Tipping and Bargaining in Laos
First of all, tipping is not ‘obligatory’ in Laos (in other words, you don’t have to leave a tip). People will not be angry with you if you don’t leave a tip and it will cause no problems like it will probably do in the United States of America for example…
But secondly… It might be worth considering leaving something as a tip if you enjoyed your food in a restaurant or if you enjoyed staying in a guesthouse/ homestay/ hotel/ hostel or somewhere else they’ve served you. If the service is good, the food tasty and you had a good time, it might be worth leaving a few Kip (the local currency in the Lao PDR), Baht, Dollars or even Euros.
Why? A tip might be a nice way of showing someone or a business that you’ve appreciated what they have served you. Even a small tip might make both you and the people serving you (or the owners of a small business) happy. It might be good to keep in mind that many people serving you in restaurants get the minimum salary (sometimes even less…) and that’s 1.100,000 Kip at the moment. That’s salary for one month (working 7 days a week sometimes with very limited days off)…. Yes, Laos is cheaper but many things are absolutely not that much cheaper (some even more expensive)… Some businesses (not talking about big hotels etc.) also don’t make a lot of money. A few Kip can go a long way here and can make someone very happy.
How much? That’s a difficult one. It depends on some different aspects. First of all it might make a difference how long you’ve stayed somewhere. If (for example) you’ve stayed in a guesthouse (and you had your food and drinks there) for a week and you are happy with the service, the tip might be different from a place you had a quick breakfast somewhere for 20 minutes…. Another factor might be your own financial situation, but a bit of money on a big trip will not make a huge difference. If the service was bad and they weren’t friendly or they didn’t care about you being there (keep in mind some people are not as ‘international’ as some others and they might be very shy… even in more touristy places where young people from the countryside get jobs) you might not leave a tip or just round up the bill if it was OK enough for you (if it’s 68,000 Kip make if 70,000 Kip of it for example). If the service was attentive, active and good (and forgive people their mistakes please, most of them didn’t had the chance to study and English is not an official language in Laos) you might consider leaving a bit more in a restaurant. It’s completely up to you but leaving 10,000 or 20,000 Kip (or more if you had a big meal) or giving them the change back might make both sides happy. Sometimes they might not even understand the concept of tipping (although some Lao people do it as well) and want to give it back to you because they think you’re making a mistake. Just smile and give it to them directly (and if other people also served you, make sure they also see it, so it’s more likely the tip gets shared if you want that).
Enjoy your stay in Laos! You will meet many wonderful and generous people and be generous yourself as well if you like!
It’s okay to bargain a bit in Laos if prices are not fixed. Sometimes they will ask foreigners more but this is not always the case and most Lao people are honest and will not try to cheat you. There are (like everywhere in the world) people who do try to get the most out of you. Do not presume all of the people are like that and Laos is not China, Thailand, Vietnam or any other neighboring country. Stay polite during bargaining, don’t start screaming or raising your voice, keep calm and try to smile. Lao people normally bargain without becoming very agitated, unlike some of the neighboring countries. Sometimes the discount you will get is just 10% and that might still be correct. In more touristic areas you might have to bargain harder if you want to get a discount. Tuktuk and samlor drivers in touristic areas might try to ask way too much if you ask them the price. Try to inform before in your guesthouse, hostel or hotel about realistic prices and go on from there.