Alarm has been set, camera battery is full.
Banana breakfast is ready.
The first time i went to Laos 20 years ago with my family, we went to Luang Prabang for a few days. Unfortunatly i do not remember really vividly this trip. Fair enough, let’s attend it again !
We struggled to wake up at 5 AM after bowling night and had missed the ceremony the previous day, as always the first 20 minutes, Indre hated my guts for that.
Discover a new culture and traditions is always one of the highlights of a trip abroad. Learning about the meaning of it, especially a century old religious one, help to understand the general organization of society you found yourself in.
When the sun rises, hundreds of orange robed Monks gather in the street of Luang Prabang to collect their daily meal. By doing so, the faithful earn merit for a better rebirth, towards the path of enlightment.
Foreigners are more than welcome to take part of the ceremony, as long you respect few rules :
- Dress respectfully : cover shoulders, chest and legs.
- Be silent.
- No Flash photography.
- Stand at least 3 meters from the procession.
- Do not interrupt the procession.
- Make an offering, only if it is meaningfull to you.
- If you make an offering, do not buy street food.
- Take off your shoes.
- Women must sit, cover their hands and always be lower than a Buddhist Monk. Men can stand.
Well, that is what should happen…
Instead, tourists are flocking to the streets, filing formerly serene city center with minivans. Monks will need to dusk a photographer elbow to keep the procession going.
The ceremony brings money to town, unfortunatly on the other hand it is not being always done in a respectful way. Indeed, tour company and hotels offer to tourist “Alms packages“, sometimes enduring hours of driving. Then it is the rush to find the best stools laid out on the pavement for them
If you do attend it and want to be part of it, always prefer to buy rice from the local market early in the morning instead of buying it from street. The same apply to candy bar, remember it is their daily meal, what would you like to eat if it was you gathering it ?
We worry whether tourists will love the Alms Ceremony (Tak Bat) to death. I can already picture it happening in a western country church, we will cry fool .
The question is : If every travel website speak about it, will it raise social awareness of this problem or bring more people… ?
Alms ceremony has been going since Buddhism was first introduced to Laos (7th – 8th centuries CE). This is an important part of the culture of Luang Prabang making it a UNESCO World Heritage.
Giving Alms means to give to the needy without consideration. In Theravada Bhuddism, the practice of a daily alms is still really strong but died out in country that follow Mahayana one (Great Vehicle).
We didn’t tell you that: .We strongly recommend to not stay in the main street. You could ask a Monk the previous day more details about the path. Yes, you wont see all the saffron robes in town, but by doing so, you allow a tradition to persist in the right manner
Your choice …
In a nutshell:
Alms Ceremony start around 6 AM, it is a religious processions and must be respected as such.
- Dress properly.
- Buy food from the market rather than steet vendors.
- We all want to be National Geographic photographer, but we might give it a miss, i am sure we will have plenty of other occasion.
Now you are ready to come early enough, and attend a century old heritage tradition.