During our stay in Luang Prabang in Laos, we as many other travellers woke up at 06.00 AM for take part of the Alms Giving Ceremony.
Everyday, as the sun rises around 200 Buddhist monks depart from various temples and walk trough the UNESCO World Heritage City to gather their daily meal.
I have travelled to other countries with Buddhist populations before, and I knew there are several unspoken rules regarding etiquette when meeting monks. We therefore asked some of the locals about these norms before attending the Alms Giving Ceremony. They all mentioned the same four rules:
- Rule number 1: You need to cover up your shoulders, chest and legs in modest clothing. This is especially important if you are a woman and is a mark of respect.
As almost all my clothes were in laundry this day, I had to borrow clothes from my husband to cover up for the ceremony. However, most of the other tourists had not gotten the message that they had to dress modest while giving the alms. Or they did not care. There were several girls in short shorts or dresses and singlets (just see the girl sitting next to me in the picture – and she was far from the worst).
- Rule number 2: Do not be late for the ceremony.
Being late for the ceremony is considered rude. We were there 30 minutes before, but ten minutes before should be fine. And yes again, there were some tourists that did not come before in the middle of the ceremony. Maybe they prefered sleeping a bit longer!?
- Rule number 3: Do not bargin on the price
It is considered very disrespectful to bargin on the price when buying the alms you are going to give to the monks.
However, what was more shocking for me, was that some of the tourists sat down with their alms, without giving anything to the passing monks. Or giving such a small piece of the rice that it was like the size of a peanut to each monk. I think it would be respectful to be a bit more generous – without the locals telling me that this is one of the etiquettes.
- Rule number 4: Keep a suitable distance from the monks and do not interrupt the ceremony under any circumstances. Photographs without flash may be taken, but from a distance.
I just think that while visiting another culture, you have to follow their ways and respect their traditions. Especially being a highly secret and religious ritual for the locals like this, that goes all the back to the 14th century. Today, visitors are encouraged to be involved in the alms ceremony. However, as long as a level of respect is maintained throughout. And who knows, they may sooner or later cut the visitors out of the ritual if more do not start following the rules above…