When in Laos, it’s always best to do as the Laotians do, particularly when it comes to dress.
While western culture has begun to grow more casual as business leaders and politicians ditch the suit and tie, formality remains part and parcel of Lao culture. This unspoken requirement has even been institutionalized in a decree on national dress, issued by the prime minister last year.
And though the regulations only apply strictly to citizens of Laos, foreign residents and visitors are encouraged to show good manners by following suit.
Formal or religious occasions require formal attire, with men expected to wear a western suit and tie at weddings, funerals, or high-level events and meetings. Sometimes, older men will pair a traditional Lao shirt with trousers and formal shoes, and foreigners are not prohibited from doing the same.
President of AustCham Laos, Alistair Brown, says that making a good first impression is extremely important when doing business in Laos.
“In my experience, ensuring you supply a written brief in advance on your proposed discussion topics to any government officials you plan to meet is good practice,” he says.
“In addition, show respect due to the government and other senior officials in Laos by adopting formal business attire for visits, including jacket and tie. If you are well mannered and polite they will receive you with interest and grace,” says Alistair.
Meanwhile, Lao women are expected to wear a Lao skirt, or sinh, and a matching blouse on formal or religious occasions. Foreign women may dress in accordance with their own customs and formal attire, however, making an effort to wear the Lao skirt will certainly win brownie points.
Showing excessive skin and wearing skimpy outfits is still frowned upon by the older generation in Laos. And while a bikini may be forgiven at a swimming pool, tourists should refrain from going shirtless or wearing swimsuits when walking the streets or seeing the sights.
Visitors to temples and other religious sites should always be respectful and keep their shoulders and knees covered, as is the case in most Buddhist societies.
So, if you plan to visit Laos for travel or business, be sure to dress for success. You’ll enjoy your trip much more knowing that you showed good manners and respect for local customs.