We rise before it is fully light and head towards the centre of town. We are not alone. Mini buses pass us and other blurry eyed tourists join us. I hear French, Chinese, German and other strains of English. Locals are already there on their little stools with their offerings for the monks. This daily Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony is highly revered by the locals, but they actively encourage visitors to take part. We were asked several times if we would like to buy food to offer the monks but we decline as we would rather observe.
This Laos tradition of alms giving dates back to the 14th Century in Luang Prabang. Each morning over 200 Monks leave their temples across the city to gather their daily meal. It is both a spiritual and peaceful ceremony to watch as the saffron robed monks process around the streets. The sheer delight on the faces of the locals as they give the Monks food is humbling. But my favourite part is the little children. They cleverly position themselves with a large plastic bag last in the line of alms givers. Without exception I notice the monks giving some, if not all, of the food on their plates to these children. After the monks have passed by, the children dive into their bags and admire their goodies. I am told these children then take this food home to share with their families.
After the Alms Giving Ceremony we wandered around the quiet streets enjoying the cool of the early morning. Positioned on the banks of the Mekong River Luang Prabang is a beautiful Asian town with more than a touch of France about the architecture. Whilst not the capital of Laos, she is far better known than Vietiane. Is this fair? I can’t answer that as it will be some weeks before we get to Vietiane. But I will say the dawn Alms Giving ceremony has been a wonderful start to our month in Laos.
Tips for Laos and Alms Giving Ceremony
Everyone needs a Visa for Laos. You can buy it in advance or as you enter like we did. Payment for the Visa is in US$, for Aussies it was US$30* and for UK passport holders it was US$35*, then there is a US$1* handling fee!
The Alms Giving ceremony takes place every morning but get there early, about 6am. Be patient, the Monks come from different directions and walk along the main street first, then along the side streets. What worked best for us was finding some locals on their little stools, with food for the monks and positioning ourselves behind them and waiting.
You must be “respectful” of the monks, do not touch them, or wear inappropriate clothing (no shorts), do not stand in front of the monks nor follow them. It is fine to take photos but at a suitable distance.
- Prices correct at time of writing February 2018