My first alms round in Luang Prabang is a fond memory which I will always keep in a special place in my heart! The monks came out of nowhere in the morning dust. It was almost still dark and suddenly you saw this line of orange dressed monks walking down the street in total silence. Local people gave alms and very few tourists stood in the distance watching this surreal scene like a movie you don’t want to end! That was a few years back on my first trip to Luang Prabang and something I was looking forward to experience again on this trip! Actually one of the reasons why I booked my third visit to this great place on earth!
Reality can be so hard to accept though! I was up very early…maybe 4:30am and got dressed to just walk out from my hotel room and up a little path for a few meters. I was actually that close to where the morning alms round would happen. Rainy season! Not a lot of tourists! However, the occational food vendors I saw a few years back have now turned into a full blown business. Lady after lady set up chairs and their stands along the street with packaged food and sticky rice containers, waiting for tourists. And they came! By mini-bus! Van after van pulled up the street, spitting out their load of photo-hungry tourists from all over the world, who then moved up the side streets, chatting and un-zipping their camera bags. Soon, the street was lined with self-proclaimed photographers and very much out of balance. Too many lay people on one side of the street with cameras and too few lay people willing to give alms on the other side.
When the monks finally came down the street, even the street vendors had to jump in and give sticky rice alms to the monks since most people would just stand on the side or in the middle of the road to take photos. What a disgusting scene! My beautiful memories just experienced a very hardcore CTRL+ALT+DEL
I left the scene and never even attempted to go back in the early morning hours. Even as Luang Prabang is paved with signs on how to dress and how to behave, the world is obviously filled with ignorant people who either don’t care or are unable to read! The morning alms round was no longer a reason to come all the way to Luang Prabang. A beautiful tradition gone with the wave of mass tourism at the hands of the officials of the tourism industry!
Even the locals are so fed up with the masses of tourists who are brought to the quiet side streets in the mornings that they put up signs in several languages to ask the tourists to please keep their noise level down in the early morning hours.