Attention Travelers: Check the Dresscode!

This is an attention notice for all travelers: you must check the dress code of the destination for where you are traveling! I don’t often get opinionated on Kremb de la Kremb. It’s not my nature to stir up arguments, but from what I just witnessed on my recent travels, I can’t help but write about this topic. It is essential to research the cultural norms in anticipation of a trip.

Recently we traveled to Luang Prabang, Laos. Not only is this quaint little French/Laos town charming, but it is highly religious. Buddhist monks are everywhere and there is a temple (or more) on each block. In order to enter a temple, a woman should have her shoulders and knees covered. That means a BIG no to spaghetti straps, and an even BIGGER negative to butt cheeks escaping out of jean shorts. Yes, during the day it is hot, but there are clothing styles that keep one cool and modest even in the heat.

Enter culottes and the breezy blouse. This was my uniform for the trip. On the days when we’d be visiting temples, I made sure to be covered. I was completely comfortable and felt stylish while respecting the Laos Buddhist culture. I was incensed by some of the skin I saw from my fellow female travelers. I wanted to reprimand them for not respecting the ways of the Laos people. These strong thoughts brought me back to my Saudi days….

While living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I was guilty of not fully following the dress code. I did not cover my hair nor face. I did wear the black abaya, but sometimes I rebelled and wore it open. By the end of my second year there, my abaya turned into a black tunic that did expose that I had a crotch. This was a direct violation to Saudi’s cultural dress code–especially wearing pants. It’s funny to think how opinionated I was on this recent trip, yet years ago, I used wearing pants as a form of rebellion. It’s all rather hypocritical of me now isn’t it?

The thing is my dress code changes constantly. When I go home to Idaho, USA, I do not dress anywhere near to the way I dress in Hong Kong. Even in Seattle, Washington I change my attire. I can remember the shift in my wardrobe from Venezuela to India: cleavage is the norm in Venezuela. Those shirts I wore in Latina land were scandalous in Mumbai. Thank goodness I noticed my sartorial faux pas early on and adjusted rapidly. Even while living in Beijing, where it was very cold and grey, I could identify a shift in the color of my wardrobe. Yes, it was grey!

The point of this post is to simply voice my opinion: when traveling we must adapt to our surroundings. If we do not know the expectations of dress for the upcoming destination it’s our job as the traveler to research this information. It was not hard for me to easily find that Laos–and in particular Luang Prabang–is a conservative town. Within moments I learned that it would be disrespectful to show a lot of skin. Now…. if I ever get to travel to Rio de Janiero again (we brought in the year 2000 there!), I’ll find that showing skin is the norm–as I did when I was in Rio!

There will be more posts from Luang Prabang, but as an aside, I’d like to mention the hotel where we stayed. We had a lovely and perfectly large room at the Sunset Villa by Burasari. Finding a spot that fits the four of us is starting to become a challenge, but one for Kevin to conquer. The Sunset Villa is a four bedroom villa just a ten minute bike ride outside of the main old town. They offered bikes, so we rode everywhere. We’d leave to explore the old town after a decadent breakfast and then come home for a chilly dip in the pool in the hot afternoons. (Currently it’s hot during the day but cools off drastically at night.) By late afternoon, we’d set back out on those bikes for dinner and more site seeing around the ever so charming Luang Prabang.