Alms Giving Ceremony – Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, a UNESCO world heritage site, the only land locked country in South East Asia, and virtually unknown to me before moving to Singapore.   Laos is shrouded in mystery and unlike it’s metropolitan neighbors, Laos has largely remained wild, protected, and sacred.

It’s 4:00 AM on any given day and the first sound that breaks the silence is a single drumbeat.  Seconds pass and then another louder, clearer, and more definite.  It’s eerily quiet as we get dressed and sleepily pour out onto the dark street stumbling our way through unlit allies.  A Laos lady approaches steadily “offerings for the monks?” “No thank you” as we shake our heads vigorously and gesture that we only want to observe.

The drum beats get louder and the sky begins to lighten ever so slightly.  The locals line up with bamboo baskets – some sitting on little wooden stools while others kneel.   We notice that many of the participants tend to be older and we can’t help but wonder how many generations before this practice is lost forever.

From across the street we see the first glimpse of familiar orange robes – quiet and graceful each monk slowly make their way down the line of people.  Each person offers a handful of rice or bread – the total amounting to their daily portion of food.  One by one they line up to accept the offerings.  It’s unclear, but it seems that oldest are first with youngest trailing behind.  As quickly as they appear the line thins out and soon they are done.

Where to see the monks:

The monks leave from each temple in the mornings = the majority of them start on the street of Luang Prabang, but unfortunately, so do all the other tourists.  To avoid any encounters with foreigners and to enjoy the ceremony in it’s purest form, we found that it was best to hang around a side street of Luang Prabang and our strategy is where we saw locals sitting, the monks would eventually come.

We camped just outside of Wat Mahathat Temple on Chao Fa Ngum Road.  This is area had the least amount of tourist.  Sadly, some of the more popular streets were completely lined with tourist giving Alms which completely ruins the atmosphere of the ceremony.

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