Buddha Park is more curious than spectacular – which makes for a curious spectacle. A rogue monk is said to have attempted to reconsolidate Buddhism and Hinduism into his own brand of mysticism through a prolific collection of sculptures depicting various deities and scenes from both religions. The information provided at the park is less dramatic, simply stating that Bunleua Sulilat constructed this sculpture garden in 1958 before fleeing across the Mekong to Thailand in 1978 and building a sister park across the river in Nong Khai.
The park provides no context for the various myths it depicts, except for the giant concrete pumpkin that is supposed to represent hell, earth and heaven. The weathered and crumbling sculptures – made from cement with steel frames, not carved stone – range from beautifully serene to the grotesquely surreal. For most visitors a trip here is simply snapping pictures of the enormous reclining Buddha, the many bizarre sculptures and climbing atop the giant gourd.
If you only have a day in Vientiane, we’d pick a lot of other sights and activities first over Buddha Park. But if you have time and want to journey to see something outside the city centre, it’s not a bad spot as it’s easy to get to by public bus and the park has a pleasant amount of greenery, making it an excellent spot for a picnic. There’s a small restaurant at the end, a quiet place to sit with some Beer Lao and fried rice while overlooking the river.
Buddha Park, also called Wat Xieng Khuang, is located 25 kilometres from downtown Vientiane on the Mekong. It’s a few kilometres past the Friendship Bridge. From the central bus station (at Talat Sao/the morning market), take bus route 14, an air-conditioned green and white bus that runs regularly to/from the Friendship Bridge, cost 6,000 kip. As of 2015, the bitumen road ends in front of Buddha Park and it is literally the last stop. Let the driver know you want to get off at Buddha Park but if you’re a foreigner still on the bus past the Friendship Bridge, they usually assume that’s where you want to go. Combine it with a visit to the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre which is also just after the Friendship Bridge, on the same bus route.
Hostels also sell trips to Buddha Park in a shared tuk tuk for 70,000 kip per person. It includes pick-up from the hostel and an hour or two at the park, which is a lot more time than you actually need.
If you fancy a motorbike ride and don’t mind the prospect of getting a little lost, there’s a pleasant route meandering along side roads that takes about an hour or two from Vientiane. Drive down Tha Deua Road until you reach the clock tower roundabout (which no longer has a clock tower). Here, the road will fork. The most direct route is to continue on Tha Deua towards the Friendship Bridge. This road sees heavy traffic as it is the main thoroughfare for truckers driving maniacally in and out of the city. Instead, take the right-hand road that runs along the river. It will snake through villages and paddies, sometimes carrying you in the wrong direction, but if you always stick to the biggest road, you won’t get lost. You’ll wind up back on the main road, just before the Friendship Bridge, for the last stretch.
Avoid driving home after sunset. The roads aren’t well lit, the country roads are full of potholes and the main roads will have huge trucks zooming by, which can be a harrowing experience in the dark.
By Cindy Fan.