Almsgiving-in-Thailand

An unique experience of

the centuries-old tradition in Chiang Mai

Alms Giving in Chiang Mai


In the Buddhist tradition, there is a tradition to give alms to the monk at dawn. This tradition is centuries old and still prevails in various cities like Luang Prabang in Laos. At the same time, it is also practiced in several South-Asian countries like Thailand.

Chiang Mai is a beautiful place and gives you the unique experience of taking part or observe this centuries-old tradition.    

In this guide, we will take you through this beautiful experience.

In the words of locals, this ceremony of presenting food to monks and teachers each morning is called Tak Bat. The essence that drives this ritual each day is the sacrifice of monks in dedicating their lives to teach and practice good and virtue.

In return, Thai people honor their dedication by giving alms. It is denoted as honor, giving alms to monks in replicating their goodness and thanking them for holding the torch of goodness and sacrifice.

Alms-Giving-in-Thailand

Alms Giving in Thailand

 

How to Give Alms to Monks in Chiang Mai

The ritual of presenting food to monks is considered an honor. As surprising it may sound, monks cannot buy food. The monks start walking around dawn in the streets surrounding the areas of the monastery.

The best time to be in the area is around 5 am. You will soon spot the monks walking in a straight line led by the senior-most monk. Another unique characteristic for monks is, they are always bare feet.

It is symbolic literally, in a way to stay connected to nature. By walking bare feet, they denote their closeness to nature and earth. Another analogy that drives this act is being rooted, modest, and staying connected to nature. Once a person is connected to nature, their every action is calculated, evaluating the repercussions earth feels of each action we do as humans here.

Once you understand the analogy behind this custom, the alms giving in Chiang Mai can become a gratifying experience. There are various areas where you can participate in this tradition. Some areas are very crowded, and some, like Luang Prabang, are less crowded. 

While you only mean well, some customs and guidelines should strictly adhere to keep the process harmonious. It is best to educate ourselves on the ways we can conduct ourselves appropriately and not offend anyone.

  • Dress Appropriately: It is best to dress as modestly as possible, keeping in mind you are visiting a temple or place of worship. It would be best if you cover your legs, shoulder, and torso. Also, wear shoes that are easy to take off, for instance, flip-flops, since you would require to take them off during the ceremony.
  • Photography: It is not prohibited to photograph, but keeping in mind the decorum of the ritual, do it from a respectable distance. Taking close-up pictures, disturbing mid ritual with photography, and using flash disrupt this harmonious procession.
  • Conduct yourself with care: it is rude to show the bottom of your feet, even unintentionally. It is important to conduct yourself with care around monks, elders, or even holy objects. When offering the alms, be careful not to touch the monks, especially the women monks.

 

Alms-Giving-Ceremony-in-Thailand

Alms Giving in Chiang Mai

 

What to Expect During Alms Giving in Chiang Mai

Usually, the ritual starts after the break of dawn. But the timings and routes vary in each area. You must check those earlier about the timings of the area you plan to visit.

Alms is only food offering; hence you require food to offer. There are two ways to go about it. Either you can buy already prepared alms in local markets, mostly a place often visited by tourists. You can also prepare the alms yourself.

Once you spot the monks approaching a path, you can position yourself close to the path and bow down. This indicates an offering that you wish to make; hence the monks will approach you themselves.

When monks come near you, take your shoes off and place the alms in the bowl carried by monks. Bring your hands in the position of Wai, and the monk will bless you with a prayer, and after this, he will continue to their tracks.

In some areas, you will witness people using a flask and a bowl. Sometimes when you buy food from local stores, they let you rent the flask for the offering. Flask is used to pour the water in the bowl while the monk says a prayer for you.

However, if you have emptied all water from the flask and the monk continues to bless you, you can retreat back to the Wai position. Once the monk leaves, you can pour the water simply to a plant or tree nearby.

Food-for-Alms-Giving

Food for Alms Giving

 

The Best Places for Alms Giving in Chiang Mai

There are various places where you can experience and join the procession of Almsgiving. Before you go out exploring, here are some places you should consider first.

Hotel

It is one of the most manageable experiences you can have of this ritual. It may not seem as authentic as the temple area, but it is similar and serves the purpose evenly.

Since tourists opt to go to temples and experience the ritual, hotels also offer the Tak Bat experience in the area for ease. 

Various four and five-star hotels like Dhara Dhevi, 137 Pillar house, and Four Season Resort in Chiang Mai offer a similar experience. Moreover, in Ratilanna, the food can be offered to monks who pass on the boat.

Besides four and five-star hotels, the various budget hotel also accommodates to experience Alms giving ritual. It's best to ask the front desk for options.

Market Place

If you wish to have a genuine alms-giving experience in Chiang Mai, markets and bazaars give you the most authentic experience. Not only can you participate but also witness locals and other tourists offering alms to monks.

The old city is an excellent choice to witness the whole ritual. The Old City is the hub of marketplaces and temples. Somphet Market and Chiang Mai Gate Market are two very busy marketplaces for all authentic activities.

These markets are also good places to visit at night for an authentic Thai street food experience. Another interesting find which unfortunately I came across after I had covered all touristy places was Suthep Market, also known as Ton Payom.

Uniquely this place offers you the most authentic Thai experience in terms of food, culture, buildings, and people. Another famous thing to do here in Suthep Market is their breakfasts which are a delicacy and delicious.

Alms-Giving-in-Chiangmai-Market

Alms Giving in Chiangmai Market

 

The Kruba Sriwichai Statue

It is one of the very famous and touristy places hence you can expect the place to be crowded. It gets very busy here during peak seasons since everyone visiting Chiang Mai prefers to come and watch the Tak Bat here.
 
If you happen to come here in off-peak season, you will experience one of the ritual's most intimate and wholesome views. It would be a good day for you to combine Wat Prathat Doi Suthep and end up at Krube Sriwichai Statue.

Ideally, if you leave early and walk down to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, visit the temple, and watch pre-alms giving chants and morning processions, that is another unique experience.

Alms-Giving-at-Wat-Prathat-Doi-Suthep

Alms Giving at Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

 

Special occasions

If you can plan around these events, you will witness some exotic, most beautiful events of Thai culture.
 
When planning to visit Chiang Mai, make sure you check if these events fall between the dates you are in the city. Firstly, there is an annual event that happens every December. It is an alms giving ceremony, but what makes it special, it is given to hundreds of monks.

Locals wait for the event the whole year, and there is an air of excitement before the event. Each year it falls on a different date of December. 

Another very unique experience is Peng Pud. Peng means Full moon, and Pud means Wednesday. The full moon is considered very auspicious in Buddhism, and when it falls on a Wednesday, the day is celebrated.

When a full moon falls on a Wednesday, the alms-giving ritual occurs at night instead of dawn. It was one of the greatest events you get to experience in Chiang Mai.