Laos' alms-giving ceremony is under threat from overtourism, but with guidance, travellers can help preserve this peaceful, harmonious ceremony, says Brian Lingham of Luang Prabang's Buddhist Heritage Project, see buddhist-heritage.org
In Laos, the Tak Bat (morning alms round) is a solemn, simple religious ceremony of millennia-long grandeur. Buddhist monks and novices walk a designated path to receive offerings from the community, and the acts of giving and receiving bestow blessings upon both parties. Please contribute an offering only if it's meaningful for you: you are giving something of yourself.
Observe the ritual in silence. If you want to observe only, do not get in the way of the monks' procession, or those who are making offerings. Sticky rice is the traditional offering, which we recommend buying beforehand in the local markets, rather than encouraging sellers to push and shove through the crowds, selling food of questionable hygiene. Avoid tours run by mini-van drivers who block the monks' passage, or tour guides armed with electronic megaphones.
Dress appropriately – you wouldn't wear a bikini into evening vespers in Milan's Duomo, would you? Shoulders, chests and legs should be covered, and while it may seem obvious to say, do not make physical contact with the monks, and do not stand too close to them when taking photographs. Please turn your camera flash off. We also discourage bus tours, as when you are on the bus, you are higher than the monks, which is considered disrespectful.
The Heuan Chan is a museum-like house complex in the centre of Luang Prabang that runs a program for visiting tourist children of all nationalities. The kids can do a simple cooking class to correctly make the sticky-rice sweets that the novice monks love. They are then taught how to offer it, respectfully, at the Tak Bat the next morning.
One only needs to cross the Nam Khan river to watch the Tak Bat in any of the villages to see how dramatic an impact gangs of tourists have had on the event in the main town. Here, just a kilometre from the centre of the city, it is still a deeply traditional celebration conducted in silence and harmony.