Globe-Trotting (LAOS): The Alms Giving Ceremony Experience

If you were to heed travelers’ advice, you would be standing along Sakkaline (main) Road at 5:30AM, waiting for the monks to emerge from their respective wats.

If you were me, however, you would have been out on the discreet Kounxoa Road at 4:30AM because no matter which side of the globe you’re in, you value punctuality.  😀

(In that sense, I’m not your ordinary Filipino who always manages to come in an hour after the scheduled appointment.  Hence, the phenomenon— “Filipino Time”.)

Of course, the streets were almost empty (and completely dark!) at 4:30AM where the only sounds you’ll hear are the slight breeze from the Mekong River and the occasional swish of a wooden broom.

(I ended up going back to bed.)

The seemingly obligatory TOMS shot as the women

lay their mats and arrange their alms

The Alms Giving Ceremony is an age-old custom still practiced in the town of Luang Prabang, Laos.  I’m not claiming expertise on Buddhism but here is what I gathered from reading literature and interviewing a few English-speaking Laos.  Please feel free to correct me as I may have misunderstood what I read/ heard.

(a) The alms symbolize a passing of nourishment to the giver’s departed family members.

(b) Generally, monks are not allowed to “kill” or cook food.

Traditionally, the alms are in the form of sticky rice.

Sticky rice is usually wrapped in banana leaves but

the taste must not be mistaken for the Filipino delicacy, Suman.

Economically, “modernized” varieties of alms have spread out such as biscuits.

And while there are a handful of men who participate in the giving process, the mats lined out on the street are generally occupied by women and children.

(A Lao matriarch was sitting right next to me when I took the above photos.  She was engaged in a congenial banter with the people across the street who I assume are immediate/ extended family.  I attempted to converse with her in English to no avail.  Unfortunately, my Lao is very, very limited to the touristy phrases.)

As a spectator, I learned that:

(a) The monks need “assistants” to carry their alms.  Sticky rice go into the bowls while biscuits go into a basket or a plastic bag.

Once the assistant’s basket/ plastic bag fills up, he runs to the wat to dump the goods in what I surmise to be the wat’s common storage (also in the form of a basket).

(b) You can stand on the steps of the Wat Xieng Thong for an “aerial view” of the ceremony.


(c) The ceremony is a sacred ritual, not a sporting event.  Never, EVER, point your cameras (whether with or without flash) directly to the monks’ faces.

(There is this one particular Asian guy who really annoyed me because he had paparazzi lens and yet stood right in front of the monks, the women, AND the children to take pictures. :()

Whatever type of camera you are using, please.  R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  Always position yourself on the other side of the street or from a considerable distance.

Out of all the things I’ve seen and heard in Luang Prabang, this, by far is a personal favorite.  I sincerely hope that tradition will win over the pressure of “modernization”.


One thought on “Globe-Trotting (LAOS): The Alms Giving Ceremony Experience

  1. Pingback: Lao Adventure: Home away from, well, EVERYTHING. | Make Mine A Venti

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