A breakfast of sticky rice, and maybe even a banana. Seems simple right? A handful of residence from the Buddhist community line the main street everyday, specifically I am speaking of Luang Prabang but this occurs in most areas with a local Wat, at 6am to participate in the Almsgiving. Giving food, Alms, to the Monks of the local Wat and it is often thought of as a way to connect with their spiritualness and while this tradition has been going on for thousands of years without a hitch there is a newer element mixed in that is causing a bit of disruption: Tourists. Each morning you can see dozens of them lined up making a spectacle out of the Monks morning tradition of getting breakfast. OK, so I have photos from one morning of this, does that make me just like every other clueless dummy exploiting a beautiful tradition because it seems exotic to them? Id like to think not, but you can make that decision.
I woke up around 5am in hopes to catch a sunrise on the Mekong. From my experience so far, a beautiful sunrise in northern Laos is a rarity due to the overcast, smog, and humidity that hangs around in the sky for more of the day, but that is another rant for another time. As the sun rose into the grey skies I moseyed up to the main street with my head down feeling as though I got up at 5am for nothing when all of a sudden a woman started forcing food into my hand and demanding money. I hand’t a clue what was going on until I looked up and saw the saffron Monks walking down the street as I have seen each morning that I have been up before the sun. At the time it seemed like a great idea, so I paid her and joined a few locals to offer some food.
The real problem here is the locals who set up a table and sell the food to tourists – they are exploiting the tradition in the name of profits, something that seems all to familiar. While I was caught by surprise and fell into their trap, a ‘tourist trap’ if you will, I chalked that morning up to a learning experience. After doing some research on the matter and speaking with a Monk that I passed by in the street I came up with a much better way to show my support, I visited the local Wat, sans camera, and donated some money before entering the temple. I now feel a bit guilty about taking my camera to the Almsgiving ceremony but I didn’t want these photos to have been taken in vain.