Every morning Laotians attend an alms giving ceremony. They line the streets to pay tribute to the Buddhist monks with offerings of food. Nowhere was this more advertised than in Luang Prabang. Now open to tourists, we decided to attend.
6 o’clock, the mist was starting to clear and the sun beginning to rise. On our walk to the main street, locals tried to sell us bundles of food. Traditionally they would use sticky rice but they also had packets of biscuits or fruit. Not knowing enough about – or believing in – their religion, I’d already decided I didn’t want to join in and diminish the importance of the event. Yet the locals were insistant and didn’t stop following us until they found someone else to hound.
Small, plastic seats bordered one side of the main street, most of them occupied by tourists. We sat on the pavement on the other side. We could hear the drums from the Buddhist temple and then the rows of monks appeared. All in bright orange and bare-foot, they were led by the eldest, the youngest straggling at the rear. Large, metal almsbowls hung from their shoulders.
While the monks walked slowly from one person to the next, accepting their offerings, tourist massed around them, shoving cameras in their faces. The flashes were constant. The tourists stopped the column, trying to get the perfect picture. Those on the seats often ignored the monks to turn their backs to them and take a selfie with them in the background. The monks didn’t once smile, just shuffled forwards as best they could with their heads down.
The Generous Gentleman
The only possitive I saw that morning was one gentleman handing out money to the younger monks. To each one he gave a single note. One boy ran past, not noticing the generous man. Not wanting him to be left out, the man gave two notes to the following monk, insisting that he handed one on.
How It Should Be
Feeling like we were intruding, I couldn’t stay and watch. I didn’t want to be associated with the tourists that were giving us a bad name. Walking down a side street back to our guesthouse, we saw how it was supposed to be. The street was empty, bar a small group of locals who sat cross-legged on the floor, patiently waiting for the monks to make their rounds.
If you want to visit Laos and learn more of their culture, the alms giving ceremony is a great way to start, but stay away from the main street. If you do insist on going there, just show a little respect. I would rather have the blurry, zoomed-in photos without flash that I have, than interrupt a religious ceremony.