Laos is an easy country for women travelers though you still need to be sensitive to a set of cultural mores that hasn’t been watered down as much as in many parts of Thailand. Lao is very safe and violence against women travelers is extremely rare. And while everyday incidents of sexual harassment are more common than they were a few years ago, they’re still much less frequent than in virtually any other Asian country.
The relative lack of prostitution in Laos, as compared with Thailand, has benefits for women travelers. While a Thai woman who wants to preserve a “proper” image often won’t associate with foreign males for fear of being perceived as a prostitute, in Laos this is not the case. Hence a foreign woman seen drinking in a cafe or restaurant is not usually perceived as being “loose” or available as she might be in Thailand. This in turn means that there are generally fewer problems with uninvited male solicitations.
That, however, is not an absolute. Lao women rarely travel alone, so a foreign female without company might be judged by Lao – male and female – as being a bit strange. And while this is less prevalent in the larger, towns and cities where society is generally more permissive, in rural areas Lao men might see a woman traveling alone as a woman who wants company. Generally, though if your bus has other women on board, you shouldn’t have any problems.
The best way to avoid unwanted attention is to avoid overly revealing clothes. It’s highly unusual for most women (even in more modern places like Vientiane and Vang Vieng where they’re used to seeing tourists), to wear singlet tops or very short skirts or shorts. So when travelers do, people tend to stare. Being stared at isn’t much fun for the traveler, but if you try putting yourself in their shoes it’s easier to understand… relatively speaking, if a woman walked down Oxford St in London or Broadway in New York wearing nothing but a bikini, people would look.
Lao people will almost never confront you about what you’re wearing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. As one woman in Vang Vieng told us: “I wouldn’t say anything, but I’d prefer it if they put on a sarong when they get out of the river. It’s not our way to dress like that (a bikini only) and it’s embarrassing to see it”. It’s good advice – if you’re planning on bathing in a village or river a sarong is essential.