Monk show

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Where I stayed
Spicylaos Backpackers Luang Prabang
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, February 21, 2011

I nearly missed the almsgiving. Every morning between 5 and 6, local monks wander the streets in groups to collect food and give blessings in return.

The first photo opportunity is too far away for me to snap a shot. Then I walk down a street of mostly foreign-run businesses and see not other monks. I am sad about the missed photo opp, but enjoying the early morning stroll. I walk towards the river to loop back on another street. Before I hit another main street, a lady tries to sell me sticky rice and bananas. For the monks, they're coming soon, she sais. And as I turn the corner, there are dozens of people lined up, kneeling on the sidewalk, alms before them, waiting for the monks. Many of them are tourists, not locals, a good portion of which are from other Asian contries that shall remain unnamed. Suddenly, I lost all interest in this event, so I get on my way back to the hostel.

Just as I buy a breakfast sandwich from a streetstall, I see long throngs of young monks coming down the street, tourists kneeling in front of them, offering alms, and circling all around them, cameras in their face. I find it appaling! There is no magic to it like I had expected, no spiritual vibe. Halfheartedly, I attempt a couple of pictures anyways. This is what I got up for after all. They don't turn out, but I don't care. Sadly, the almsgiving this morning left me feeling like I am in some strange zoo or circus with exotic animals performing soullesssly for tourists.

Monks may be a usual sight here in SEA, but I have not yet tired of them. Catching a ceremony at a temple typically leaves me feeling touched and connected to my (albeit small) spiritual side. Chances to chat with them make for interesting conversations if you are lucky to find those that speak English well. Or for entertaining attempts at explaining your questions and understanding their responses at the least. To me, they represent the exotic, faraway and remote. A reminder that this is a different world that I am blessed to be in right now.

In a previous entry, I noted that Laos is considered the forgotten country of SEA. By that, I didn't mean to say that there are no tourists here, quite the opposite as proven by the above experience. But the tourism industry here is still young and less spoiled than elsewhere. Following are some interesting stats on that topic, courtesy of Aung (a Burmese friend living in Toronto):
Tourist arrivals in southeast asia for 2010: 1.) Malaysia 24 million, 2.) Thailand 16 million, 3.) Singapore 12 million, 4.) Indonesia 7 million, 5.) Vietnam 5 million, 6.) Philippines 3.3 million, 7.) Cambodia 2.5 million, 8.) Laos 2 million, 9.) Myanmar 0.8 million

Despite the somewhat disappointing almsgiving experience, Luang Prabang is a place I very much enjoyed and recommend. Thanks to another globe-trotter, I met in and on the way from Phonsavan, I spent another day on a motorcycle, discovering some of the area. Axele from the French Alps is spending a few months in SEA after having been in New Zealand for a year. He is not the first (nor last) to have fallen in love with NZ. Hopefully, I'll make it there as well soon :) Oh, and did I mention, I might be in love as well? It's two wheels that I have fallen for.
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