The culture of Laos is influenced by Buddhism, which is the main religion in Laos. Most Lao people don't normally go to a Buddhist temple unless there is a special or important occasion such as the Buddhist Lent Day (Ork Phansa, Khao Phansa) where worshippers go to the temple to offer food and others necessities to the monks. Deaths and the Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao) are also times when you will see many people gather at the temple.
Every male Laotian aged over 20 is expected to ordain as a Buddhist Monk at some point in his life. Ordaining as a monk is a beautiful gift to himself and mostly to his parents who have raised him since he was born. It will help their soul reach heaven after death. How long he wants to stay as a monk is entirely up to him and his family but most people last for at least a week. The longer, the more merit his parents soul will receive.
If you are planning to visit Laos, it's a good idea to learn how to do the "vai" because it is often used for greeting, and a way of showing respect or thanks. If you return a vai to someone of much lower social status, you could actually embarrass the person and yourself. So unless you know what you're doing and when it's appropriate to vai, we recommend that you preform the normal handshake instead or just a simple smile.
Do show respect for the religion, for the Buddha and for monks in Laos. If you're a woman, try to keep a distance from monks. Dress appropriately when going to the temple, shorts for men are allowed because it's usually hot in Laos but if it's a major temple then trousers would be more proper. Women shouldn't wear anything too sexy or revealing to a temple.
People in Laos speak the Lao language, and nearly everybody understands Thai language. If you don't know either language, you can speak simple English in a slow and clear voice. Most Laotians, especially the ones you meet on the streets such as your tuk tuk driver, business owners and market merchant will understand some English.
When eating out in Laos, there are no knives. Instead, a fork and the spoon is the main utensil, similar to Thailand. All the food is cut into small enough pieces that a knife is unnecessary. Chopsticks are provided only for noodle dishes. You can even use your hand for most Lao style dishes that consist of sticky rice.