11 Responses

  1. edward
    edward at |

    Great post.. I am actually traveling there in three weeks (part of a six weeks vacation in SE Asia). Defiantly planning to watch this.. Thanks.

  2. Brandon
    Brandon at |

    I spent 2 weeks in Luang Prabang and it was here that my whole attitude toward the monks and a lot of Southeast Asian Buddhism in general changed. This is where I saw the monks be greedy, materialistic, and entitled.

    I got to know some of the townspeople, some little old ladies who had very little money. Every morning these ladies would line up to give to the monks. Later in the day I would see the same monks smoking cigarettes, chatting on iPhones, listening to iPods, riding in cabs, etc. they live in huge golden monasteries while many other townspeople live in squalor.

    The monks don’t provide any social service. They don’t help the poor or the sick (as in Buddhism, that is your lot to suffer). These monks all enjoy this blush life. It is something woman are not allowed to partake in. Woman are not allowed education past I think it was 7th grade.

    Although it seems beautiful and serene and devout, these thoughts really troubled me over the next month as I traveled Laos and the north of Thailand.

    Don’t get me wrong, Luang Prabang is still one of my top favorite destinations in the world. It is just a thought I had and wanted to share.

  3. Jonathan
    Jonathan at |

    Flash or no flash, it’s inappropriate to photograph the monks at close range. If you want to photograph them, do it from the opposite side of the street.

  4. Travis
    Travis at |

    Monks are just as greedy as everyone else. I learnt this from reading on Dalai Lama and why he was close to communists first and later fled.

  5. Tech Trainer
    Tech Trainer at |

    I appreciate the honesty of your writeup. I’ve often felt this way when traveling. Hey, you’re in the Amazon, don’t you want to pet/feed/photograph the tourist-trained monkeys/huge captive fish, etc. Finding “honest” tourist experiences is very difficult and something I rarely am able to accomplish. I think it takes a lot of bravery and willingness to veer off the beaten path. This was not meant as criticism.

  6. glu800
    glu800 at |

    I felt exactly the same way when I was in Luang Prabang. A part of me felt bad for the monks because the whole thing felt like a spectacle set up for the tourists. And yet, there I was, a willing participant in the charade.

    I also felt extremely frustrated with those tourists who would stick their camera in the monks’ faces and use flash and even chase them down the street like the paparazzi. It was bordering on being vulgar. If people were just a little more respectful and less intrusive, the whole thing would be a lot more beautiful.

    @Brandon, I actually didn’t notice any bad monks in Luang Prabang. Walking around town, I saw many monks doing manual labor in their temples, conducting their daily chants, and even learning English from Western volunteers. The worst was in Bangkok or Thailand in general, where monks were sporting iPads, smartphones, riding in Mercedes, etc. But I think that’s just a symptom of their locale and society.

  7. thegrailer
    thegrailer at |

    I saw the monks 5 years ago and there was nothing of what Brandon mentioned. Didn’t see it in Cambodia either. I did however see the same thing that Seth saw, folks running up to the monks and taking up close and flash photos. I disagree that “everyone” doesn’t know the “rules” about collecting alms. Let the monks alone. Take your pics from a distance. If you don’t have a zoom lens then too bad, you just don’t get the close up!

    Enjoy the beer lao and the sticky rice.

  8. aadvantagegeek
    aadvantagegeek at |

    I’m never sure what to do when I visit a cathedral, a church, or a temple.

    I wonder if it’s respectful for me to photograph people as they worship? It seems like it should be a private and solemn moment, and for me to photograph someone, especially without their permission, seems discourteous.

    But then these cathedrals, churches, and temples are public places, and they’re often landmarks and tourist attractions…

    As always, an interesting and thoughtful post Seth.

  9. ffi
    ffi at |

    Buddhism does not state that women can not be monks. Societal rules over the years corrupted the message. The Indian king Ashoka’s grandchildren became monks and went abroad.

    The offering of food is a societal bargain to maintain and transfer the knowledge and not worry about the daily grind of food.

    Materialism is bad in every religion. When we went to the Vatican, there were gaudy and ostentatious displays of gold and art from all over Europe gathered during long periods of famine and societal suffering. The rich displays contrasted with the suffering and sacrifices 2000 yrs ago, before the edifices. I guess the Romans took over the message somewhere in the 4th century and the Roman traditions now live on.

  10. RakSiam
    RakSiam at |

    I had similar misgivings when I was there and saw all of the tourists. Last year in Mandalay, Burma my guide took me to a big monastery complex. Every day at 11 AM the monks line up and parade to lunch. It is a big tourist thing. The rules are posted and were largely ignored by the tourists, especially Russians. I put my camera away when the whole thing started. I don’t like the idea of turning people into tourist attractions like they are zoo animals. So I was determined not to participate. I watched quietly though so maybe that’s not much better than snapping away with my camera.

  11. travelbloggerbuzz
    travelbloggerbuzz at |

    Wow, loved this post.Seeing the monks’ faces…