If you visited Luang Prabang and missed Tak Bat — the morning alms giving ceremony — then let’s accept it, your visit to Luang Prabang remains incomplete.
A group of nearly 2 dozen monks hurried towards me as I caught hold of this unfamiliar religious act of Tak Bat in Luang Prabang for the first time.
They were all barefoot, looking and walking straight in one line. The first few in the queue, as I guessed, were in their late teens, followed by some as young as 7 or 8 years old.
This is how every morning in Luang Prabang is rewarded – with the colorful sight of hundreds of saffron-robed Buddhist monks and novices walking in a peaceful procession through the sleepy streets of the city, accepting alms from locals.
This daily ritual of Tak Bat in which kneeling locals give food to monks is a timeless tradition. And it dates back its existence to the 14th century.
Every day, hundreds of monks (from 30+ monasteries across Luang Prabang) would walk the streets of Luang Prabang, barefoot, and in meditative silence, and collect food offerings from local people. In most cases, it includes rides and fruits.
The handful of rice and other things that local people happily donate is most monks’ only food for the day before they return to the streets again the next morning, and the morning after!
It was great to see how despite the age of iPhones, fast cars, and buffet lunches, monks in Luang Prabang were still relying on whatever little they managed to get from others.
This daily ritual of Tak Bat, also called Sai Bat, is a living Buddhist tradition in Luang Prabang. It is by only accepting what others voluntarily give, monks maintain their vows to practice redundancy and gain merit for the afterlife.
Though it is possible to see almsgiving in parts of Thailand, India and in many other places in Asia, the kind of sight that Luang Prabang offers is a little intense. It kind of takes you back in time.
One can experience Tak Bat in Luang Prabang every morning at dawn, and not just at one place but across the old town!
Tips For Attending Tak Bat In Luang Prabang
Off-late there has been a lot of debate on what a tourist should or shouldn’t do while attending Tak Bat in Luang Prabang.
Since Tak Bat is a religious practice being continued since the 14th century, it is nothing less than a cultural heritage that, because of wrong behaviour by tourists, can easily be affected.
During my nearly one-week stay in Luang Prabang, I happened to attend Tak Bat thrice, and every morning, there was at least one instance where I found tourists acting a little absurdly, making monks feel uncomfortable just a little more.
Attending Tak Bat is not prohibited, and neither is clicking pictures of monks or of people giving alms if only you do it the right way while keeping respect in your eyes for whatever’s happening and whomever you’re clicking out there.
If you’re not sure ‘how’ just think of how you’ll behave if you’re attending Sunday prayers in your church.
You will keep your distance, not obstruct the priest, not speak loudly, and so on and so forth. And that’s all that’s needed while attending Tak Bat in Luang Prabang too.
No bikini tops. No loud talking. No touching the monks. No taking photographs of the monks with a flash. And certainly no jostling other worshippers. Just be watchful around you, and you will be all fine.
Disclaimer: I visited Laos on a blog-trip with Singapore Airlines, Fly Scoot, and Changi Airport. Where my trip was sponsored by them, all recommendations are solely personal. I only recommend what I personally try, and find worth appreciating!