Before my trip to Luang Prabang, I had seen many colorful pictures of the alms giving ceremony, showing monks walking down the streets in single file. My first thought was it would be fun to go see that. To tell you the truth, I had no clue what the whole ceremony was about. I just wanted to do the touristy thing, attend the ceremony and take pictures, not realizing the significance of it all. I was ignorant of this custom and what it meant. But having had the privilege of being there and learning about the ceremony, I had a completely different perspective of it by the time I left Luang Prabang.
So, while in Luang Prabang I learned what the significance of the alms giving ceremony was. For hundreds of years, the alms-giving ceremony has bonded the relationship between the monks and the alms givers. This is an act of being humble; and not an act of charity or a show, as many foreigners are likely to think it is. I’ve learned that it is so important to be sensitive and respectful. I know most of us are respectful when we know what we are doing, but when we are ignorant of the culture of a place, we inadvertently make mistakes.
So here are a few tips given to me by a local:
- Avoid disturbing the monks – The monks walk in meditation, so do not get too close to them to get pictures. This breaks the monks’ concentration. Remember this is not a show it is a sacred ritual.
- Make sure to dress properly – Yes I realize that it can get hot and humid in Luang Prabang, but if you are participating as an alms giver please make the effort to dress modestly, wear something that covers your shoulders and legs. And this goes for the ladies; please wear something that hides your breasts. If you are unable to do that, you should reconsider participating of this ceremony.
- Buy fresh rice – Apparently some vendors sell you stale rice left over from previous days. This has caused many of the monks to get sick. I would recommend that you hire a reliable company to help you get organized prior to the ceremony.
Which location is best to be part of the alms giving ceremony?
Luang Prabang is surrounded by many temples. The main street, like it is to be expected, gets packed in with tourists, but don’t worry, there are other locations around the city where you can participate without getting overwhelmed. Ask your hotel to give you some guidance.
We stayed at the Hotel de la Paix and they put us in touch with the team at 3 Nagas Hotel. We were so relieved that we didn’t have to worry about finding cushions, mats or making fresh sticky rice. The best part of 3 Nagas Hotel is their location. Although the hotel is located on the main street of Luang Prabang, it is just a couple blocks away from where most of the tourists concentrate.
3 Nagas Hotel is actually very close to a monastery where you can see many monks leave every morning. Unlike the other blocks on the same street, you won’t see as many tourists here. Another thing I love about this hotel was the fact that they have a fence and plants right by the entrance, it was perfect to take pictures unobtrusively from behind them, so as not to get in the way of the monks. But I chose to participate in the ceremony as an alms-giver. As I was unable to take any pictures, one of the hotel employees graciously volunteered to do so. And those are what you see here throughout the article. I hope you enjoyed them.
If you want to participate in the alms giving ceremony, you should contact 3 Nagas Hotel to help you get everything you need for only USD 15.
Rates at 3 Nagas Hotel start from USD124/night.
Disclaimer: We were guests at 3 Nagas, but all opinions herein are my own and have not been influenced in any way by arrangements we made with 3 Nagas Hotel.
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