What You Need to Know About Alms Giving in Luang Prabang

Visiting temples and pagodas in Luang Prabang is a must when traveling to this UNESCO World Heritage City. But do you know that your tour will be more interesting by seeing one of the most scared Lao traditions which is the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony? Regardless of being a highly revered ritual for locals, tourists are encouraged to join in as long as the level of respect is maintained throughout.

Where is the Alms Giving Ceremony Held?

The ceremony is held at 35 temples of the city but one of the best places to witness it is the Wat Mai Temple because of its location in the historic center. Other reasons is the street that passes the ceremony is wide and Wat Mai is one of the most popular and venerable temples in Luang Prabang.

alms giving in luang prabang

Tak Bat – A Venerable Ritual

The ritual takes place daily at dawn, normally at 5:30 am. Hundreds of monks in their orange robes leaves the temples in total silence and barefoot. They walk on the streets in Indian row and each one carries a large lidded bowl that is attached to a strap hanging from the shoulder to collect the offerings of the faithful. 

The locals are there a head of the monks, ready with bowls full of the Lao staple sticky rice, fresh fruits, and traditional sweet snacks. Also, during the ceremony, the locals usually sit or kneel on the street. 

The ritual is done in silence: the almsgiver do not speak and neither do the monks. In addition, the monks walk in meditation and the almsgivers reciprocate with respect by not disturbing the monk’s peace. 

Note: The procession is quite lengthy so it is not suitable for very young children or those who cannot sit quietly for more than a few minutes.

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Highlights of the Ceremony

The tradition of alms gathering dates back to the 14th century, but nowadays the locals still wake up early to prepare the offerings for the monks and wait quietly by the roadside to give them. Indeed, the ritual has been the symbiotic relationship between the monks and the almsgivers and it supports both the monks who need food and the almsgivers who need spiritual redemption.

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Do's and Dont's

There are many unspoken rules in terms of etiquette when attending an Alms Giving Ceremony. Tourists are free to see or take part in but only with the correct actions.

Do's:

• Observe the ritual from a distance

• Wear properly (shoulders, torso, and legs must be covered. Take off your shoes when giving alms)

• Silent

• Disconnect the mobile phone

• Do bow before the monks to show your respect

• Keep a respectful distance and stay out of the way of either the monks or almsgivers if you do not participate in the ceremony.

Don’ts:

• Don’t consider the ritual as a photo-op. Be there to give humbly and honestly. 

• Don’t use your camera flash because it breaks the monks’ concentration and detracts the solemnity of the ritual.

• Do not position yourself to make your head higher than the monks’ ones.

• Don’t buy foods from the street vendors nearby; if you have to participate, make rice yourself.

• Don’t make eye contact with the monks.

• Don’t touch the monks. Withdraw your hands right after putting your offerings into the bowl.

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To sum up, alms giving ceremony is both peaceful and spiritual, which gives you a wonderful opportunity to experience an ancient Lao tradition. However, keep in mind that the ceremony is not made for tourists. It is a solemn ritual so you should not disrupt it with inappropriate noise, actions, and dress if you would like to join in.

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Brian Vu

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