Although this occurs all over Thailand and other Buddhist countries, we'd heard that it was especially interesting in Luang Prabang so we got up at the crack of dawn, found a comfy spot to crouch down in and waited for the monks to come by asking for alms. We saw a lot of monks in Korea, but there they wear all grey for some reason. I really love the bright saffron colored robes that the monks wear in Thailand and Laos. I was glad to see that there weren't too many tourists around to bother the monks while they came around with their bowls gathering sticky rice and fruit.
Matt and I had a conversation about the phenomenon of people watching and taking pictures of the monks while they were alms collecting. In one sense, I think it's a bit like a human zoo and I do feel bad when people are disrespectful. On the other hand I think that the town has kind of brought it on themselves. Out of all the places we went in Laos, Luang Prabang was the most touristy and most expensive. Just looking down the streets and seeing the countless guesthouses, restaurants, souvenir shops and tour agencies and it was clear that tourism was heavily encouraged and welcome. I think it's a pretty delicate balance- you can't invite all these strangers into your town, make them pay premium prices to go see your traditional villages (a popular tour package offered) but then expect them to understand and follow all of your customs to a tee. Or not expect some of them to get in the way. I just don't think it works that way. Luckily, while we were there everyone kept a decent distance and didn't use flash on their cameras. It was interesting for sure and worth waking up at dawn to watch. I also got some neat pictures.