How to give Alms to Buddhist Monks – Old Phuket Town

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There is more to Phuket than beaches, party, booze and ping pong show. While the crowd heads to Patong beach and the famous road remains to be Bangla road, I would like to introduce you to the other end of the island – The Old Phuket Town. Phuket is a huge island and you never realize when you are crossing into Phuket from the mainland. I was looking at the google maps intently and I still missed it when we crossed into Phuket. Having spent a couple of weeks in Thailand and done hopping around the place, one of the things I definitely wanted to do was give alms to the Buddhist monks. It is called Tak Bat in Thai. It is as a matter of goodwill and also an experience. You will not believe that some tours have this as an experience to take you around the Wat (Buddhist temples) and help you do it the right way. So when I was in old Phuket Town, my mind was all on giving alms to the Buddhist monks. This was like part of my agenda. So I had stopped for couple of nights at Patong beach and moved to the Old Phuket Town for another night. 

buddhist monks phuket
Buddhist monks walking near the monastery

Old Phuket Town

Old Phuket Town like the name states, it is an old world charm. This is the actual Phuket with monasteries, old heritage buildings and residential layouts. After checking in to this charming neighborhood my immediate thing was to ask the front desk lady, how and where can I find monks to give alms. Thai people are very friendly that way. If you press a little, they might as well come along with you to show the place and help you. And when a tourist asks them how to give alms to Buddhist monks, their happiness knows no bound and they get super excited that we do want to be a part of their culture. The lady took out the map of old Phuket town and marked a couple of streets, which way to walk around and where the monasteries are. The Monks walk on the streets around the monasteries, and by 8 am or so they return to the monastery. So you need to be out by at least 6 am to see them go around. 

Phuket town
Residents exercising in a park

With the evening at hand, I and my friend decided to walk around the old town to get familiarized with the streets and to explore as well. Old Phuket Town has two sides to it. One is a bit elite with big Sino – Chinese houses, having a courtyard and posh restaurants where you can have candle-lit dinner. These places are definitely a kind of experience too and if you can splurge then do check out this side of old Phuket. The other is the smaller Sino-Chinese houses found along the Talang road.

Colourful Talang Road Phuket old town
Colourful Talang Road

The colorful houses lining the streets that you would have seen in other blogs and Google. Sino-Chinese houses are those ones which have shop or some business running on the ground floor and on the upper floors, people live. It is still the same way. There are boutiques and cafes lined across the street and on top, the owners live or most of it has been converted to hostels. Talang road is an amazing place to hang out. The cafes are so quirky and dish out yummy food. The agenda was not to do much other than chill. So walked along Talang road, did window shopping, chilled at the cafes and had dinner at the night market. 

Giving Alms to Buddhist Monks

The next day I was up by 5:30 am as the monks also set out about that time. The lady at the reception had told us to walk along the Luangpohw road as there is a shop there where you will get supplies to give alms. I was staying at The Tint and it was not far from the Luangpohw road. It was a cold rainy morning and I was wondering if the monks will come out at all. But come what may, they were there. The Buddhist monks eat only two meals a day. And they walk around accepting the food that comes their way. The food thus collected gets shared across all the nuns and other monks back in the monastery. The nuns never come out for collecting the alms. It is only the male monks who come out for this morning ritual. 

Phuket town
Phuket town on a rainy morning

Buddhist monks have always fascinated me. I might be a bit ignorant when I say this but monks start to accept this way of life from a very young age. And I keep wondering how can someone make such a decision when they are so young. That rainy morning I stepped out with little hope of finding them but they were there. Some walking in the drizzle, some holding an umbrella and all of them barefoot in the cold rain. My heart sank for a moment. But my thoughts were soon disturbed when a young girl zipped past us in her scooter and stopped in front of the monk. Her hair was still wet after a hair wash and the worry that she might be late was visible in her eyes. She had a parcel with her. She quickly removed her slippers, kneeled down and raised the parcel above her head. The monk opened his alms bowl, she dropped the packet into the bowl, he blessed her with some prayer and then he moved. She then touched the floor where he was standing, took the blessings and left. The monk did not see her at all and neither did she. I quickly made a mental note of how to give alms. 

Thai culture
Thai culture

When I turned into the Luangpohw road, I saw a shop open. And I was sure this must have been the shop the lady at the front desk had mentioned about. We walked up to the shop, it was a mini restaurant with a lot of food laid out in the front. After some language confusion, a man walked out from inside the kitchen and thankfully he knew English. He told us how to give alms, what to buy, the culture of it, the significance of it. There were all kinds of food. From water and milk packets to sweets, puddings, savory, rice and curry and chicken biryani. “Do monks eat chicken?”, I asked wide-eyed. And he looked at me with the same wide-eyed expression and asked, “Why not?”. The conversation did not go further but I was surprised to see that they have meat as well. I bought a couple of sweet puddings stuffed with coconut and decided to wait in the shop itself as monks pass by. 

food to give alms to monks
Food cooked and ready to be bought
Thai people buying food to give

The monks usually come as a group and walk in a straight line with the head monk leading the way. If you wish to give alms, when you see the monk approaching, just kneel and they will stop. Remove your slippers and then kneel. Raise your food packets and they will open their alms bowl. If their bowl is full then they ask you to place it on top. Just place it and remain kneeled with your hands in namastae posture (palms touching each other with the fingers facing your chin). Monks then recite a prayer or two and move on. Thai people, however, go a step further and pay gratitude to the Earth as well. They have a glass of water and the monk blesses them and the water. They then pour the water into the ground. It is more like passing on the blessings to your ancestors. As a tourist, I did not do all that. I kept watching and learning how to do it that I suddenly realised, there were no more monks.

Buddhist Monks
Buddhist monks on their morning walk
Giving alms to Buddhist monks
Giving alms to Buddhist monks

The monks finish by around 7:30 am in the morning and head to the monasteries. So I decided to check out the monasteries because I had a food packet anyway and was hoping that some monk would walk by and I can hand it over. Luck favored and a monk was returning from his morning rounds. I got his blessings and left the monastery. I noticed that people had even given coffee powder packets and dry rations. What you need to observe here is the faith and gratitude that Thai people have in this system. People wake up early and are up on the streets with hot food to serve the monks. There were quite a few regular folks and I was very surprised. The amount of respect they have on this whole thing. Some people drove down. And it was not just the monks who ignored the rain even the Thai people ignored it and were there to do their duty. Look at the family below. They drove down in a van and that grandma was not even able to walk! She was lifted around in a chair and still she was there to do her duty. I felt so happy to have been part of this.  

Alms to buddhist monks
Getting blessings from monks

Now that from morning all that I watched was yummy food spread out and being distributed, I decided to head back to the same shop and have my breakfast. Enjoyed a feast of some rice pudding filled with coconut and some black coffee mixed with condensed milk. Giving alms to the monks are done by tourists in Bangakok and Chiang Mai too where the concentration of monasteries are higher. 

You can book your tour in Chiang Mai here – Offering alms to Monks

thai black coffee
My breakfast 🙂

Where to Stay in Phuket

Stay at Old Phuket Town, so it is easier for you to wake up in the morning and walk around. It takes about an hour to reach from new town to old. So preferably stay around the Dibuk or Talang road which is where all the actions are. 

Book your stay here – Old Phuket Town Hotels

Chittra masalabox travel
And me being blessed 🙂

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2 Comments

  1. Ami Bhat December 1, 2018

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