The choice to become a monk in Laos can be either spiritual or educational (or both). Many boys join a temple as young as 10. This gives them opportunities to study and learn that they otherwise may not have. When they reach the age of twenty or so, they can decide to stay with this path, or to leave the temple and go to work or further their education at a university. Whatever their motivation, the calling is rigorous and demanding. They wake around 5am to collect donated food to eat for their breakfast and lunch meals (their only meals of the day). The day is then filled with chores and studies. The process of feeding the monks serves both the monk and the devotee. The monk receives nourishment, and the devotee is given an opportunity to show their respect and gain karma. It is a solemn ritual done in silence and with no outward expression from either participant. The monks, wearing their saffron colored robes walk single file out of their temples down prescribed roads where the faithful are waiting with food items (mostly glutinous rice). The monks open their metal containers (which are usually fastened with a strap to carry around their shoulder), and the devotees silently place a handful of food inside. It is not a personal transaction, but a practical way for the community to sustain the symbiotic relationship between the faithful and the monks who work and pray for the greater good.
This would be a completely spiritual process, were it not for the third element: the tourists. Face it, we travel to experience culture (hopefully). And this is a significant event that we wouldn’t want to miss if we have traveled this far. But it should be an event we watch from a respectful distance. I saw one tourist walking backwards directly in front of a monk, taking pictures. I expect this tourist would not jump up in front of a Christian priest giving out communion at a Catholic church. I think it is acceptable to experience the giving of alms as long as you respect the participants.
Note: Other reviewers mention vendors. I watched the ceremony from the street in front of the Victoria Xiengthong Palace hotel, and there were no vendors (at least on the day I was there). If you want to avoid the vendors (an element not necessary for the ceremony), you might want to check with your guide/hotel before selecting a place to watch it.
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