Alms and Pakbeng 


I woke at 4.45 to see the monk collecting alms. In Laos tradition, monks leave their temples as soon as they can see their hands in front of them with no artificial light, and are greeted by lines of locals in the streets, all wearing white. The people on the street prepare baskets of rice which they offer to the monks, who place it in small baskets around their waists. It is rude in Laos culture to refuse something that is offered to you, so when their small baskets are full they empty them out into the boxes laid out for the poor. The idea is that everyone is ‘together’ and they share provision.

The monks are only permitted to chew until the strike of 12 midday, so they eat early in the morning and again late morning, but switch the liquids only in the afternoon. This is believed to be a good thing that will bring blessing.

We were all rather shocked by the behaviour of some tourists at the alms collecting, as it should be quite a somber and silent activity. Tourists were running along side monks to take their photographs, shoving cameras in their faces and crossing their paths during the ceremony. It was incredibly disrespectful, and I felt rather embarrassed that tourists could be so bold. We headed back towards our hostel and spotted another group of monks heading down a side street where no other tourists were stationed. We took a seat at the road side (as non-monks’ heads should never be higher than those of monks in Laos culture) and watched them in silence. They stopped right in front of us to bring blessing to a house we were sat opposite. Their voices were strong and bold and meditative before they concluded and carried on their way.

We even saw an adorable little girl of maybe 2 or 3 years old giving alms to the monks. She was lovely and high fives us, blew kisses and smiled at us as we went on our way back to the hostel. It was well worth getting up early for.

We headed off at 6.50 for the boat that would take us along the Mekong River. We had been really fortunate and managed to get on a private boat which was heading up the river to pick up people at the other end. We saw other boats that were really congested and crammed in, so we were really grateful to be able to sprawl out and enjoy the journey. I spent much of the day reading, something I’ve not had much time to do at all!

We arrived in Pakbeng after 10 hours of cruising. We had a bit of a rocky start to Pakbeng as there was a really bouncy floating path to the shore which I struggled somewhat to manoeuvre. I went slow but sure and managed not to topple off the side which I thought was rather remarkable. We stayed in wooden huts overlooking Mekong. It was beautiful, and as the windows were just slatted shutters I could hear the animals and insects chirping outside. I happily settled down for an early night (under the cover of my mosquito net) after a delicious curry and a fun encounter with a Praying Mantis.