The Thais and Lao culture are very similar when it comes to greeting, instead of shaking hands, we wai (hands in upside down Y) instead. I’ve had many friends that asked me if Lao or Thai people still wai each other when meet, and I do have to say that when I visited Laos and Thailand, it’s still a common practice amongst Lao and Thai people. One thing that most don’t ask me is where do I place my hands (in an upside down Y) when I wai? This I probably can’t tell, all I know is that my hands go up automatically, and mostly in the chest level area, obviously not the proper way for all occasions of wai.
Since so many people visit Thailand, the Thai Ministry of Culture have come up with a guide line of where to place your hands that I thought is interest, and good to know. The Lao would follow the same guide line in my opinion since our greeting practiced is very similar. This is Greeting: Thai Social Etiquette, Ministry of Culture, by Malithat Promathatavedi.
In Thailand, people in general greet one another with the word Sawatdi (Sabaidee in Lao). This word can be used at all times of day. A male would add the word khrap and a female the word kha after Sawatdi to show politeness (Lao people don’t add any word). The word Sawatdi (Sabaidee or Largone in Lao) can also be used when taking leave of someone or saying good-bye.
If the persons are friends or about the same age, the word Sawatdi (Sabaidee in Lao) alone is sufficient for greeting. A wai is a gesture of pressing the palms together in the position of a budding lotus at chest level (upside down Y), with the fingertips touching the tip of the nose. There are three levels of wai.
1. For the Buddha images or the monks only
Raise the pressed palms until the thumbs touch the space between the eyebrows and the fingertips touch the hairline at the forehead. The tips of tbe index fingers are pressed against the forehead, not tilting to the left or right. This is the 1st level wai.
2. For parents, teachers, senior relatives, and the elderly
Raise the pressed palms until the thumbs touch the tip of the nose and the fingertips touch the space between the eyebrows. This is the 2nd level wai.
3. For respected persons in general including persons of the same status
Let the pressed palms touch the lower part of the face, with the tips of the thumbs touching the tip of the chin and tile tips of the index fingers touching the nose. Bow the head a little without stooping for both male and female. This is the 3rd level wai.
It should be noted that the level of bowing or stooping depends on status and seniority of both parties. The person greeted should rap wai or acknowledge the wai from a less senior person by pressing the palms together at chest level with the fingertips at the chin, head bowing a little. The rap wai should generally be performed as a gesture of mutual respect. To read more, please visit studyinthailand.org
Based on this, I would say that the level of your hands position is based on respect, the monk being the highest therefore at the eyebrows level, then eventually move down to nose, then chin level. It is expected for the younger person to wai the elderly person first to show respect, and the elderly person can wai back and place his/her hands at a chest level.