Tag Archives: religion

Alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang

If you can get yourself out of bed before 5am, then the alms giving ceremony (or Tak Bat) is for you.
To be honest after all the effort for the early rise it was a bit disappointing but it’s still something of interest.

What is the alms giving ceremony?

Every morning between 5:30-6:30am monks in Luang Prabang walk in procession along the main road to collect alms of rice and fruits from people. Their orange robes create a colourful row that snakes along the road. People offer them rice, biscuits and fruits. The monks in turn give some of the offerings to  local poor kids, who have gathered in the area with boxes and baskets.

Unfortunately this venerable and picturesque tradition has turned into a full-on tourist attraction. Minivans off load dozens of tourists right in the main area where the procession takes place.  Not only the tourist numbers are really high but also the majority of them stand right next to the monks trying to take close-up photos. Not to mention the use of flash in the monks’ faces. How about using a long lens and taking photos from the distance?!?!?!

There are actually a series of ‘behaviour guidelines’ for those who wish to attend the alms giving ceremony (i.e. dress appropriately, stand at least 3 meters away from the monks, do not give them food bought in the streets, and so on) but they don’t seem to be followed much.
This is what is sad and annoying about this traditional ceremony.

But overall it is something to see in Luang Prabang. The orange line of monks walking in the street is quite nice to watch.

Top pagoda experience in Saigon

It took us a while but we eventually found it.

Lost in Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown, we ended up relying on the locals. When they saw us walking up and down the streets frantically checking our Lonely Planet guidebook, a few women would put their hands together in a prayer sign and then point across the road, to the left or to the right. Ok, they have figured out that we are looking for the pagoda, and we clearly aren’t the first tourists who get lost in the area….

Outside the Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda
Outside the Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda

The Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda isn’t even mentioned in my edition of the Rough Guide, and if it wasn’t for my friends Adrian&Lynette (who joined me a couple of days ago) I would have never got there.
And I would have missed out on one of the best experiences in my travel life!

This pagoda is said to be the only pure Taoist pagoda in Vietnam and is unique for its colourful statues of Taoist disciples. It also operates a home for several dozen elderly people who have no family.

When we got there it was Sunday late morning, and following some female voices chanting inside the pagoda we reached a room where some ceremony was taking place.

Five women (nuns, I’d say) where sitting around a table, praying and singing and preparing offerings, while three more women in the back of the room were playing some traditional music.

All their costumes were reminiscent of Chinese/Tibetan tradition, and all their prayer books were written in Chinese.  Food and drinks were on the table. Incense sticks burning everywhere in the room.

We were initially directed upstairs. from where we could follow part of the ceremony.  But we were soon invited to join a group of local people in the same room where the ceremony was taking place, so we sat with them for some time. It was absolutely incredible!

Khanh Van Nam Vien pagoda
The ceremony

When we left we wanted to know more about the ceremony. Unfortunately none of the locals could speak English.

This will definitely remain the “top pagoda experience” of my travel life so far :-)