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Luang Prabang Laos – Lao PDR – Tourism, Travel Tips, Reviews – Luang Prabang

Temples & Monks Luang Prabang

Temples

Luang Prabang is known for its many temples. Many who visit the city have been traveling for a while and are fairly tired of the umtheeth golden buildning. Luang Prabang temples might be able to cure you from that. The temples of Luang Prabang are very diverse with some just being plain beautiful (Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Manorom) some on stunning sights (Wat Chom Si on top of Mount Phou Si and the golden temple on top of the eastern hill on the way to the airport) and the again some just darn pretty (Wat Sene and Wat Mai). Most likely you will find as many opinions on favourite temples as there are temples in Luang Prabang and you will do best to find a pair of comfortable shoes, a scarf to cover your shoulders and a sense of adventure to go tempel hunting to find your favourite.

You will most likely live close to a temple (it’s hard to find accommodation that doesn’t) and realize that the temples give noises. Here is their schedule: At five am the big drums of the temples are beaten (to wake up the monks, locals, tourists or all three?) and shortly after that, the monks start walking the streets to gather the alms from people on the streets. At five pm, the drums are beaten again and this provides a mystical and alluring reminder for sunset drinks by the Mekong.

Temples in Luang Prabang can both be a charming backdrop and a main activity. Enjoy being in a buddhist center!

Monks

The Luang Prabang Monks are a signature of the city and an interesting part of the culture, but how much do you know of the tradition?

Many Laotian (around 67%) are Buddhists and it is therefore an integrated part of society. Boys, particularly from poor upbringing, will attend monk schools and get their education through the monasteries. Many leave around 18-20 and there are therefore less old monks. However, those who hasn’t spent time at the monastery see it as their duty to become monks later in life and take time to do it for a couple of weeks up to months. The proper names of the boys/men are novices or monks and the term refers to how old the man is.

The early morning alms giving in Luang Prabang is part of an old tradition that involves the community giving the monks food for the day. Monks are not supposed to have worldly possessions and are (were) therefore dependant on the alms giving for their survival. Unfortunately these events have been hi-jacked by tourists competing for the closest portrait picture of a monk. It is not respectful to anyone if you stand in their path when they are walking, the monks are no exception. Please do not get in their way to take that zillionth picture. There are cheap and beautiful postcards that you can buy or use the zoom function your camera most certainly have.

A second problem that has developed with the present of tourist is that tourists wants to give alms themselves. Apart from not knowing how to do it properly, us tourist have seldom prepared sticky rice etc to give so we buy from street vendors. This has changed the ratio local-alms-giver-to-street-vendors in favor of those making money. If the locals stop giving alms, the tradition will die out.

If you want to interact with the monks, consider visiting the library on the main street where the Luang Prabang monks meet travellers to practice English and other foreign languages. Or, visit a monastery and ask if they know of monks in Luang Prabang who may be interested in talking to tourists. This is a more respectful way of channeling your curiosity.

When interacting with monks, women should be mindful not to touch the monk. Also cover yourself when entering a monastery (this apply to all).

So what does a monk in Luang Prabang do? Well, part of the monk’s duty is to perform a ceremony called basi. The basi ceremony can be held for various reasons, death, birth, bad luck, someone going away etc. The basi ceremony usually begins with people gathering at the designated spot and then the monks chanting begins. This can go on for 15-30 minutes and ends with a cotton string tying ritual. If you are invited to a basi, ask the person inviting you to give you instructions on how to behave properly.

Enjoy the monks, but allow them at least the same kind of respect you treat others with.

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