Visiting a temple or Wat in Laos can be a beautiful, serene experience, but there are expectations that visitors behave with decorum and respect. The easy going “bo pen nyang” nature of the Lao makes it unlikely someone will tell you directly when you’re acting inappropriately. Follow this guide to temple etiquette to ensure a great visit.
Would you wear it to church? Then it probably passes muster for a temple visit. Lao women visiting a temple will wear an ankle-length sinh and a long sleeve blouse. While you don’t have to take it to extremes, you do need to cover up. Women should be covered to the knees with capris or a long skirt and the shoulders and chest should be fully covered. Bring a shawl in your bag to have with you in the pinch. The Lao are modest people, don’t give them a reason to be embarrassed by you or for you. Men should wear long pants or shorts at least to the knee and have at minimum a t-shirt on; a button up is better, but absolutely no tank tops.
Pay the entry fee
Many temples are free to enter for visitors or the faithful, but some of the more popular ones may ask for a modest entrance fee. Pay it. This is Laos, so you’re unlikely to see a turnstile or any strict gate-keeping. It’s possible the person selling tickets is asleep or on their phone, but show your respect by making a good faith effort to pay. The same goes for restroom fees. Lao people are non-confrontational, but these small amounts add up and is how the temple stays open and the restrooms get cleaned.
Remove shoes upon entry
It’s fine to walk around the temple grounds in your sneakers, but if you enter a building, leave your shoes outside. Sometimes there’s a dedicated shelf or location for this, other times you can leave them on the steps leading up to the sanctuary. Remove your hat as well. When walking inside, move in a clockwise manner and don’t step between someone and the Buddha at which they’re praying.
Turn your feet away from the Buddha
In Laos your head is high and your feet are low. As the lowest part of the body, you should be careful not to point your feet at anyone, but especially not at the Buddha. If you are uncomfortable sitting in a kneeling position, you can drop your hips to one side with your knees bent and your feet behind you. If this is also too much to bear, sitting cross legged can be acceptable for westerners if you’re careful about the direction your bare soles are pointing (down to the floor, tucked under you and away from the alter is best.)
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