The quaint and colourful streets of Luang Prabang are teeming with saffron-robed monks. Some of the little ones have orange umbrellas propped up on their shoulder. The country makes you feel like your heart is smiling. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and the people are so friendly. Luang Prabang was hands down my favourite place during my time in Southeast Asia.
On my first morning in Laos, I rose before the sun and joined several others taking part in the ritual of offering alms to the hundreds of Buddhist monks.
The monks emerged from the darkness, their saffron robes illuminating in the moonlight. In the soft morning light, I felt goose bumps 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 in order to give to the monks, even if they hardly have anything of their own. This generous act of giving is playing into the strong beliefs of karma seen throughout Southeast Asia. By giving, it is believed you will lead a more fortunate and blessed life. I saw that monks of Thailand (dressed in cherry-coloured robes) are even present to donate.
On this morning there were so many little monks, sticking together in their quick little shuffles. You cannot be a monk if you are under the age of 20, but younger boys are still encouraged to practice. An easy way to differentiate is whether or not one or both shoulders are covered. Two covered shoulders means a monk is still a novice, whereas a one covered shoulder means a monk is fully practiced. The reasons some boys will choose life as a monk vary. Lots do tend to come from families of poor backgrounds, and are 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 keep noise levels down. It is such a different and refreshing thing to experience and witness daily, compared to North America. Buddhism has always fascinated me. Traveling in Buddhism practicing countries was therefore amazing for me.