Morning Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang: Everything You Need to Know
Sai Bat - the daily alms giving ceremony to Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang
It’s five in the morning, and the sky is still dark, but the city of Luang Prabang in central Laos is wide awake. It’s time for morning alms rounds, a serious and somber Buddhist ceremony that takes place in the early hours of the morning every day. Local people, dressed in traditional Lao outfits, kneel on mats along the main road in front of the city’s temples, awaiting a procession of dozens of Buddhist monks, clad in saffron robes and carrying their traditional “beggar’s bowls”.
Buddhist monks are forbidden from purchasing their own food, instead relying on donations from the community for their daily meal.
As the monks walk slowly down the street in their silent procession, people will respectfully place sticky rice and other food into their bowl, or “bat”. The food will later be shared communally by the monks at the temple. This ceremony takes place in complete silence. It’s a very important and reverential ceremony,
Morning alms giving for monks in Luang Prabang
The morning alms giving ceremony takes place daily in Luang Prabang, and is a very important aspect of traditional religious life. Local people donate food to the monks as a way of “making merit”, or accumulating good karma.
Who can give alms to monks in Luang Prabang?
You don’t have to be Buddhist in order to participate in Luang Prabang’s daily alms giving ceremony, but the monks request that you only participate if doing so would be meaningful to you. It’s not a performance or experience put on for tourists, but rather a somber and reverential centuries-old religious practice.
If you do choose to participate in the ceremony, you must be dressed appropriately. No pajamas, no sleveless shirts, and no shorts or short skirts should be worn. It is also inappropriate to take photos while participating in the ceremony. The morning alms giving ceremony is supposed to take place in complete silence. Do not speak to, make eye contact with, or touch the monks. Remove your shoes before participating in the ceremony.
If you want to photograph the morning alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang, you should stand on the opposite side of the road from the procession so as not to disturb the monks or the people who are participating in the ceremony. Signs posted throughout the city ask that you stand at least 3 meters (10 feet) away from the monks.
What time is the morning alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang?
You’ll have to get up early to see the alms in Luang Prabang! The monks begin their alms rounds before dawn, and are finished around 6:00 am. The best time to catch the monks on their rounds is at 5:30, when the sky is just barely beginning to get light. If you want to participate in the alms-giving, be sure to get ready by 5:00 am or so.
Where to see the morning alms rounds
The most popular places to watch and participate in the morning alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang is along Sisavangvong Road. The monks pass by the primary school and in front of the city’s old temples, before walking to the National Museum and Wat Mai, ending up along the Night Market area.
Look for locals sitting or kneeling on woven mats alongside the road. The most popular areas for joining in the alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang are near Wat Mai and the Night Market area, but bear in mind that these areas can get a bit crowded with tourists. For a more authentic experience, especially if you want to participate in the alms giving ceremony yourself, you might want to find a quieter and less popular area in town where you can really appreciate this reverential and important spiritual practice.
What you should know about the morning alms in Luang Prabang
The alms rounds take place very early every morning, from around 5-6 am. The alms rounds will be almost finished by the time the sky is starting to get light.
You don’t have to be Buddhist to join the morning alms giving ceremony, but the monks request that you only participate if it is meaningful for you to do so.
If you want to participate in giving alms to monks, there will be plenty of vendors selling the traditional rice that you can give to the monks, but we suggest purchasing rice from the nearby morning market near Wat Mai instead of from the vendors. The rice from the market tends to be of a higher quality, and purchasing from the market is better for the local economy.
If you want to give alms, you must be dressed appropriately - NO PAJAMAS, NO SLEVELESS SHIRTS, NO SHORTS OR SHORT SKIRTS. The alms round is not a performance for tourists, but a very important and reverent religious ceremony.
If you want to photograph the procession, the monks request that you please stand on the opposite side of the street, at least 3 meters (10 feet) away.
Do not take selfies or photographs of the monks when you are participating in the ceremony. If you want to take pictures, refrain from participating in the alms giving ceremony.
Do not speak to, make eye contact with, or touch the monks.
Remove your shoes while participating in the ceremony.
The Sai Bat, or Tak Bat Ceremony is an amazing way to participate in an ancient local custom, and to get in touch with the spirituality, history, and cultural heritage of Luang Prabang. Unfortunately, bad and disrespectful behavior by tourists has soured the experience somewhat. Help change things by being a responsible tourist. Respect the local customs and dress and behave appropriately, and you will be more than welcome to participate in this beautiful and meaningful Buddhist ceremony.