Laos is a peaceful, primarily Buddhist country. Charming Luang Prabang gives visitors a wonderful opportunity to experience Lao culture and Buddhist traditions up close. Beautiful wats (temples) are sprinkled throughout the town and saffron-cloaked monks casually walk its streets, adding to the allure.
Observing the colorful morning procession of monks collecting their daily alms is certainly a highlight of any visit to Luang Prabang! Better yet, is the chance to participate in this sacred tradition, which is exactly what I did. Here’s my story….
Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony
One of the key selling points of the Lotus Villa – the lovely boutique hotel I booked – was its convenient location directly on the monk’s daily processional route. I figured if I was going to get up early to observe the 6:30am-ish event, it would be great to just walk outside my front door!
Every morning, several hundred monks and “novices” from the various monasteries in Luang Prabang walk barefoot through town. They collect donations of food and rice in their alms bowls from locals – and tourists alike – lining the streets.
The Lotus Villa staff made it easy for their guests to participate in the morning’s Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony. We just needed to sign up the evening before, so they would know how much fresh rice to prepare for the next morning. We were charged 20,000 Laotian Kip (which is ~$2.50) for the rice – reasonable!
Bright and early on my chosen morning, five of us Lotus Villa guests met Kip (yep, the same name as the local currency!) at 6:20am in the hotel lobby. He was busy dishing out freshly cooked “sticky rice” into rattan baskets for each of us. Plus, he laid out cushions on the street in front of the hotel so we could comfortably kneel as the monks walked by to receive their alms. I learned this was because you want to make sure your head is lower than the monks.
The Colorful Alms Procession Begins
Positioned on our cushions, we scanned the street, excited to get our first view of the “parading” monks. And soon they appeared – a line of Buddhist monks (most of them young “novices”) dressed in orange-colored robes, many with a yellow sash, and carrying their alms bowl via a long shoulder strap. It was 6:40am and the alms procession had begun.
The monks walked in single file. They would briefly stop in front of each of us alms-givers, lifting off the lid of their metal alms bowl. You would then place a small amount of rice, with your fingers, into each bowl (without touching the monk)! Apparently, the bowl’s lid was the individual monk’s food plate turned upside down. Hmm – good Buddhist monk simplicity!
The monks would often come in a large group so you had to work fast. I would have one hand placing rice in a monk’s opened bowl while getting the next rice “ball” ready with the other hand. (see photo below). Between groupings of the monks, I checked out other alms-givers near me – interested to see that it was a real mix of locals and foreigners.
There is great reverence by the Laotian people for their monks. The photo (below) shows locals giving their alms donation to the monks. A straw mat was laid out for the young children and most of the adults were sitting on small wooden stools. Luang Prabang’s residents come out every morning to give alms to their beloved monks, considering it their responsibility and their joy.
In fact, this collection of alms – rice and other food (like fresh fruit and traditional sweet snacks) – is a very important source of food for the monks. By 7:05am (25 minutes later), the last of the approximately 200 monks had walked by. Good thing, because I was just about out of rice. Participating in the Monk’s Alms Giving Ceremony was a very special experience and definitely worth getting up early!
More Information About Luang Prabang, Alms Ceremony & Buddhist Monk Life
I really hope you will have the opportunity to visit Laos & Luang Prabang (LP) one day – so you too can participate in this giving of alms to the monks. In addition to the link to my first Luang Prabang blog post, below are links to a few short articles I found particularly interesting. They will tell you more about the Alms Giving Ceremony, including visitor etiquette, plus life for a novice monk and robes worn by the monks.
- My Prior Blog Post with General Info on LP: Luang Prabang: Laos’ Peaceful Paradise for Solo Travelers
- Good article on the LP Alms Giving Ceremony, including respectful etiquette for visitors
- Understanding Buddhism in Laos: The Life of a Novice Monk
- Explanation of Different Types of Buddhist Robes for Monks
COMMENTS: Have you visited Luang Prabang? Have you observed or participated in the daily monk’s alms procession? What were your impressions?