Buddhist merit making is a beautiful practice in which good karma is generated through selfless acts. One way this is done is by giving alms. Every morning before sunrise, monks leave their monasteries and walk barefoot down the streets with bowls. Buddhist faithful place food into these bowls and by accepting the gift, monks grant merit that counts towards the givers’ future lives. The Luang Prabang alms ceremony is best place in Laos to witness this daily ritual. At least, it used to be before the tourists turned up en masse.
Instead of watching the procession from a respectful respectful distance across the street, people hover closely and get in the way. Photographers clamor around one another and point zoom lenses in the monks’ faces. Some even use their camera’s flash. Sadly, it felt more like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade than a revered religious event. It was frustrating to see such cultural insensitivity on display. Were I one of the monks, I would not want to face that onslaught every morning.
Because so many tourists want to participate, the quantity of food given out is overwhelming. Local boys follow beside the monks and collect all the excess food in baskets. I can only hope it is distributed to families in need. And the town certainly benefits from the tourist money and added jobs.
Trust me, I get it. The sight of hundreds of saffron-clad monks walking single file along the sidewalk is mesmerizing. But we must be respectful. Notices of suggested behavior are posted all over town and it would be wonderful if more visitors heeded the advice. If you want to watch, I suggest venturing down quiet side streets, away from the big monasteries and hotels. Let’s help preserve the sanctity of this very special ritual.
Have you witnessed the Luang Prabang alms ceremony? What were your thoughts?
Interesting perspective on what looks like a lovely daily practice.
I bet it was really lovely before all the tourists caught wind of it. We just need to figure out how to partake of these special events without detracting from the beauty that attracted us to start with.
Definitely a situation where a long lens is handy. I’ve heard the monks are none too pleased with how everything’s turned out, but I’m not sure what can be done about it, save for roping off the entire street. There’s also not much signage and when the hotel van brought me there, the driver didn’t go over any guidelines. It was quite amazing to see so many monks in one place, though!
It really was an amazing sight! I just wish we’d figured out sooner that the side-streets presented a much more enjoyable viewing atmosphere. If we go back, we’ll avoid the main streets entirely. I don’t begrudge everyone wanting to get a good shot or participate in their own way – it’s such a special tradition and the attention will ensure it continues. I just wish everyone could be a tad more considerate.
You must have been more in the thick of the tourist center (and a tad later in the morning as my pics are not nearly so bright). I was on the sw edge of town on Chao Fa Ngum Rd and the tourist crowds weren’t quite as bad there. I was befriended by a group of Thai ladies who kindly gave me the proper scarf, rice, etc and a mat to kneel on.
Still, there were plenty of idiots (and that’s putting it kindly) poking huge lenses and flash in the poor monks faces. Thanks for telling it like it is.
We started out on Th Sisavangvong which leads east into Th Sakkarin. The first photo was taken at 6am and the rest around 6:40 when the monks finally made it down our way. Then we followed them as they ambled along. Some turned down Th Sisavang Vatthana and others continued on towards to the royal palace. I just wanted to shake some of those annoying tourists!
My little point-and-shoot Canon takes absolutely amazing photos in low light!
I couldn’t agree with you more about the insensitivity of the the tourists during the alms giving and good for you on speaking out about it. Luang Prabrang is such a special place and it was a real honour to witness the centuries old tradition. But flashes going off and running up to the monks is just insensitive. I lived in Tokyo for 4 years and witnessed what happened at Tsukiji market during the tuna auction. In the end, the market removed visitor access altogether to stop the auction being interrupted.
It shows real ignorance to chase a photo opportunity at any cost. Stand on the sidelines, absorb the atmosphere and appreciate how honoured you are to be there in the first place. I’m with you.
That’s interesting about Tsukiji market. We actually went to the tuna auction last year, but I understand that strict new rules were implemented to keep problems from happening again. Gotta love how the Japanese are able to work out a solution where everyone wins.
They changed the rules to limit the number of people in the viewing area. You used to be able to turn up and watch it going on but then someone jumped over the rope and into the auction area and flashbulbs were going off all the time. At one point it was closed to visitors for a year. When the market moves I think they are going to have a viewing gallery above the auction so you were lucky to see it as it is now. My favourite part of town – we used to cycle over most weekends for a bowl of sushi for brunch.