If you rise early in Luang Prabang, you will notice an interesting and sacred daily ritual takes place in its streets. For as long as Buddhism has been prevalent in Laos, the monks here have been participating in this daily alms giving ritual. Each morning at dawn hundreds of monks leave the 35 temples in the city to go out amongst the people and collect the cooked rice offered by the faithful who line the streets. Devotees line up to kneel along their path and offer baskets of cooked rice. The monks carry a metal pail from a should sling and collect the rice in there. Sometimes they are offered other items as well like biscuits or fruit. This then becomes the food on which the monks feed for the rest of the day.
As tourism in the region continues to grow, it has become an increasing aggravation for those taking part in this solemn ritual. Street vendors now line up to sell tourists cooked rice so they can too “participate”. Tourists will oftentimes touch or walk right alongside the monks, snapping photos as they can of what is supposed to be a solemn affair. Some tourists are even downright rude by various accounts. Responsible travelers must learn how to respectfully observe this ritual without creating an additional nuisance.
Here are some tips if you plan to observe this ritual:
-Only make an offering if it is meaningful to you (or you are Buddhist yourself). If you do make an offering, buy your rice in a market beforehand, not from the street vendors on site.
-Remove your shoes to give your offering and be properly clothed. Shoulders, torso, and legs should be covered and women must stay on their knees.
-If you are not making an offering, stay at a distance and silently observe the procession. Do not take up close photos and do not use a flash.
-Lastly, do not get close to or touch the monks. They are not a museum exhibit.