Pipe dream or passion?
We all envision lofty dreams with the hopes of someday fulfilling it. For those who discount their dreams as crazed chimeras, impractical and unobtainable, the yearning buries itself in a silent coffin of wishful thinking. The shimmer of hope is relegated to a fantasy. For those of tenacious will and drunken passion, a frenzied fantasy can be made a reality.
For one such man, his dream was such…
Existing 25km from Vientiane, in what feels remote and No-man’s land, sits the Buddha Park. The park is known as Xieng Khuan to locals, the name means “Spirit City”, and setting foot on its grounds, it’s not hard to understand why. The garden theme park is home to some 200 Hindu and Buddhist influenced concrete statues, which appear ancient. But the monumental artifacts aren’t as reliquary as they seem; the Buddha Park only dates back to 1958.
Your first impression when entering the gates may be of wild amazement. Some characters seem reminiscent of mythological and religious folklore; other figures come off as possessing bizarre, demonic-like conjurings, alluding to some pagan ritual or faith. An elegant flute-playing Krishna, arrow slinging Arjuna and a giant reclined Buddha, share the grounds with foreboding demi-gods of multiple arms and Medusa-like heads.
Is this the artwork of a lunatic tripping on acid, the act of a devoted holy man or a Christian’s nightmare?
It feels like a bit of all. In actuality, it’s said that the park’s visionary founder was a holy shaman, who wanted to integrate Buddhist and Hindu influences. Maybe so, but you’ll easily feel like there are touches of Greco-Roman mythology and raw dabbles of Thai buddhism and Balinese hinduism.
(Above photo) Arjuna figure amidst Buddhas.
(above/below) Shiva-like statue… with a snake’s tail.
Above:Elements are both, Buddha and Shiva-like. Multiple arms, heads rising to ascension, skull heads signifying death and afterlife.
Below: A type of buddha figure- a common sign are the three heads of ascension.
Above: front of sculpture; Below: back of the sculpture. This reminds me of something partly Egyptian.
Of all the park sculptures, the one many like to call attention to is the odd “pumpkin” like monument with a fiery spiritual tree spouting from its head. Walk through its mouth and you’ll find three levels of scene enactments. It’s said to represent something like Dante’s Inferno. One cautionary note: it is dark! It’s lit with natural light coming from the few small open portals of the sculpture. I had to use my camera flash just to see some of the figures. It’s well-worth the climb as at the top you’ll find an excellent view of the park.
(above photo) Divine Hindu family: Shiva, (unknown), Ganesh (elephant god), Parvati (Shiva’s consort);
Below: Laotian boys hanging out in the garden
Getting to the Buddha Park by bus:
You can easily hail a tuk-tuk to the park and back, but I took the local bus (it’s cheaper and I didn’t want to deal with the haggling…)
From Vientiane’s bus station (in the middle of the city), take Bus #14 , 25km out to the Buddha Park. It takes about 45 min to an hour. Arrive early for seats; late arrivals might have to stand. Buses run often. Last bus back from the Buddha Park is around 5:30PM but double-check with the bus station or park information booth.
Returning from the park is the tricky part. You take bus #14 back, but there are no visible bus signs across the street to let you know where to stand. I stood near one of the two local shack shops across the park (there are benches outside). Wait for the bus to near; you’ll have to flag it down.
Below are some bus station pictures for visual reference.
Vientiane’s bus station (not very big but nicely organized)
The bus schedule for the route to Buddha Park.
A peek inside my bus.
Invariably, a casual stroll around the quirky park is a real hallucinatory trip! Who would’ve thought Laos had a wild side. My only qualm is that the park doesn’t offer description plaques or a visitors brochure to give you an idea of what the statues are about; this would be helpful.
If you make it out to the Buddha Park, you can enjoy doing the guesswork for yourself. It’s definitely worth the journey!
What are your thoughts on this park? Have you seen anything just as bizarre?
Is that signs of a gun shot through the bus window: Is Laos dangerous?