Participating in the alms ritual with the monks of Luang Prabang
LUANG PRABANG – The monks are the draw. This UNESCO-protected city features the spectacular wats – or temples – where they live, along with wonderful local and colonial architecture, markets, and restaurants that sit high above the rivers, but the connection a visitor will most likely make to Luang Prubang will come in the early morning while the sun is near the horizon.
Every morning, Buddhist Monks clad in orange robes with their begging bowls slung over their shoulders walk in groups to receive gifts of rice – the nourishment for their day – from the townspeople who wait for them. To watch the daily ritual with your Classic Journeys’ guide who himself is a former monk and think of the humility and devotion involved in both the giving and receiving is to create a bit of peace for yourself, no matter what your faith.
While the temptation when the procession is over is to head to the market or back under the covers for an hour or two, this is a good time to walk among the temples, quiet and calm, and watch how the monks live, from their rudimentary quarters, kitchens and dining areas, to the ornate prayer spaces. Doing so, the temples change from a museum space to one that functions and inspires reflection.Classic Journey’s guests visit the temples and see how monks live.
One of my favorite discoveries in town turns out to be the monks’ end-of-day prayer services. While most visitors’ natural inclination while the sun is setting is to have a drink and watch the world go by, on most evenings, I found myself tucked quietly into the back corner of a temple, alone while a group of monks chanted in a group before me. My mind found its own good, quiet place, with the rest of the world very far away.
Note: Your Classic Journeys’ Laos guide will walk you to a quiet spot to observe the procession from a respectful distance. If you wish to participate, they’ll be happy to provide a mat, a basket of rice and a sash to cover your shoulder and, importantly, explain how to offer alms respectfully. Classic Journeys immerses our guests into this memorable and personal side of Laotian life on every one of our Laos, Vietnam and Angkor Wat walking tours and family multi sport trips. Visit Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia now before it’s too late is another blog I wrote after a recent exploration in Indochina.
Acclaimed travel writer Joe Ray is the 2009 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year from the Society of American Travel Writers. We first posted on Joe’s work in the Wall Street Journal last year in a story entitled, “In Search of the Perfect Gelato.” He’s also written another posting about exploring with Classic Journeys in Laos entitled “In Laos, a skeptic turns into an elephant man”.