I recently had the pleasure of witnessing the ritual of ‘Tak Bat’ in Luang Prabang, Laos. If you want to view this ancient Buddhist tradition then you have to get up EARLY. First things first, make sure to grab your morning coffee…
The ritual happens every morning at dawn as the monks emerge silently from the 35 temples in the town to collect food offerings from the locals.
Local children on their way to give offerings to the monks with their baskets.
The locals sit and wait for the monks in a state of serenity and prayer and then receive blessings and merit in return for their offerings. (Sticky rice, fruit and some kind of sweet treats are most commonly given.) The monks walk single file, oldest first, and collect their offerings in large alms bowls which they carry in front of them.
It is quite an incredible sight (as you can see from the below video) and clear why so many tourists get up at the crack of dawn just to witness the spectacle. But unbeknownst to me at the time, tourism could be a possible factor in the death of this age old tradition.
Tak Bat Under Threat?
In some areas, the streets become so packed with tourists all fighting to get the best shot that they don’t realise how much they are actually disrupting the monks’ morning ritual. Flashing cameras and rowdy tourists have apparently led to some monks refusing to collect alms and a few years ago, the Senior Abbot ‘Sa Thu Boun Than’ even asked for legal help.
Since then, hotels have placed posters in their rooms and tourists are now being more educated in order to be more respectful. My friend Sophie and I were told not to buy offerings from locals on the street and if we really did want to offer food to the monks, we should buy it from shops beforehand or prepare it ourselves. We chose not to, seeing as neither of us are Buddhist and we didn’t want to disrespect the monks’ religious beliefs by participating in a tradition that was nothing to do with our own beliefs.
Tourism in this case is a blessing and a curse. Luang Prabang really is very beautiful and one of my favourite places that I visited in Laos. The old town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and tourism brings in much money to support the town. But we must always remember to be respectful towards other cultures and to try not to be that tourist who ruins it for everyone. I know in the past that I have probably been ‘that’ guy, but we must all learn from our mistakes and try to educate others in our path towards a better life together on planet earth.
Peace and love to all, and may you enjoy my video.