Phuket has more to its existence than beaches, parties, booze, and ping pong shows. The crowd still heads to Bangla road, the most happening road, and the Patong beach !! But there is more to Phuket. Let's unravel the other side of the town that is still not unravelled - The old Phuket town where you learn to give alms to Buddhist Monks!
Phuket is a huge island, and you never realize it when you enter from the mainland into Phuket. I was looking at google maps intently, and I still missed it when we crossed into Phuket. Having spent a couple of weeks in Thailand and hopping around the place, I wanted to give alms to the Buddhist monks in Thailand. It is called Tak Bat in Thai.
It is a matter of goodwill and also an experience. You will not believe that some tours have this 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 gave alms to Buddhist monks. This was part of my plan. So I had stopped for a couple of nights at Patong beach and moved to Old Phuket Town for another night.
Old Phuket Town
Old Phuket Town, as the name states, is an old-world charm. This is the actual Phuket with monasteries, ancient heritage buildings, and residential layouts.
After checking into this charming neighborhood, my immediate thing was to ask the front desk lady how to 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 bounds, 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, marked a couple of streets, walked around, and where the monasteries are. The Monks walk on the roads 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.
Walking around Old Phuket Town
With the evening at hand, my friend and I decided to walk around the old town to get familiarized with the streets and explore.
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 a kind of experience, too, and if you can splurge, then check out this side of old Phuket. The other side has the smaller Sino-Chinese houses found along the Talang road.
The colorful houses line the streets that you would have seen in other blogs and Google. Sino-Chinese homes have shops or some businesses running on the ground floor, and people live on the upper floor. 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 plan was not to do much other than chill. So I walked along the Talang road, did some window shopping, chilled at the cafes, and had dinner at the night market.
The Morning Ritual
The next day I was up by 5:30 am as the monks also set out about that time. The lady at the reception told us to walk along the Luangpohw road as there is a shop where you will get supplies to give alms. I was staying at The Tint, and it was not far from Luangpohw road. It was a cold rainy morning, and I wondered 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 to collect the alms. It is only the male monks who come out for this morning ritual.
How to Give Alms to Buddhist Monks
Buddhist monks have always been fascinating to me. The monks start to accept this way of life from a very young age which is quite surprising. And I keep wondering how someone can 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 were 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 washes, 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, and raised the box above her head. The monk opened his alms bowl, and 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.
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. We walked up to the shop, and 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 about giving alms, what to buy, the culture it and its significance.
There were all kinds of Thai 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. I bought a couple of sweet puddings stuffed with coconut and decided to wait in the shop itself as monks pass by.
My experience of giving alms to Buddhist Monks
The monks usually come in 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, 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 put it and remain kneeled with your hands in a namaste 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 well. 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.
The monks finish collecting alms by around 7:30 am in 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 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 been 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 for this whole thing. Some people drove down. And it was not just the monks who ignored the rain, but even the Thai people ignored it and were there to do their duty.
From that morning onwards, all that I watched was yummy food being spread out and distributed. I decided to head back to the same shop and have my breakfast. I enjoyed a feast of some rice pudding filled with coconut and some black coffee mixed with condensed milk. Giving alms to the monks is done by tourists in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where monasteries' concentration is highe
You can book your tour in Chiang Mai here - Offering alms to Monks
Where to Stay in Phuket
I would advise you to Stay at Old Phuket Town so that it would be easier for you to wake up in the morning and walk around. It takes about an hour to reach the old town. So, preferably stay around the Dybbuk or Thalang road, which is where all the actions are.
Book your stay here - Old Phuket Town Hotels
Where to find Buddhist Monks To Give Alms
The monks walk down this road. There are couple of monasteries around this street. So you can wait at the entrance of monasteries or wait in this road and watch monks walk down.