In the early morning, locals sit on the side of the street to give alms to monks and novices. This peaceful ceremony is conducted in silence where Buddhists gain spiritual merit by the act of giving. The traditional offering is sticky rice but any type of food can be offered. Participants keep their heads bowed as they drop food into the silver bowls – careful not to touch them – as the monks and novices walk past. If they run out of food they just sit silently with their hands together in front of them.
This is an age-old ritual takes place everyday in Buddhist countries but one of the most atmospheric places to witness alms giving is in the historic city of Luang Prabang in northern Laos. The scene is beautiful with the pretty streets and morning mist shrouding the surrounding mountains. In recent years the tranquillity of this religious event has sadly been punctured by the clicking of cameras. Particularly on main street you will see tourists following monks closely to take pictures. Please don’t feel like you can just because they are.
To observe alms giving respectfully you should:
- View from the opposite side of the street to avoid getting in the way.
- Don’t take pictures. If you really have to take photographs from a distance and turn off the flash.
- Maintain the silence.
- Dress as if you were visiting a temple – shoulders and knees covered with women not showing any cleavage.
- As the locals do, try to keep lower than the monks as a sign of respect, this is particularly important for women.