There is a tradition in Luang Prabang, where every morning at sunrise the monks come out and are given food by the community. I woke up extra early to check it out with our friends Arlo and Oksana from Post Card Valet. Wendy slept through this one. :)
We weren’t sure what to expect. We got to where we thought it was going to take place while it was still pitch black. After waiting a little while we started to wonder if we were in the right place. Then a large minivan parked right in front of us, cutting off our view and a group of Japanese tourists exited the van with cameras in hand. We were definitely in the right place.
As the sunlight approached more tourist busses and vans showed up hauling a group of tourists with them. They must have bought a morning monk tour. They were handed some food and hurried over to where the monks would walk so they could hand it out to them.
A large crowd started to appear, all with cameras in hand. The monks showed up and started the procession, wearing some sort of container around their neck to hold the food they received. The monks would walk down the sidewalk and take food handouts from the individuals on the sidewalk.
There were some locals there that were handing out what looked like their own freshly prepared sticky rice. They seemed very serious about this endeavor, perhaps they had some family that were monks. Also, it seems that the monks are highly respected. They were perfectly silent the whole time and very respectful in their offerings.
At the end of the line, there were some poor kids that would beg the monks for some food. Often I would see a tourist give a monk some rice and then 5 feet later, the monk would toss it into the kids basket. From what we heard, the tourist companies would give them bad quality rice to cut costs.
The monks seemed like they were annoyed. I would be too. Granted I was there taking pictures of them too. But, at least I used my zoom lens to try to stay out of the way and didn’t use a flash. Some other tourists just jumped right in front of their faces, put the camera one foot from them and snapped a picture. Unfortunately, it was still pretty dark out so that meant the auto setting on their camera was firing off flashes right in their faces. That saddened me.
I’m not certain what I think about this tradition. It seems to me that the tourist industry ruined it. I heard that they don’t want to do it anymore, but it is such a tourist draw to the area, that they are forcing this tradition to stay alive. I have no idea if this is really the only way the monks get to eat.
Nevertheless, I’m also not sure what I feel about myself taking pictures there either. It just felt awkward. But, I did and here is what I saw.
Monks lined up to head down the sidewalk
Food handed out by a caring local to the monks.
So Cute, how could you not share some food with her.
Here she is scoring some food from a friendly monk.
Monk in Motion after filling up his basket.
See more photos around town in Luang Prabang, Laos.