Luang Prabang, located in the North Central region of Laos is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site for its special values of sculptures in French colonial villas and ancient Buddhist temples. Apart from its attractive places of interest inside the city, Luang Prabang is also well known for its daily ritual of the Tak Bat – the morning Alms Giving ceremonies, one of the greatest in Buddhism that is a must-see one in a lifetime for any travelers coming to this old royal capital city of Laos. In my article, you will know how to respectfully join in this special ceremony with locals during your Laos tours.
What is the Alms giving meaning
The traditional spiritual ceremony that I am writing about called “Tak Bat” or “Sai Bat” means: “Giving alms to monks” or “Offering food to the Buddhist monk” which often takes place at dawn in Luang Prabang.
Each morning before sunshine, hundreds of local Buddhist monks in saffron-clad robes silently and slowly walk on bare feet along the pavements of the royal town to collect food offerings (sticky rice, fruits, and vegetables) from the locals – the main source of food for all day.
Since the 14th century when the Buddhism reached Laos, the monks of the old political and spiritual capital have started “Tak Bat” ceremony and until now, it has become a daily ritual not only for the local people but also for tourists to for its beauty.
Normally, the monks in 35 temples (known as “Wat”) wake up at 4 am for praying and meditation for Budha until 5:30 am, they start to leave their respective temples in long straight line around the city. Patiently waiting for them are Buddhist followers in front of their houses, who also get up before dawn (3 am) to prepare for offerings to ensure the food is fresh and clean, both physical and spiritual aspects.
With shoulders and knees covered in their traditional costumes with scarves, women and men kneel or sit on their little chair and always stay lower than the line of monks to show their respects all the time the ceremony takes place, even when dropping the kinds of stuff in their bowls. For the past long time, the alms giving ceremony has formed the connection between the alms givers and the monk, making merit and good karma generate to the devotees.
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When does the Tak Bat take place?
For summer days, the Alms Giving Ceremony often starts at 5:30 on an award and for cold days, the daily routine will start no earlier than 6:30. To part-take in the morning alms, you should show up at least 15 minutes in advance to make sure you are well prepared to welcome the monks to take in the most wonderful aspect of Laos culture like locals do.
Where to join the ceremony?
Since the ritual is conducted every morning throughout the city streets in Luang Prabang, travelers can easily follow it from any corners nearby temples locate, even from the window of your accommodation. However, many visitors want the best location for a nice watch Alms Giving ceremony so the ideal spot for you is at Wat Mai Temple – the largest and the most beautifully decorated temple of this royal town on the Thanon Sisavangvong street; the Wat Xieng Thong Temple and the Luang Prabang Primary School.
A great alternative for watching ceremony is the quiet streets between Th Kamai and Th Sakkarin area which becomes the most viewed among tourists for its quieter atmosphere to avoid touristy places with packs of locals and foreigners.
How to respect the Tak Bat?
If you plan on participating this outstanding ceremony with locals, here is a list of rules that should be born in mind to respect the place that you are coming as visitors:
- Observe the ritual in silence and contribute an offering only if it is meaningful to you and can do so respectful
- Please buy sticky rice at the local market earlier that morning rather than from street vendors along the monk’s route. Or the more recommended way is to ask your hotel/guests’ house/homestay to help prepare the food for you if they also join in the Alm Givings in the next morning. As mentioned earlier, this is the best way to ensure the food is kept new and fresh for the monk in the whole day.
- If you do not wish to make an offering, please keep an appropriate distance and behave respectfully. Do not get in the way of the monks’ procession or the believers’ offerings
- Do not stand too close to the monks when taking photographs; camera flashes are very disturbing for both monks and the lay people.
- Keep silent and your phone in a silent mode
- Make sure you dress appropriately with your shoulder, chests, body, and legs should be covered, especially while offering almsgiving.
- Do not make physical contact with the monks such as touch the robes, talk to the monks or make an eye/face contact with the monks.