Naturally, travelling comes with a language barrier. Things can get lost in translation. You know…like the time you asked for some soap but somehow end up with a bowl of soup. Pretty standard stuff. Nowadays, because of modern technology, we all have dictionaries and translators at the tip of our fingers but learning the basics of any country you travel to is always worth it. Even if you get it wrong, the locals really appreciate it and they will be more likely to want to help you out. Whether it’s actually pointing you to the right direction, giving you extra sauce for your fish amok, or getting you the coldest beer Lao possible, here are a few basic Lao phrases that will help you make the most of your travel and get by easily.
Lao 101: Basic Lao Phrases
The main language of Laos, Lao is a Tai-Kadai language spoken by around 15 million people in Laos and Thailand. Being so similar to Thai, many people in Laos will understand if you speak in Thai without too many difficulties. However, even if you’re traveling from Thailand, try and learn Lao phrases rather than re-using your Thai to show effort and respect.
Yes – Jao
No – Baw
Maybe – Bangthi
Please – Khâluna
Thank you – Khãwp Ja̖i
Sorry/excuse me – Khãw thôht
Where is the restroom? – Hàwng nâm yuu sǎi?
I need a doctor – Khoy tong kan Maw
I’m lost – Khoy lohng taang
Can you help me? – Suay khoy dai boh
Never mind – Baw pen nyãng
Editor’s Note: Looking for more tips for traveling Laos? Check out our Laos Travel Guide featuring what to do, what to eat, and where to stay.
Basic Greetings in Lao
The first stop when learning any language is basic greetings, cause how else would you start a conversation? You should use these when approaching any local or even if you’re just walking past someone with a smile. You would probably make a locals day if they can see you really trying to learn and embrace their language.
Hello – Sabaidee
Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening – Ton sao
How are you? – Sábaidee baw?
Goodbye! – La khãwn
Read: Guide to Planning Your Dream Trip to Laos
Basic Lao for Eating and Ordering Food
Ordering food in any other language than your own is quite scary, especially when you’re handed the menu and don’t understand what anything is! If you’re a massive foodie and like to take a gamble, pick randomly! However if you have some food restrictions, it is worth learning a few phrases. In Asia, a standard meal is usually 10x spicier than normal, made to suite the local palette. If you’re not big on spice, learn the words.
A table for one person/two people, please – Dtho hai kon neung/song kon, nah
I would like ___ – khoi yak ___
Not Spicy/ I don’t like spice – Bo saï man phèt
Delicious – Saep lai lai
The check, please – Chèk bin, kalounaa
Basic Lao for Shopping
How much does this cost? – Laka tao dai?
That’s expensive! – Phaeng lai lai
I can’t afford it – Khoi seu baw dai
Can you lower the price? – Lout lake daï bo?
Basic Lao to Impress and Gain Street Cred
Neung, Song, Saam, Sii, Haa, Hok, Jet, Paet, Kao, Sip (one to ten)
How do you say ___ in Lao? – Phasaa lao ___ pe wa nyang?
Reply to thank you – Baw pe̖n nyãng
Have a nice day! – Mu thidi!
If you’re REALLY serious about learning Lao, here are a few tips:
All resources have said to avoid learning Lao from local books, magazines or on the internet as sometimes they will be completely in Thai. If you want to learn properly, spend some time there and do one of these three things.
Invest in Lao lessons – If you know you will be in Laos for 6 weeks or 6 months, it’ll definitely be worth investing in lessons. Learning the tone and pronunciation of the language and practicing it one to one will ensure you learn properly and will help build your confidence.
Spend time with locals – Once you’re confident enough to converse, make local friends and practice with them. Being in different social situations and having a range of conversations is the best way to pick up a language and arguably the quickest!
Practice! – This goes without saying. Practice makes perfect, so immerse yourself in local tv, music and books, download apps and go out to practice with your new friends!