Early morning monks, sticky rice, and Lil goes hippie.

Day 8: Our alarm went off at 4.55am today. We dragged ourselves out of bed and were out the door by 5.15am to watch the early morning alms giving ceremony, with the local area just starting to come to life.

The alms giving ceremony, or Tak Bat, is a longstanding tradition in Laos Buddhist culture. Every day at 5.30am (or 6.00am depending on the season), around 200 Buddhist monks dressed in their bright orange coloured robes depart from temples across the town, to quietly line up and gather food for their daily meal. The ritual is conducted in silence and is a sacred ceremony for both the locals and the monks.

By the time we walked down the street to stand by the first temple, locals and tourists were already lining the pavements, perched on tiny plastic chairs and clutching wicker baskets full of sticky rice.

Visitors can buy sticky rice from street vendors, the local market, or even sometimes from their guesthouses. At exactly 5.30am, the procession started and we watched from the other side of the street as the monks filed past and collected rice and other gifts.

Tourists are encouraged to observe the ceremony, and even to participate, however inappropriate behaviour continues to be an issue. Regular campaigns encourage tourists to keep a respectful distance when observing or taking photographs, not to use camera flashes and not to get in the way of the procession.

Regardless, tourists still continue to clamber along the pavements, poking cameras in the faces of monks and lay people, taking selfies and generally being disruptive. To our horror, we even saw some tourists laughing and eating the sticky rice themselves, instead of handing it out to the monks. :-/

Another requirement is that participants need to stay seated for the duration of the ceremony, however we spotted some tourists who clearly had enough after only 5 minutes and got up and left, casting their rice baskets aside, and cutting through the procession of monks. One article we read indicated that the ceremony is in danger of being discontinued unless tourists can learn to be more respectful – from what we saw this morning, we wouldn’t be too hopeful.

Then it was back to the guesthouse for breakfast in the courtyard (Khao Soi noodle soup for Jim; muesli and fruit for Lil). After a much needed nap and catching up on some reading, we headed off for a long wander around the town surroundings, in another scorching hot day.

This afternoon we visited the Luang Prabang National Museum (and former palace) – spectacular buildings, gardens, furniture, and collections of historical items and automobiles – no photos allowed inside though.

The Palace was built between 1904 and 1909, during the time of French colonial occupation, as the residence of the Laos Royal Family. In 1975, the
Pathet Laos communist party came to power, which ended the Laos monarchy. The Royals were forced to leave the Palace, after which it was turned into the National Museum. The museum also houses the Phra Bang, the country’s most sacred Buddha image.

We wandered around some back streets off the tourist beaten path, where local soups and other dishes can be bought for around one dollar. A store was selling packets of ciggies from 8,000 Kip (around $1.35). As Jim pointed out, for the price of a packet of cigarettes a day in Sydney, as a local here you could have the cigarettes, accommodation and food.

This evening, after another awesome dinner – this time, deep fried local fish, and chicken and pumpkin coconut curry – we visited the night market. Lil continues to get bitten mercilessly by insects, and no amount of Deet repellent seems to work. After three badly swollen mossie bites and dozens of other nips, she decided enough was enough, and has bought long elephant print pants and a long sleeved muslin shirt. She’s starting to resemble a hippie, but hey – if it reduces the bites, who cares. Maybe it’s time for her to start working on some dreadlocks too…

On the way back to the guesthouse, we heard music playing in a local school yard, and over the wall watched a group of six ladies doing some local dancing together – very lovely. Then home to bed, and looking forward to a much later start to the day tomorrow.

We have one more day in Luang Prabang – after that we head north east to Nong Khiaw for a few days, to hopefully do some more trekking.

More tomorrow.

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