Giving Alms in Vientiane, Laos

Father and son giving alms to Buddhist Monks

Just got back from spending a few days in Bangkok and Vientiane, Laos.  I took over 1000 pictures, so, that should be good for a post or two in the coming days. The Laos part of the trip went well and I got the all important Education Visa out of the way so that left ample free time to explore the city.

Fortunately, or unfortunately as it were, the bed in our Vientiane hotel was as hard as a rock, even by Thai standards, so I found myself up at the break of dawn each day to watch the city come alive.

One aspect of Buddhism I enjoy is watching the morning ritual of monks filing out of their respective Wats ( temples ) and into the streets to receive alms from the faithful. I’m not sure what draws me to the ritual more, the act of the faithful giving freely to the monks and receiving the monks blessings or the beautiful contrast of orange robes against dirty city streets that appeals to the photographer in me.

The faithful waiting for the Monks to arrive The monks receiving their alms Giving alms to Buddhist monks

When I mentioned to Ying that the monks were coming she hurriedly threw on some clothes, grabbed her bag and me and sped out the door.

Normally the alms given by the waiting faithful is small amounts of food and drink but it can also include household goods, candles and personal items for the monks to use. As we were running decidedly late we had no choice but to give the only gift we had…money. And we were going to have to convert some baht to Lao kip before we could even do that.

When you are in a hurry changing baht to kip is easier said than done, especially when you are doing it at a street vendor at 7am in the morning and only have 1000 baht notes on you. Luckily the vendor had a few large stacks of kip and the exchange was made in time to give alms to the passing Monks. In case you were wondering 1000 baht is roughly $30.00 and converted into Lao kip it becomes a staggering 283,000 kip, all of which is pretty much worthless, and no one wants it.

It was decided over morning tea that we would make a trip to the store and make a proper offering for tomorrows line of monks. When we went to the store it took Ying some time to pick the exact offering she had in mind. When all was said and done we left the store 80,000 kip lighter and had 7 care packages each containing a bottle of milk, a bottle of water and a tin of fish. We were ready!

Rushing across the street to give alms to Buddhist monks The receiving line of Buddhist monks The Buddhist monk receiving line moving down the street

As the next morning dawned I was at my post on the balcony, smoking a cigarette and patiently waiting for any sign of orange robes. Just as I finished my cigarette I noticed orange robes on the horizon and when I turned to tell Ying that it was time I noticed another group or orange robes coming from the opposite direction. I hadn’t thought about this predicament and wondered how Ying would react to the news. I didn’t tell her till we went downstairs and as we walked out of the hotel lobby there was a line of monks in front of her and another across the street where we gave alms previously.

She looked at each set of monks and then proclaimed that we must cross the street as those are our monks and besides this line had 13 monks and we weren’t prepared for that. So, we crossed the street just in time to give the alms and receive the monks blessing, which is quite beautiful in the wee hours of the morning. Below is a video of Ying handing out her offerings and of the monks singing the blessing. You might have to turn up the sound some as it came out on the low side.

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16 Comment(s)

  1. Great pictures Tim, and well done on getting up so early. I miss my trips to Vientiane. I was there about a year ago and there seemed to be a lot of building going on.

    Paul Garrigan | Nov 17, 2010 | Reply

  2. Paul, I didn’t have a lot of choice on getting up early :P There is a lot of building going on with some impressive buildings going up. Along the riverfront is really getting a makeover as they expand the park and add walkways and lights along the Mekong….very pretty.

    Talen | Nov 17, 2010 | Reply

  3. Very nice pictures indeed and a nice video. I was luck enough to see the early morning alms giving in Luang Prabang last year. That was very spectacular, with literally hundreds of monks winding their way along the main street of the beautiful little town, with its French colonial style architecture and its beautiful temples.

    Peter_M | Nov 17, 2010 | Reply

  4. Peter, that does sound very beautiful and a sight to behold. There was a large festival going on while I was in Vientiane and there were probably a couple hundred monks at the main temple but all over the place and even that was impressive watching the small waves of orange migrate through the crowds.

    Talen | Nov 17, 2010 | Reply

  5. Talen great shots of the alms giving. Its something I still find fascinating here.

    Luckily I can sit outside and watch the monks any morning I chose.

    Its always interesting to watch my neighbours and the different way men and women approach the monks.

    Mike | Nov 18, 2010 | Reply

  6. Thanks Mike. I could watch the procession every morning as well as I live right down the street from a Wat but I tend to wake up too late to partake. It is interesting to see how the different people approach the monks and interesting to watch the monks faces too, especially the younger ones.

    Talen | Nov 18, 2010 | Reply

  7. Vientiane, a tale of a hard kip and a sackful of kip. As the others have said, great photos, I especially like the top one. The look on the face of the furthest monk is great.

    The street paths look a lot better than some of the ones I’ve seen in Udon Thani.

    Nice to read you’re enjoying your ‘retirement’.

    Martyn | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  8. Apologies for coming in late Talen, I’m totally swamped with all this coming and going.

    Your top photo is absolutely fabulous. And it came across on my iPhone just as impressive! You must be enjoying that new camera you brought to Thailand (I’m certainly enjoying what you are doing with it).

    Catherine | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  9. Martyn, the street paths are about the same, almost snapped my ankle a few times.

    What I saw of Udon was lovely too but unfortunately I spent less time there than I would have liked.

    Talen | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  10. Thanks Cat…The new camera is my favorite toy in the whole world.

    Wait till you see the picks I took up in your neck of the woods. I finally got a chance to visit a museum in Bangkok that I have been wanting to see and some of those pics really pop.

    Talen | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  11. It’s not the Doll Museum is it? Hehhh… Let’s see, in my area (besides the Doll Museum) there is the Cabbage Palace (I have a post coming soon – it’s an amazing place).

    And I guess it depends on what you are calling my area. The Teak Palace is to die for (but a bit further out). I haven’t been to the connecting buildings housing the King’s photography so those are on my list next year.

    Catherine | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  12. Cat, Nope no dolls for me. I was a little further out in the Suan area, which by the way has funky lil night market and some fine drinking areas. And actually the more I think about it I was still yet a little further out than that…Think Elephant…

    Talen | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  13. Oooh, beautiful pictures!

    Megan | Nov 19, 2010 | Reply

  14. Talen, agreed, great photos…but I hope some of those 1000 were for that step by step Visa Run for Dummies guide ;)

    Snap | Nov 20, 2010 | Reply

  15. Snap. I didn’t forget you…I will have a step by step post up next week on visa runs to laos…with pictures :)

    Talen | Nov 20, 2010 | Reply

  16. Thanks, Meagan :)

    Talen | Nov 20, 2010 | Reply

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