Photo du Jour: A Novice Monk in Luang Prabang, Laos

In the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, it’s common for boys and young men to temporarily commit to monkhood, even if they do not remain in service for the rest of their lives. This custom brings a merit to both the novice monks and their families. As the elder monks do, the boys shave their heads and don the saffron robe. Shawn and I noticed that the monks tended to do so all on a set day.

During our travels through Laos, particularly in Luang Prabang, but also in Phonsavan and the capital city, Vientiane, we saw novice monks sporting cellular phones and MP3 players. It was an interesting example of tradition coming face to face with modernity.

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

21 thoughts on “Photo du Jour: A Novice Monk in Luang Prabang, Laos

    1. I agree, Rachael – he looks quite wise beyond his years. :)

      It must be a bit sad that the Olympics are over now. How many events did you make it to, in all? How exciting for you and your family!

    1. Hi Lynne – I was initially surprised that the novice monks had such technology in hand! Did you get a chance to attend the early-morning almsgiving procession in Luang Prabang? If you did, I’d be curious to hear what your experience was like. In my reply to Jo below, I expressed how disappointing it was to see the ‘paparazzi tourists’ at work, especially since there were so many signs around the city explaining dos and dont’s relative to the almsgiving tradition.

      1. We did attend the almsgiving procession and I was quite absorbed watching the entire process. I would hate to see this tradition come to an end. r

    1. The expression on his face makes one wonder what is on his mind… Was he reflecting upon his studies, perhaps missing family that is far away? It’s so fascinating to learn about different cultures. I wish I’d had more time to converse with him.

    1. Indeed they do make stunning subjects! To risk acting like the paparazzi, I tried to keep my snaps of them to a minimum, though. :)

      If you’ve been to Luang Prabang, Laos, and observed the early-morning almsgiving procession, you’ll probably remember how invasive some photographers/tourists were with the monks. It was quite sad to see this spiritual procession marred by insensitive tourists. Apparently, there’s even been talk of stopping the tradition.

    1. Yulia,

      How very kind of you; I’m really flattered to be recognized for something that I enjoy doing so much. Thank you. And, I congratulate you on your new career path too!

      Until next time,

  1. Thanks for the follow. This post reminds me of the time I was teaching English in a Buddhist Uni in Chang Mai. The Laotian monks were my favourite pupils, so friendly and outgoing, more so than the Thais, (its a cultural thing about teachers I think). Anyway one of the monks, a real sweetie did a rehearsed dialogue with me in front of the class but I found it really difficult to concentrate ‘cos he was extremely effeminate and was wearing blue eye shadow and blusher. The juxtaposition with the saffron robe just seemed so odd. I loved teaching there, entertained some of them in our home, took day trips out of the city with them and was heart broken when we had to move on. Looking forward to getting to know you better!

    1. Karen, I’m happy we connected!

      I loved reading your animated anecdotes. How long did you teach English in Southeast Asia? We visited a few English classes in Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia, and enjoyed meeting the monks in the Cambodian classes. None with blue eye shadow and blusher though. :)

      In hindsight, I wish we’d ventured to Chiang Mai. After the calm we experienced in Bali, I guess we were overwhelmed by the bustling nature of Bangkok and yearned to move on to calmer destinations (Cambodia, Laos). Next time!

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