The quaint and colourful streets of Luang Prabang are teeming with saffron-robed monks. The country makes you feel like your heart is smiling.
On my first morning in Laos, I rose before the sun and joined several others taking part in the daily ritual of offering alms to the hundreds of Buddhist monks.
The monks emerged from the darkness, their saffron robes illuminating in the moonlight. I felt goosebumps as they proceeded in single file towards me. It was silent except for the faint rustling of fabric from their robes. I could smell the aroma of freshly baked bread from nearby bakeries floating through the air. On my lap sat a basket of warm sticky rice, from which I gathered small bundles and placed gently into each monk’s basket.
Buddhism is all about giving. People will gather early in the morning to give to the monks, even if they don’t have much of their own. This generous act of giving plays into the strong beliefs of karma demonstrated throughout Southeast Asia. By giving, it is believed you will lead a more fortunate and blessed life.
I witnessed some monks of Thailand that were present to donate, dressed in cherry-coloured robes.
On this morning there were many young monks, staying close together in quick shuffles. You are not eligible to be a monk if you are under the age of 20, but younger boys are still encouraged to take part. An easy way to differentiate between a practicing monk and a monk “in training,” is noticing whether one or both shoulders are covered. Two covered shoulders tells the world that a monk is in training, whereas a one covered shoulder means a monk is fully practicing.
The reasons some boys will choose life as a monk vary. Many tend to come from families of poorer backgrounds and then given to the monasteries where they are guaranteed food and education.
I really enjoyed the spirituality that encompasses Southeast Asia, especially in Laos. There is even an 11 pm curfew that is strictly enforced to demonstrate respect.
The spirituality, generosity, and respect is such a different and refreshing thing to experience and witness daily, especially compared to North America.
Buddhism has always fascinated me. Traveling in Buddhism practicing countries was therefore a very fulfilling experience for me.