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For the past two Decembers I’ve seen signs posted all over Chiang Mai featuring a big golden 10,000 in the middle with a picture of a never-ending line of monks in their bright orange robes. Not really sure what it was about (Googling ” 10,000 monks in Chiang Mai ” didn’t help much), I never made it to the event, partly because the sign was in Thai and I was never sure where it was and partly because whatever it was started at six in the morning.
This year I made it.
This past Saturday I got up at 5:30 a.m. (you know you’re getting older when you willingly get up at 5:30 for something on a Saturday morning…) and made my way to Chang Klan Road in the southeast corner of Chiang Mai.
The annual event is a mass merit making ceremony where, supposedly, 10,000 monks in Chiang Mai walk the street for the crowds to make offerings of money, food and flowers building merit and good karma for the coming new year. In typical Thai fashion, before we got to the location we stopped at 7-11 where we bought packs of water, canned fish and instant noodles to go along with small flower offerings wrapped in banana leaves.
The ceremony started closer to 7:00 a.m. with people sitting on the covered streets in four long rows. After some brief chanting, prayers and an explanation of what was going to happen, the monks started walking in between the rows filling the street before everyone started placing their offerings into the alms bowls.
High school students were on hand to help bag the offerings once the monks’ bowls were filled and a trail of clear plastic bags stuffed with packaged foods, dried rice, milk and water quickly appeared in between the lines of monks.
Considering there were so many people, the affair was over rather quickly. Between the multiple rows of monks and length of the street, it took less time than expected for the thousands of monks to pass. People also stood up to leave as soon as they were finished handing out their offerings, which surprised me since everyone had obviously spent time preparing to attend and then waiting before the sun was up for everything to start.
While morning alms rounds are daily occurrences throughout Thailand (and much of Southeast Asia), this took the experience to the next level with so many people going to tum boon (make merit) at once and I’m glad I could finally take part.
If you’re interested in attending the ceremony next year, start looking for signs that look like the one below starting around the second week in December to figure out the time, place and date.
You do not need to participate or make an offering, but if you’re just observing be respectful and discreet. Unlike the massive lantern launches of Loi Krathong, this is a ceremony that is still completely local with few foreigners attending. Photos are completely acceptable, many of the Thais whipped out their smartphones once the monks started walking down the aisles, but be considerate – this isn’t a show.