An Early Start
The enthusiasm of our guide was the only reason I was up at four in the morning. Khampom or Pom, had been a Buddhist monk for fourteen years in Luang Prabang – the main centre of Buddhism in Laos, part of South-East Asia. He had a serenity and a joy about him that was endearing. It is customary in Buddhist countries for the local people to donate food, household items and money to the monks. Traditonally, Laotian men spend some time as monk or a novice before getting married as Pom had done. I did not want to disappoint but feared the almsgivingceremony would be just another tourist attraction.
I could not have been more wrong. I was one of only four Westerners who took part in the ceremony. After driving through the empty, dark streets we arrived at the alms giving station. It was near Wat Sene Souk Haram – in a street lined on one side with low stools. Pom had prepared a large bowl of sticky rice for me to scoop out and give to the monks. An unhealthy selection of chocolate bars was added to my bowl of rice. An odd choice but popular with the monks. I then took my place on the side of the pavement. Pom had stressed the need to be silent, respectful, keep my eyes averted . I had to stay still as the monks passed by.
A Great Success
Around five o’clock the grey of early morning was brightened by a streak of orange. It was a procession of robed monks coming towards me. Each one had a large basket slung over his shoulder to receive alms. As they walked briskly past me baskets were lowered in front of me. I struggled to scoop out the sticky rice and place that and a chocolate bar in each one. I loved every minute of it – being part of a tradition rather than a spectator. The monks take their collection of food back to the monastery. In the monastery kitchens local people (those not so well-off) give their time to prepare it for them. Buddhist communities have one main meal a day. Here, in Luang Prabang, they will eat in private. In other countries tourists are invited into the monasteries to watch the ritual of queuing for food before entering the dining area.
It was all over very quickly and the monks disappeared inside several local temples. We moved on to the daily food market already lining a street on both sides. Pom had told us that the people of Laos like to eat fresh food. I salivated over the hot cobs of sweetcorn grilling on open fires and admired the mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit. A reminder that it was time to return to the hotel for breakfast.
An article by Valery Collins, the Experienced Traveller
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