No that’s not a typo, I am not talking about monkeys, although you really shouldn’t feed them either, I am talking about the orange-clad Buddhist Monks of Laos.
Every morning the people of Luang Prabang wake up before dawn to prepare food and take it to the streets for the morning alms ceremony in Lao called Tak Bat. They lay a simple blanket on the sidewalk and kneel, waiting for the Monks of the nearly 80 different temples to leave on their morning rounds.
The monks collect food from the town’s people and that is the food that sustains them for the day. The people do this as their sacrifice, but also to support the monks and their religion. This is done every day as it has for centuries… Only in recent years, there have been some new faces passing rice to the monks.
The new ‘cool’ thing to do is to take part in the centuries-old transitions of the Theravada monks in Luang Prabang, Laos. You can actually pay a tour company to pass out food and get your pictures taken with the monks!
Apparently it has gotten bad enough that the monks considered stopping the tradition, basically because tourists were ruining it, and turning it into a circus. However, the government put a stop to that idea, realizing where the tourist dollars are coming from, and told the monks that if you don’t continue we will replace you with fake monks to keep up appearances.
So am I a hypocrite? Am I part of the problem? Maybe.
I went to the town. I watched the procession of the monks collecting Alms. So maybe I am part of the problem, but I did it in what I felt was a respectful observation. I watched from the other end of a 300mm zoom lens, from no closer than across the street from a group of monks. Even then I still felt intrusive. It’s a beautiful ceremony, and I left feeling like I am just helping to kill it.
Luang Prabang has risen to a top spot in South East Asia, but I can’t help but to feel it was for the wrong reasons. The town in general, felt (to me) very patronizing and fake, like it was built around something it shouldn’t have been, so much so that it almost killed it.
Saturday 30th of April 2016
We didn't go and see this because of the government intervention (and we are a bit lazy). Additionally we had seen it in other countries in a more "real" environment. We did like Luang Prabang though and really enjoyed talking to everyone there particularly at the Big Brother Mouse project
Jo (The Blonde)
Wednesday 21st of October 2015
I seriously don't understand the whole buzz around this. YOu can observe the alms anywhere really. Go to Myanmar to Inle Lake, get up in the morning and watch the monks walking around with the bowls in a mist, without hordes of tourists around. Go to Chiang Mai, get up in the morning and do the same. Why Laos? why Luang Prabang? I just don't get it....
Le Big Trip
Saturday 13th of June 2015
It's sad and it's a shame that some tourists don't have a notion of respect. When visiting a temple we saw a woman literally grab a monk, place him next to her and make him put his hands in prayer so that her husband could that pictures of them two... how awful is that? Let's just hope most of us just want to share foreign cultures in a respectful way.
Monday 25th of May 2015
We visited Luang Prabang in 2012 and witnessed the Tak Bat taking photographs from quite far and staying silent all the time But we saw so many tourists taking photos just few meters far from the monks and talking loud. We were disgusted by the lack of respect and the selfishness of those tourists just willing to have a postcard from LP and tell friends home that they had been there...apparently they didn't understand at all what the ceremony means for local people. Respect and knowledge are a must when you visit a foreign country.
Tuesday 12th of May 2015
We spent a week in LP and didn't participate or even watch the ceremony. For similar reasons I suppose. I liken it in a way to tourists coming to a christian country and going up for holy communion? Would you agree?