Luang Prabang is a highlight of our Laos and Cambodia Buddhist Sites & City Nights tour. While the city’s Indochina villas, ancient wats and unique cuisine will enchant and mesmerize, it’s the daily ritual of Sai Bat (Morning Alms) you won’t soon forget. Hundreds of saffron-clad monks calmly file through the streets at sunrise, collecting small offerings of sticky rice, snacks or candies and the odd personal hygiene product. The food collected is all the monks will eat that day.
Below are five fast facts about Morning Alms.
It’s endemic to Laos
Morning Alms has long been associated with Buddhism. It is a way for the devout to give thanks, pay respect and earn merit or karma. While the ritual is broadly associated with Buddhism, most sects have long-ended the tradition. In fact, Laos is one of the only countries where it still exists.
The saffron robes are regional
A monk’s robe and shaved head represent a detachment from materialism. Historically, orange was a readily available dye in the region, resulting in the saffron colour. Today, the colour identifies the monk as a Theravada Buddhist versus, for example, Tibetan Buddhist monks who wear maroon.
Tourists can participate
There are two ways visitors can experience the tradition. First, they are welcome to stand respectfully back and watch. Pictures are tolerated, so long as discretion is practised; stand a fair distance, no flashes and refrain from treating monks like entertainers. Second, tourists are welcome to participate by pre-purchasing cooked sticky rice or a small snack to selflessly offer. Inquire with your hotel or local guide for more info.
There are rules
Dress conservatively; no exposed shoulders, chest, legs. Remain lower than the monks, whether kneeling or sitting. Refrain from touching the monks or personally handing them your offering; it should be placed gently into the buckets they carry.
It’s done in silence
The procession of monks happens single file, down the main street and through a number of smaller streets. It takes between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the route. The monks and those giving alms remain silent throughout. As either an observer or participant, you should remain silent as well.
Luang Prabang and Morning Alms are featured on Out Adventures’ Laos and Cambodia Buddhist Sites & City Nights tour. Visit the trip page for more info including departure dates, cost and a day-to-day itinerary.