embrace the fact that I will always look like a “falang” (foreigner). 

Luang Prabang, Laos (Credit: Pixabay)

Culture in Laos

In saying that, I have learnt how to operate seamlessly within Lao culture and have been graciously absorbed into Lao society to feel like a local.

I’ve even been paid the ultimate compliment that I must have been Lao in another life! Foreign visitors are, at times, a totally puzzling lot to local Lao people.

Avoiding looking like a tourist in Laos isn’t all about how you look. What you do and how you conduct yourself is what separates you from the other tourists. Never fear, there are definitely steps you can take to not look like a tourist in Laos and fit in socially and culturally too.

Laos in general is very conservative and everything boils down to the core values of respect, patience and saving “face” (i.e. maintaining one’s dignity).

The worst offense in Lao culture is causing someone to be embarrassed or humiliated and thereby losing face.

Top advice for what to do in Laos (+ what NOT to do!)

The following are tips and advice designed to help you navigate the social niceties of Lao culture and thereby making sure your experiences in Laos are the best they can be! So read on for how to not look like a tourist in Laos:

Say “Sabaidee”

The Lao word for hello is Sabaidee. Said with a smile, this simple greeting will go a long way in ensuring you are off to a positive start in all interactions with local Lao. However, avoid touching or showing affection when you meet a Lao person as this may cause offence.

A simple Western handshake is acceptable but hugging or a European-style kiss on the cheeks is out-of-order. 

Dress conservatively

The typical backpacker beach wear commonly worn in other parts of South East Asia is not appropriate anywhere in Laos, but particularly in the capital of Vientiane.

No short, shorts or overly ripped jeans. And definitely avoid elephant pants, as dressing like this just screams “tourist” making you a target for all those touts!

To blend in

Dressing appropriately is essential to fitting in with locals and avoiding looking like a tourist in Laos. This doesn’t mean wearing your best party outfit (although Lao themselves will tend to dress impeccably if heading out to a coffee-shop or lunch date).

But rather dress neatly, cleanly and avoid showing too much bare skin. A pair of long pants and a long-sleeved linen shirt would be ideal.

To show respect at places of worship

Don’t visit a wat (temple) in revealing or sheer clothing – everyone will be too polite to tell you otherwise (remember saving face?) but this is extremely disrespectful.

Both males and females should ensure shoulders and knees are covered.

And when I mention the word Wat, this includes the temple grounds – many people falsely believe it is ok to rock into a temple compound in revealing clothing because they are not actually entering the temple itself.

Now, if you really want to fit into the Lao way of dressing, wear your jacket back to front when riding your bicycle or motorbike! This has the practical purpose of keeping dust and splashes off your main outfit.

And while you’re at it, wedge your cellphone in your helmet next to your ear to have an ingenious hands-free speaker option whilst driving!

Remove your shoes when entering a house

In Laos, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, shoes should always be removed and left outside before entering a house, wat or shop.

Many daily activities in Laos are undertaken whilst sitting on the floor – families will gather together on the floor when sharing meals and will roll out sleeping mats when it is time for bed.

Lao view the head as “high” and the feet as “low” and therefore shoes are considered unclean and not appropriate inside.

Use condiments liberally!

Lao food is usually served without the addition of condiments and herbs. If you want to blend in with local Lao and not appear like a tourist, you need to set about adding lots of condiments with gusto!

A piping hot bowl of Lao pho or khao piak noodle soup will be accompanied by a veritable mountain of greens.

Vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, coriander, beans, bean sprouts and fiery red chillies will be waiting to be dropped into your soup.

In no particular order, you will also need to add a liberal amount of soy sauce, fish sauce, Maggi seasoning, sugar, MSG, fresh chopped chillies and/or sweet chilli sauce. Top it all off with a squeeze of fresh lime juice before tucking in like you’ve always lived here!

You heard correctly. In order to avoid looking like a tourist in Laos you need to drink like a local – and that means having your Beerlao with ice!

Local Lao will place several large ice cubes in their glass before adding their beer. This is mainly because beer bottles are generally not refrigerated, but it also serves the important function of watering down the beer slightly.

Lao etiquette dictates that one’s glass should never be empty (unless you are playing a Lao drinking game!) and your glass will constantly be topped-up, making it really hard to keep track of how much you’ve had to drink. You’ve been warned!

Sit the correct way

When inside a Lao home, wat or attending any ceremony like the Alms Giving Festival in Luang Prabang, it is important to avoid sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and you would certainly never sit with your feet directly facing someone.

The correct way to sit is “sideways” with your knees bent and both feet tucked up behind you. Most visitors will need to prop themselves up using one arm and sitting in this position quickly becomes uncomfortable.

It is permissible to change sides every so often to keep the discomfort at bay and you will notice Lao doing this themselves. Just keep in mind that at no time is it acceptable to sit cross-legged when in a wat or in the presence of a monk, as your feet must always be kept tucked behind you.

Don’t point!

It is never ok to use your fingers to point to something or beckon someone as this is particularly rude.

If trying to gain the attention of a waiter or waitress, it is acceptable to wave your whole hand in a downward motion with a flat palm.

Similarly use the whole hand in an open “karate” type position when trying to indicate an individual item you wish to purchase.

Sunset stroll along Vientiane’s Mekong riverfront

Vientiane’s Mekong riverfront promenade is extremely quiet and uninteresting during the day.

But come early evening, this is the place to be! From 5pm onwards, local Lao will begin to emerge from the heat of the day and head to the riverfront in order to walk, participate in aerobics and play sports such as badminton and football.

Families stroll along the River Road which closes to cars and young people meet to simply hang out with friends.

Strolling along the Mekong riverfront is one sure way to blend in with the locals and get a truly Lao experience.

For more tips and advice about life in Laos, head to Marie’s blog A Life Without Borders or follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook!

What to do in Laos: Visit Golden Buddha (Phu Salao) Temple

 Things to do in Laos to book in advance

 Here are some exciting things to do in Chiang Mai you can book in advance to enrich your trip:

Ready to “be invisible” in Laos?

Now you’ve discovered the best secrets for how to act like a local in Muscat, perhaps you’re ready to make the trip! Why not compare hotels in Laos? If you’d like some more ideas, here’s all my articles about Asia to get you started.

For learning my secrets for how to “blend in” anywhere, take a read of my #1 Amazon New Release book!

Do you have any extra tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed this instalment of my Be Invisible series! If you found this helpful, please share it or follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok or Instagram for more!

Until next time, 

The Invisible Tourist


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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing these great tips. Hopefully once the borders open up again, you’ll be able to come back and visit!

    1. Thanks for your comment, as mentioned in the article I’ve personally not visited – yet my guest author lives there and has shared her experiences 😉

  2. Great tips for first-time travelers to Laos – reading these brought back a lot of memories of this beautiful country, especially the beer on ice one! It took me a while to get used to it, but I liked it by the end of my time in Laos.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Ben! Realy glad to hear this brought back some fond memories for you. I know, beer on ice does sound strange but it makes sense in warm climates like Laos!

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