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Buddhist monks que for alms in Lauang Prabang, Laos
Giving alms in Lauang Prabang, Laos

A great photo opportunity in Laos is the daily ritual of Buddhist monks collecting alms just after sunrise. The monks rely on the food given to them each morning by the good folk of Lauang Prabang who are in turn blessed for the generosity.  Because this is a religious practice be respectful and keep your distance from both the monks and those offering alms. Buddhism is a fairly tolerant religion so no one will be concerned as long as you are polite.

The whole shebang kicks off at around 5.30am before the cars and bicycles take over the streets. These days quite a few tourists get involved and if your karma is anything like mine, a few Buddhist blessings won’t go astray. The moment you step onto the street, a number of women will try to sell you sticky rice to give to the monks but, if the truth be known, the monks aren’t really into this. For starters the rice is shit. It’s cheap, prepared quickly, bland and flogged off to tourists as no one else wants to eat it. Naturally the monks are too polite to say anything but don’t be surprised if they cover their bowl with their hand which is their way of saying they have enough food for the day (or in this case, you can keep the crap, I’m holding out for some chocolate). The other reason is that the monks see these rice sellers as profiteers off an ancient ritual. The whole point is that the person who has given the rice has gone to at least a little effort.

It is far better to go and buy some fruit or candy in the market the evening before. Then get up at the crack of dawn and make your way to a street where the lines of monks will pass (ask the locals). You should kneel on the payment and as the monks file pass, drop into their pot what you are willing to give. It’s actually quite fun and good way to mingle with the locals.

I shot in Camera RAW with an ISO of 800. I needed a fast ISO because there wasn’t much light around and I was using a telephoto lens. I went with a telephoto lens to foreshorten the queue of monks. I also wanted a fairly slow shutter speed to convey the mood. these monks really shuffle along!

ISO: 800, Shuuter speed: 1/30 sec, Aperture F5

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. The best thing to is not to take part, as it is a religious ceremony, so unless you are Buddhist keep away. As someone raised Catholic, partaking in this ritual is the equivalent of a bus load of Arabs bundling into Sunday Mass, heading straight for the alter & as they stick their tongues out to receive the Eucharist another bus load arrives & starts taking photos.

    Today I am an Atheist but this is their ritual goes leave them alone & if you must then only photograph with a long distance lens.


  2. I did participate in Luang Prabang, with decent food as you pointed out above, and I understand it to be a community ceremony rather than a specifically religious one(such as a mass).
    The only events I do not photograph are funerals, I consider them private regardless of the fact that a line of Iranian men and their drummers are walking the block making a lot of noise in public. If a busload of tourists stopped as I was burying a family member I would tell them exactly where to shove their cameras.

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Lauang Prabang, Laos
Top Tip
Monks rise early - you'll need to too
Written by Dean
Photography by Dean