It’s early in the morning. The alarm clock has just been switched off. Still dark outside, as if it in the middle of the night, we’re getting dressed to see one particular sight.
We get on our bikes by 5:45, heading for the centre of Luang Prabang. By now, the sun is starting to rise. It is quiet, yet we’re not alone on these roads. As the birds in the trees are just starting to sing, a few women are preparing breakfast along the side of the road. Others, men and women, are heading somewhere, off to work, to the market, to the rice fields. Yet it is all very quiet. It seems everyone has agreed to talk in a low voice, to move in slow motion. Even the motorcycles must be trying to roam in a mellow sound, quietly bringing their owners towards their destination. No one seems to hurry.
But we do. We are a couple of tourists, heading for an attraction that is not waiting for us to arrive. So we hurry. We ride our bikes faster, afraid to miss it all.
All of a sudden we see them coming. They’re moving fast, quickly walking in silence. There is no sound to be heard from their steps, they seem to be floating on thin air just above the pavement. With heads shaved for hair, they silently walk the ground with no shoes on. This group of men of all ages, with their slim bodies draped in orange cloth, pass people by on the sidewalk. Mostly women, a few men, rise on their knees on top of colourful mats, handing the passing monks rice and bananas with their heads humbly bent towards the ground. These are the offerings given to the monks, as they pass by on their way back home to their wats. This is their food, their one meal of the day, brought to them by other Buddhists.
No one speaks. Not a word is uttered. Everyone seems to know the ritual and what happens next. The monks hurry on, leaving the givers of offerings behind and passing tourists shooting photos in their faces, crossing the street towards their homes. Suddenly they’re gone. Vanished. There’s no orange left in the streets to be seen.
The ritual is more impressive to watch than I had expected. It all happened so fast. And it was all so quiet …
Then later on, they’re back. We meet them again and again, all over town during the day. More spread out this time, no one is walking in line anymore. The ritual is over, until the next morning. For this is not a show, taken on to satisfy curious tourists. This is where they live, in the many wats in the city of Luang Prabang. I see pieces of orange clothing hanging to dry in the sun on a line in a backyard. A monk is sweeping the ground in front of his wat, another one is talking to a tourist, sitting on a staircase in the sun.
The early morning alms is a religious ritual and everyday living for monks and for the almsgivers – and a memorable adventure for tourists, taking place every morning at six o’clock in Luang Prabang, Laos.