Luang Prabang is an UNESCO World Heritage city, but also a small Laos town trying desperately to hold onto its traditional culture within a developing region. One aspect of local culture that tourists can visit and take part in, is the early morning alms giving ceremony.
Each morning, as the sunrises, 200 or so Buddhist monks will descend from the 33 local Wats (temples) to collect their daily alms.
This is an age old tradition that dates back to the 14th century when this tradition was introduced, and involves the local people rising early, preparing food and making offerings to the monks.
Not only is this one of the ways for Buddhists to make merits, it is also the only food that the monks are permitted to eat for the day and is therefore a very important ritual.
Tourists are currently welcome to be involved in the Alms Giving Ceremony, although we ask our travellers to please be aware of the routine of this ritual and to respect the closely observed etiquette.
Some points to be aware of are:
- Wear appropriate clothing – keep your shoulders, chest and legs covered as a sign of respect. If in doubt, dress like a local as you will rarely see a Buddhist with exposed skin.
- Do not touch or get to close to the monks and do not interrupt the procession.
- Take photos from a distance and do not use a flash.
- Take your shoes & socks off and kneel with your feet under you and pointed away from other people.
- Observe the ceremony in silence.
- Women should not talk to monks directly and should have their head lower than the monks when offering.
- Obtain safe offerings – if you wish to participate in this ceremony, it is best to prepare the food or fruit yourself. Please be advised that local merchants use this ceremony as a way of making money. There have been problems with tourists buying food from these merchants that is unfit for consumption and has lead to some of the monks becoming ill. Some hotels will provide simple sticky rice for tourists to take to the ceremony which is acceptable – please ask your guide for advice and assistance with this.
Laos is a spiritual country and some people do feel compelled and interested to get involved in this ceremony as a way of experiencing the local culture. However, it is important to remember that this is a local tradition and not a tourist activity. Be respectful and enjoy the spiritual side of this peaceful ceremony and your presence there can then be beneficial to both sides.