99% of tourists that visit Laos can’t speak a word of the local language.
Whilst a lot of people in Laos can speak some English, especially in the touristy areas, many of them can’t so knowing a few words in Lao can go a long way.
In this post, I’ll be teaching you the Lao basics that you’ll need to get around Laos with zero issues.
What Language Is Spoken In Laos?
The official language of Laos is Lao.
Lao is very similar to Thai so if you already know some Thai then you might notice a lot of similar words and sounds.
Lao is not written using the Latin alphabet like English. It actually has its own script that looks very similar to Thai. Here’s what it looks like: ສະບາຍດີ.
To make it easier for you, I’ve included the pronunciation of all the Lao phrases so you don’t have to bother learning the script.
Greetings In Lao
Let’s start with the Lao basics like how to say hello in Lao.
Although most people will understand basic English greetings like ‘hello’, the locals really do appreciate it when you make the effort.
Trust me, they’ll be super excited to hear you trying to speak their language as not many tourists do!
Here’s what you need to know:
- Hello – Sabaidee
- Good morning – Sabaidee ton sao
- Good afternoon – Sabaidee yarm laeng
- Goodbye – La gon
- Have a nice day – Mi van thidi
I promise using these phrases will generate a huge smile from whichever local you say them to!
How To Say Thank You In Lao
It’s polite to say thank you when someone does something for you.
You can use this phrase when the server brings over your khao poon (spicy noodle soup) or when a cute old Lao lady rents you a bicycle.
Here’s how to say thank you in Lao:
- Thank you – Khop jai
- Thank you very much – Khop jai lai lai
- You’re welcome – Baw pen nyang
It’s pretty easy to remember and will definitely go a long way.
How To Say Please In Lao
It’s also polite to say please when asking for something.
Maybe you spilt khao poon all down your front and you need to ask the server for a tissue or maybe you fell into a bush on your bike and need to ask a local Lao to help you up.
Here’s how to say please in Lao:
- Please – Galunaa
It’s pretty simple so learn this one to get the locals to help you out when you need something.
How To Say Yes & No In Lao
Lao people will probably understand nodding or shaking your head but wouldn’t it be so much better to say it in Lao?
Here’s how to say yes and no in Lao:
- Yes – Doi
- No – Baw
You’ll get a lot of use out of these two Lao words!
How To Say ‘How Are You?’ In Lao
Another greeting you can use to connect with the locals is ‘how are you?’.
There’s actually a few different ways to say this so I’ll just teach you the most common ones.
Here’s how to say ‘how are you?’ in Lao:
- How are you? – Sabaidee bor?
- How’s it going? – Pen jang dai?
You can use either of these phrases with everyone you meet from the sweet old lady at the street food stall to the friendly taxi driver that might drop you off at your hotel.
The second one (pen jang dai) is more informal so I’d suggest using the first (sabaidee bor) with people you’re meeting for the first time.
How To Respond To ‘How Are You?’ In Lao
There’s no point asking someone how they are if you can’t understand the response!
As you can imagine, there are so many different ways to respond to this question so I’ll just cover the most common ones.
Here’s how to respond to ‘how are you?’ in Lao:
- I’m fine – Khoi sabaidee
- I don’t feel well – Khoi bor sabai
- I’m sad – Khoi sao
- I’m happy – Khoi mee kouam souk
- I’m tired – Khoi muay
- I’m angry – Khoi jai hai
You’ll probably have noticed that all of the responses start with the word ‘khoi’.
‘Khoi’ literally means ‘I am’ and it’s then followed by the feeling that you feel.
If you want to say ‘I am not…’ then you’d say ‘khoi bor…’ and follow this with the feeling that you don’t feel e.g. I am not well. The word ‘bor’ simply means ‘no’ or ‘not’.
How To Say ‘And You?’ In Lao
If someone asks you how you are then you’ll want to respond and ask it back.
Here’s how to say ‘and you?’ in Lao:
- And you? – Jao de?
The person you’re speaking with will then respond and tell you how they’re feeling.
Introducing Yourself In Lao
Now that we’ve covered the Lao basics, let’s take it a step further.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to introduce yourself to new people?
Giving your name and where you’re from can really help you connect with the local people.
Here’s how to introduce yourself in Lao:
- What’s your name? – Jao sue nyung?
- My name is… – Khawy sue…
- Where are you from? – Jao maa tae sai?
- I’m from… – Khawy maa tae …
- Pleased to meet you – Dii jai thii hu kap jao
See how many new Lao friends you can make with these phrases (hint: you’ll make a lot).
Numbers In Lao
Knowing the numbers in Lao can come in really handy especially when shopping but also in many other situations.
A lot of the locals might not know the English numbers so being able to say them in Lao will come in really handy.
I used these all the time to say how much of each item I wanted e.g. at a shop or street food stall.
Here’s the numbers from 1 – 10 in Lao:
- 1 – Nung
- 2 – Song
- 3 – Sam
- 4 – See
- 5 – Ha
- 6 – Hok
- 7 – Jet
- 8 – Paed
- 9 – Gao
- 10 – Sip
These are the basics that I absolutely recommend you learn (I used them a lot).
If you’ve got some extra time then I’d recommend learning some more numbers too.
Here’s the numbers from 11 – 20 in Lao:
- 11 – Sip-et
- 12 – Sip-song
- 13 – Sip-sam
- 14 – Sip-see
- 15 – Sip-ha
- 16 – Sip-hok
- 17 – Sip-jet
- 18 – Sip-paed
- 19 – Sip-gao
- 20 – Sao
As you can see, the numbers from 11 – 20 are pretty easy as you just say ‘sip’ then the number from 1 – 10 (number 11 is an exception though!!).
It could also be worth knowing a few bigger numbers for larger purchases.
Here’s the hundreds in Lao:
- 100 – Loi
- 200 – Song loi
- 300 – Sam loi
- 1,000 – Phan
The hundreds in Lao are pretty easy as you just say the number from 1 – 10 then add ‘loi’ to the end. You can easily figure out the rest using this system.
Directions In Lao
Getting around Laos can be difficult. Google Maps isn’t great here, the roads aren’t super well laid out and at some point, you’re bound to get lost.
It’s a good idea to learn some basic phrases in Lao that will help you get around such as asking for directions and telling a taxi driver which way to turn.
Here’s some basic Lao phrases that will help you get around:
- Where is the bathroom? – Hong nam yu sai?
- I would like to go to… – Diak…
- Turn left – Leo sai
- Turn right – Leo kua
- Stop – Yuut
- I’m lost – Khoy lohng taang
- I would like to rent a motorbike – Khapa chao tongkan thicha hai seoa lot chak
- How much is a ticket to…? – Kaw ta dai butt bie…?
- Take me to… – Phaa khoi bpai…
- Train station – Satannii
- Bank – Thanakane
- Hospital – Hong mo
These words and phrases should help you get around town easily.
Shopping Words & Phrases In Lao
Chances are that you will be doing some shopping whilst in Laos whether you’re buying groceries, souvenirs or you’re out haggling at a local market.
Knowing some common Lao phrases will help you snag a bargain and not get ripped off.
Here’s some common shopping words & phrases in Lao:
- How much does this cost? – Laka tao dai?
- It’s very expensive – Pheng lai lai
- Can you lower the price? – Lud dai baw?
- I can’t afford it – Khoi seu baw dai
- I would like to buy this one – Khapa chao yakcha su thini
- I don’t want it – Khoi bor yak ow
- Cheap – Tuke
- Expensive – Pheng
- Ok, I’ll take it – Khoi si ow
- I need… – Khoi dtong gaan…
Restaurant Phrases & Words In Lao
Unless you’re planning on doing some weird diet, I’m guessing you’ll be eating some food at a restaurant whilst in Laos.
You’ll want to learn a few words and phrases to do with food to make sure you can order food and get the type of food that you want.
As a vegetarian myself, these were essential for me as without them I often ended up with a plate of chicken (true story).
Lao food is often very spicy so if your taste buds can’t handle it, you can let them know.
Here’s some basic restaurant phrases in Lao:
- I would like… – Khoi yak…
- Water – Nam
- Delicious – Sep lai lai
- Can I get the check please? – Chek bin, galunaa
- I’m hungry – Khoy hew khao
- Not spicy – Baw pet
- A little spicy – Pet noy nung
- I am vegetarian – Khapa chao vegetarian pen
- Tea – Am sa
- Coffee – Kafe
I promise these will come in super handy so make the effort to learn them.
Useful Questions & Phrases In Lao
Finally, here’s some other random useful phrases in Lao that you might need.
You never know when you may find yourself in an emergency situation so it could be worth learning a few of these just in case.
Here’s some useful Lao phrases:
- I don’t understand – Khoy baw khao jai
- Do you understand? – Jao khao jai baw?
- Do you speak English? – Jao vao passa angkit dai baw?
- Cheers! – Tham keo!
- I need a doctor – Khoy tong kan maw
- Can you help me? – Suay khoy dai boh
- How do you say … in Lao? – Phasaa lao … pe wa nyang?
- It’s an emergency – Souk sern
- I’m sick – Khoi bor sabai
- Excuse me – Khaw toot
You might not end up using all of these but you’ll be glad you learned them if you do.
And that’s it!
Thanks for reading this post which covers some common Lao words and phrases that every traveler should know.
Watch them put some huge smiles on the locals’ faces!
If you’re currently planning your trip to Laos then you might wanna check out my Laos bucket list which includes all the top things you should definitely do in Laos.