Making a Difference Makes All the Difference
When global exploration is enhanced by compassionate philanthropy, travel is truly at its very best. Enriching, meaningful, and transformative - service-oriented travel is sure to create some of your most inspiring travel memories.
Laos is one of those destinations that travelers dream about often and only rarely encounter. Enchantingly beautiful, and with an amazing local culture, Laos is as yet a relatively “undiscovered” location even for many intrepid global explorers, which means it’s been nearly untouched by the modern commercialization that impacts most parts of the world. A peaceful oasis of traditional life, Laos is the perfect place for travelers to explore in pursuit of truly authentic experiences abroad. Both laid back and adventurous, with immense natural beauty and stunning city architecture, Laos is charming and real in a way that is genuinely captivating. It has long been one of the best-kept secrets in the travel world, and now that secret is starting to get out as more people realize how remarkable a destination Laos truly is.
The city of Luang Prabang is the favorite city of travelers hoping to enjoy the wonders of Laos, and for good reason! Situated directly on the silt-laden waters of the mighty Mekong River, and surrounded by stunning verdant mountain peaks, Luang Prabang is the cultural heart of the nation. A small but entrancing city, Luang Prabang is almost like a time capsule, blending ancient Laotian traditions with colonial-era French influences scattered throughout. People visiting here have many incredible options of activities, but there is one quintessential Laotian moment that is widely considered to be unmissable: the daily sunrise alms ceremony for the local Buddhist monks.
Since Buddhist monks take vows to relinquish ownership of physical things, even food is something that must be received as a donation for these traditional religious figures. So, at daybreak each morning, a long procession of monks is met by faithful practitioners who generate good karma by sharing their bounty and spooning offerings of rice into the bowls of each monk. In the soft light of sunrise, and against the spectacular backdrop of the traditional city, the clean-shaven monks are brilliantly showcased in their iconic vibrant orange robes as they make their way through the alms ritual. Of course this makes for amazing photos, but travelers to Luang Prabang can also participate in this extraordinary local tradition by bringing bowls of rice to share with the monks and generate their own good karma in the process. A link between past and present, the alms ceremony is a fantastic way to witness and experience Laotian culture while giving food to those in need.
For many travelers, seeking out opportunities to make a positive impact is an essential element of their experiences around the world. Although it is, of course, imperative to carefully research and support only the most reputable charitable efforts and projects abroad, there are nevertheless countless options in nearly every country for service-minded travelers to make a positive impact. While the alms ceremony in Laos is an amazing travel experience, our favorite philanthropic activity in Laos takes place with a lot less fanfare but is even more infused with significance.
“Monk Chats” are locally facilitated educational efforts that provide Buddhist monks a chance to learn and practice speaking English with travelers from around the world. The skills developed by monks in these sessions are often truly life-changing, as language mastery is a gateway to higher paying future jobs and better financial support for each monk’s family. Since Buddhist monks often take vows only temporarily in their young adulthood, it is essential for these men to obtain the kind of knowledge that will prepare them to succeed after hanging up their orange robes and returning to the civilian world.
More than giving money, or even giving a day’s worth of food, Monk Chats allow compassionate travelers to give the gift of a critical skill that will benefit a monk throughout his lifetime. And the cultural connections of participating in a Monk Chat are deeply meaningful in a way that even the transcendent beauty of the sunrise alms ceremony cannot match. Sitting down with a monk so he can practice speaking English is a truly ideal way to interact with a local Laotian – to learn all about his life, his family, his country, and his faith. This genuine exchange of culture is sure to be a highlight of any time spent in Laos, not only because it’s a perfect chance to make a deep connection but also because of the positive impact made.
Monks are in various stages of language learning during a Monk Chat session, so conversations can range from simple to complex. On a recent trip to Laos, I was fortunate to speak with a monk who was very advanced in English so that our conversation became truly philosophical in nature. Mongkut had been a monk for many years, and had an extraordinary talent for language that was clear upon our very first introduction. Mongkut’s goal for the chat was to work on understanding nuance, and I found myself immediately challenged when asked to explain the precise difference between “fate” and “destiny”, or “spirits” and “ghosts”. As we journeyed together through language, we also journeyed through belief, wisdom, and truth. In a moment that I have since found myself thinking of often, Mongkut asked me whether “I hold suffering” or whether “suffering holds me” when I face hardship in life. In the elegant simplicity of that very insightful question, I’ve since found new ways of viewing my own world and am better for it.
This is travel at its very best. The chance to not only witness, but to engage in, local culture is essential, and making a positive impact is transformative for everyone involved. It is an incredible privilege to travel – to glimpse, if only briefly, the experience of others in a world. We all carry with us the responsibility to ensure that, whatever footprints we may leave abroad, they are always as enriching and compassionate as we can make them. When you next find yourself in Luang Prabang, or anywhere else your adventures may take you, I hope you’ll consider taking the time to explore deeper and to make a positive difference.
Kellyn Reed is the founder and CEO of Summit and Horizon Travel, specializing in curating authentic and luxurious global journeys to help you discover the very best the world has to offer. Ready to start planning your next amazing adventure? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to bring your ideal trip to life, and take advantage of our exclusive access to insider rates, perks, insights, and inclusions. We'll take care of every detail to ensure every vacation with us is your best vacation yet!