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How Can We Best Respect the Tak Bat Ritual in Luang Prabang?

Since Buddhism arrived in Laos in the 14th century, the monks of the country’s old political and enduring spiritual capital of Luang Prabang have performed the daily Tak Bat ceremony.  At 5:00 AM, the drums of the city’s many religious houses begin to beat, heralding the start of a new day.  Clad in their signature orange robes, their heads and feet bare in a gesture of humility, the monks emerge from the city’s 35 temples to form a single file and proceed through the city’s streets.  Waiting for them are observant Buddhists, who also rise at dawn to prepare a portion of sticky rice to give as alms to the monks. 

Buddhist monks take vows of poverty, and thus are obliged to seek their sustenance from among the faithful laity for whom alms giving is a primary tenant of their faith which earns them merit and blessings.  Waiting patiently on mats or low stools along the Tak Bat route, the faithful quickly and silently scoop a portion of sticky rice, fresh fruit, or sweetmeats into the monks’ bowls.  It is a profoundly peaceful way to begin a new day, with an enduring ceremony, which affords an excellent opportunity for meditation, solemnity, and prayer. 

This peace, however, is increasingly under threat by the very development that is breathing welcome economic life into Laos and Luang Prabang: the increase in tourism and the interest this unique ceremony holds for foreign visitors.  In a town of just under half a million inhabitants, half that many tourists pass through Luang Prabang each year and for the overwhelming majority, Tak Bat is a major draw.  

To ensure that the Tak Bat tradition retains its special solemnity, meaning, and significance for both the monks and all observant Buddhists who take part in the ritual, tourists are asked to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Show Respect for the Ritual: Despite its fluidity and the fact that it takes place outdoors, Tak Bat is a significant religious rite, and one that is a cornerstone of the Buddhist faith. Behave during the Tak Bat as you would when visiting a church, a mosque, or a synagogue: keep silent and dress appropriately (shoulders and legs covered).

2. Purchase Sticky Rice from the City Market, Not the Roadside Vendors: If you wish to participate in the ritual of Tak Bat, it is preferable that you purchase your sticky rice from the city’s market, as opposed to the growing number of private vendors who line the route.

3. Capture Your Memories Discreetly: Try to keep your photography discreet and at a distance: above all, do not disturb the monks or the faithful by using flash photography and try to avoid pointing a camera at close range.

4. Witness from a Respectful Distance: If you wish to witness, rather than participate in Tak Bat, observe a respectful distance to allow those who are active participants in the rite to make the most of this moment of meditation and prayer. 

Adhering to these four guidelines during Tak Bat will ensure that your visit to Luang Prabang does nothing to jeopardize the solemnity of this 600-year tradition.

Alexander + Roberts are committed to traveling with integrity to all of our destinations. Contact one of our knowledgeable reservation agents to learn more about visiting Laos on itineraries such as Visions of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos + Thailand.

Posted: 3/3/2016 2:41:53 PM by Alexander + Roberts