Luang Prabang, Laos ~ Buddhist Monks: Alms Giving Procession

We awaken at dawn to the sound of a distant gong. The air is crisp and misty with fog.  From the balcony, we watch as processions of Buddhist monks leave their monasteries and walk through the streets collecting alms from the local people. It is ethereal and surreal to the foreign traveler. To the townspeople of Luang Prabang, Laos, the act of alms giving is a daily ritual that  connects the average individual to a spiritually developed person, a Buddhist monk.  It is a symbolic connection. Each is showing respect and humbleness for the other. It is not charity as one would think.

As the Buddha has stated:

“Householders, the homeless and monastics in mutual dependence both reach the true Dharma….”

There are Buddhists who are animists. They believe in offering alms on behalf of their deceased ancestors. They are showing respect to them and the monk is the intermediary in which to do so. We were told that by giving food to the monk, they are feeding their dead loved ones.

Across the street from us are women vendors in their outdoor kitchens preparing sticky rice. Small hand woven baskets are filled with this rice and sold to those participating in this daily spiritual ritual. As each monk silently walks by, each person places an appropriate amount of rice in the alms bowl.  Except for the occasional dog barking or rooster crowing all is quiet and reverent. Men stand facing the monks, but women must be seated or kneeling to offer their alms. All have their shoes off and are wearing sashes across one shoulder.

The monks walk barefooted and wear the traditional robe that dates back 25 centuries. The first monks wore robes made from rags as did holy men from India. Later Buddha taught the monks to wear “pure” cloth, which was cloth that was ruined or discarded, cloth soiled from childbirth or scavenged from cremation grounds. This cloth was washed and boiled with vegetable matter- tubers, bark, leaves and spices such as turmeric or saffron giving the cloth a yellow-orange color. Robes today are in these colors as well as shades of curry, cumin and paprika.

Boys as young as ten can enter a monastery for religious training and general education. They too participate in the alms walk. They can remain and become monks or end their studies at any time. Many leave to work and to marry.

Luang Prabang is most known for its religious centeredness, surrounded by its many active Buddhist monasteries (Wats) and temples. The name Luang Prabang derives from a sacred Buddha image called the Pha Bang which was a gift from the mighty Khmer Empire in Cambodia, hence the name Luang Prabang. It is an ancient city located in north central Laos. Surrounded by mountains, it is on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos.  It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and is considered by many to represent the heart of Laotian culture. Luang Prabang was made a WHS because it is a well preserved and outstanding example of the blend of traditional Laotian and French European architecture. It is what drew us to this country, specifically this city.

Ron awakens particularly early one morning and follows a group of monks to a monastery at the end of our street. They are gathering together with numerous monks waiting for a special alms giving procession to begin. Dignitaries from the capital, Vientienne, as well as monks from that city have arrived to walk in this procession. All of Luang Prabang is out to participate or watch this huge and prestigious gathering. Tourists with cameras ready stand by to capture the moment.

Quite an experience for us to watch. We walk back to our small hotel and order breakfast and sit at one of the three tables outside on the sidewalk. Life returns to normal as bicycle and moped traffic pick up. Off in the distance we hear gongs and in the building behind us, we notice monks gathering for a special house blessing.

They are chanting. We too feel blessed.

For more great travel photography visit Ron Mayhew Photography.


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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11 Responses to Luang Prabang, Laos ~ Buddhist Monks: Alms Giving Procession

  1. Lynn Sarda says:

    Just beautiful

  2. Thank you, Lynn. I now think of cumin, curry, and paprika as fabric colors….not just spices.

  3. Dianne says:

    I love reading the stories of your travels.

    • Thanks Dianne for reading and commenting. I am looking forward to the Kings on the road adventures in traveling. Luang Prabang is a place I want to go back to.

  4. globalanni says:

    This is an experience like no other!!! The photos and your words bring it all back to me. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for reading and enjoying. The fact that you have been there and experienced this tradition gives us that connection. That’s what is wonderful about travel writers meeting travel writers…oceans apart.

  6. What a fascinating read, Lynne! I especially enjoyed learning more about the history of the robes.
    You’ve certainly convinced me to go back for a third time. So much culture and history in Luang Prabang!

  7. A. Mittal says:

    Really liked your pictures…I am planning to travel to Laos this April…do you think 4000 islands worth visiting? would appreciate your thoughts 🙂

    • Thanks for your visit and comments. We were only in Luang Prabang and did not visit the 4000 islands. I don’t know anyone who has been there and I don’t know anything about them. Let me know if you go. It sounds like a beautiful place to travel to. Enjoy your adventure.

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