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The Boating Monks of Amphawa

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http://www.thebecausetravelblog.com/2016/01/the-boating-monks-of-amphawa/
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I stood quietly at the edge of the canal, my toes hanging over the edge of the wooden walkway that fronted the row of shops that lined the old waterway. The sun was not yet up, but already it was uncomfortably warm. I felt a drop of sweat slide down my spine.

I ignored it. I waited.

Finally, out of the pre-dawn gloom I saw what I was waiting for come gliding gently, serenely down the canal. A lone monk paddled a canoe, hugging the far side of the canal, passing right under the shops that lined the opposite side from me. At several of these shops, ladders descended from the walkway to the water’s edge, and on a few of these ladders, Thais waited, patiently watching the monk paddle slowly towards them.

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As the monk reached a ladder with a waiting person, he stopped, taking hold of the ladder to secure the boat. The waiting person would then hand the monk small bags containing food. The monk placed the bags of food carefully in the canoe in front of him, and then chanted a blessing, the deep, monotonous sound of which bounced around the the canal in the otherwise silent morning.

And then the monk paddled on.

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All over Thailand (and southeast Asia), monks make early morning rounds where Buddhists have an opportunity to “make merit” by giving food to begging monks. This is one of my favorite rituals because the emphasis is not on the feeding of the monks. The emphasis is that those who give food have an opportunity to practice being unselfish. In doing so, they become better people, closer to the ideal of divorcing themselves from worldly desires. The monk is actually giving you a gift by presenting you with the opportunity to be giving.

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I had been out early in the morning in Bangkok and seen the monks walking from food stall to food stall, collecting donations.

But now I was in Amphawa, a town known for its floating market. And in Amphawa, many of the monks went out to collect donations not on foot, but in boats.

It was beautiful to watch. And very photogenic.

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Which, of course, brings up a traveler’s conundrum. Is it OK to turn religious rituals into tourist attractions by showing up to take pictures? In many cases, my answer to this question (for me) is no. I generally leave my camera in my bag, or at least don’t point it at worshippers in temples. But the general consensus among the monks I have had contact with (as well as Thai people in general) is that photographing merit making is fine so long as you do it discreetly.

And thus I use a long lens so I I remain far away, and I tell myself it is OK. But I am still not sure I believe that. I still feel a bit uncomfortable.

But, in Amphawa, I fell to temptation because travel.

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4 comments on “The Boating Monks of Amphawa

    • The Because Travel Guy

      Thanks, Maurie. Things will be a little slow for a while. I am in India and the internet is TERRIBLE. I have given up trying to post anything. I am still writing, but I will wait to post until I get out of India in a couple of months. Hope you check back then.

  1. Your post brings up some interesting thoughts, Rand. I do like the photos you put out on the monks here but agree that you should keep the camera away when people are worshipping, unless you can pull off a photo where their face isn’t shown I say. I think that’s the limit for me. I know there’s a lot more emotion you can pull away from a crying or intense praying face.

    Either way, it’s a tough pickle we’re in as travelers who want to capture the moment, huh?

    Thanks for sharing these photos and thoughts on your moments in Amphawa. Take care.
    Duke Stewart recently posted…Why you should love Korean food!My Profile

    • The Because Travel Guy

      Thanks, Duke. I usually just go with my gut and don’t do anything that makes me feel like a jerk. My wife would probably tell you that this is a terrible plan . . . since my natural state is that of a jerk 🙂

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