#1 Early Morning Monks
One of the tourist attraction draws of Luang Prabang is to get up at sunrise and observe the monks and disciples receive their Alms from people on the street. Alms strictly defined: money, food or other donations given to the poor or needy. The ritual in Luang Prabang is a mutually beneficial exchange between the monks and the people who donate. The people give a little food in exchange for the monks blessing them with prayer.
Unfortunately, the ceremony on the main street where the tourists gather to observe this ritual has become a mockery. Cameras thrust themselves into the process becoming a third participant in the spectacle.
I wasn’t interested in this but #2 really wanted the experience. Fortunately, we had a conversation with the manager of a bakery we visited a few times. She shared something special with us. She too agreed the ceremony on the main street had lost some of its spiritual tone. The monks had even stopped chanting out loud after receiving their Alms. The manager said that the Alms ceremony happens at another place in town—across the bridge--and because she thought we would honor the ritual she told us where.
We rented bicycles the night before and awoke at 5:15am—before the sunrise. It was raining so we wore rain ponchos as we hopped on our bikes. The tiredness of waking early was replaced with an exhilaration of gliding through the early morning darkness with rain splashing against our face. We were surprised to see a line of monks walk in a line just a few blocks from the Guest House. But we continued on as the manager of the bakery told us to ride over the old wooden bridge that crossed the NAM (river) KHAN before the sun peaked above the horizon.
Across the river, we took the first left, as the manger directed us. The houses were a little more upscale on this side of the bridge. By upscale I mean, some of the house had two stories, with cared for yards and a small car behind an iron gate.
The Falyn Family Five pedaled past a few people who squatted in front of their houses with a bowl of food on their laps. They were waiting for the monks. We continued to pedal forward. The pavement ended and #2 saw a line of monks down a dirt road to the right. #2 pedaled fast leaving the rest of us behind. The monks and #2 disappeared down another dirt road. #4 & I decided to meet #2 at the junction ahead. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a junction ahead and it was another fifteen minutes before we finally found #2 again. She had watched as the monks received their Alms and chanted but the sky light was still grainy so she couldn’t see much.
Once reunited, the Falyn Family Five pedaled back onto pavement and instead of turning left turned right. And then we saw an odd spectacle as brighter light started to fill the sky; a large bus (it looked like a very old Greyhound bus) with its back window partially shattered, was dropping off an entire bus load of monks and their disciples. Off a bus? Really? Where did they come from? Why did they come to this neighborhood? Were these the monks who use to walk for their Alms in the tourist part of town heading for a more tranquil location? There were people waiting for them (no tourists except the FFF) with bowls of food so they must have done this before.
There were at least a hundred monks who stepped off the bus. We watched as they quietly formed a line that snaked their way past a group of givers with Alms and then down the street deeper into the neighborhood. We watched from afar as the each monk received a small amount of rice and then a small group of monks would chant in front of the house of the giver. #2 captured the moment with photos and a video—giving the ritual enough space to proceed without obvious intrusion.
The rain continued to fall as the monks followed their path and we got on our bikes to follow ours.
An early morning experience on the road with the Falyn Famly Five.