Buddhist monks are a regular but still spectacular sight on our Asia trip so far, their bright orange robes and shaved heads cannot help but make you notice them. We learnt from ‘monk chat’ that they have no money, do not work, and are reliant upon the generosity of the communities in which they live.
Monks rise at around 4am and one of their rules is that they cannot ingest anything other than water after midday, this means that they need to head out and get their provisions pretty early.
This process of ‘giving alms’ to the monks is known as Tak Bak, and in Luang Prabang particularly, is an act that appears to have great significance for the the local people, not least because it requires a pre-dawn start to the day.
I don’t think anyone would describe myself or my wife as ‘morning people’ but the draw of seeing this remarkable scene is enough to get us out of bed whilst its still dark outside (apologies to anyone in the UK grumbling that you do this everyday at the moment).
We arrive at the side of the road with dawn just breaking, and see the women of Luang Prabang taking their places on the side of the roads, seated on short stools, waiting in the cool and slightly misty air.
Groups of monks and novices then appear in the distance, walking in single file, and getting brighter and clearer as they near and the sun starts to illuminate the day. They pass-by each group with pots hanging round their necks, and the ladies drop food and gifts in each one as they pass.
Once all the monks have received a gift they take a few steps away from the ladies and start to chant as a show of thanks, but it appears as though the ladies are not allowed to look at this as they all cover their eyes and turn away.
The whole experience is mesmerising and we feel privileged to have witnessed it. The location we chose was fairly quiet, with only a couple of other tourists in sight, who all showed a reasonable amount of respect in terms of the distance from the monks. We had heard stories that in the town centre the numbers of tourists can be very high with some thrusting cameras into the faces of the monks.
In a moment of extreme serendipity we manage to meet up with some friends for a relaxed afternoon in a French cafe, having seen that they had signed the visitor book at Big Brother Mouse on the same page we did. Sometimes its a small world.