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Culture and Religion

Southeast Asia is a popular tourist destination because of its year round warm tropical climate, delicious food and affordable prices. The culture has a strong Chinese and Indian influence, particularly in areas of faith, mythology, language and writing; and Buddhism is the dominant religion which is practised by most. Southeast Asia is heavily influenced by its religion, cultural beliefs and traditions, so check out our list of recommendations to help you be respectful while travelling.

Respectful travel tips

  • A polite 'nop' (putting hands together in a praying gesture) and the greeting 'sabaidee' ('sawadee kha/krap' in Thailand, ‘som pas’ in Cambodia) with a smile will always be appreciated when you meet or speak to a local.
  • Touching or showing affection towards locals will embarrass them. Men can shake hands.
  • Head high, feet low. Don’t expose the soles of your feet at dinner or meetings (sport and walking is OK).
  • Touching of heads is considered very impolite.
  • In general take your shoes off when entering homes, some shops, and offices.
  • Wear clean clothing and dress tidy where possible (most Western attire is OK).
  • When visiting temples, remote villages or at the alms ceremony legs and shoulders should be covered.
  • Keep voices low when in a temple (i.e. no shouting).
  • No skinny dipping, women are encouraged to swim in a sarong in remote villages.
  • It is considered improper to show public affection in Lao society, so be as discrete as possible with affection towards other foreigners.
  • Always ask before taking photos.
  • Many places in Southeast Asia have incredible spiritual and historical significance. Treat these places and the people living there with consideration and respect, and please do not touch sacred items.
  • Please do not touch the Monks.
  • Any show of anger or lack of respect to older people is considered very rude, always be polite.
  • Do not use illegal drugs. Be aware of locals that offer it to you - there are times when the police will do it or ask the locals to do it on their behalf. There can be severe consequences.
  • We are sorry we have to say this but sex tourism is rife. It is very frowned upon for a ‘falang’ (Westerner) to be with a local and illegal for a local to stay in your hotel room.

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