Buddha Park, Vientiane, Laos

Buddha Park, Vientiane

With half a day to kill in Vientiane, my son and I decided to take an excursion to Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan), about 25km out of town. Our hotel quoted a round trip fare by taxi of US$20, including waiting time. This seemed a bit steep so we opted for the public bus instead.

You need bus No.14

We caught a smart green bus (a gift from the government of Japan) from the bus station behind the morning market. It was bus number 14 and the fare was 5,000 kip each (about 60 cents). Nobody understood ‘Buddha Park’ so if you want to do the trip I would suggest you learn the Lao name or have it written down so that you can confirm you are on the right bus. After a trip of 40 minutes or so, the bus terminated at Friendship Bridge (which is at the Thai border) and we were transferred to a clapped out mini-bus to complete the final 20 minutes of the journey over a potholed, gravel road. The mini bus driver charged another 2,000 kip for this stretch.

Hum the monk.

One of our fellow passengers was a friendly monk called Hum. He is 21 and he informed us that he had been a monk for 2 years and prior to that a novice since age 15.

Reclining Buddha

Buddha Park is an open field with a collection of Buddhist and Hindu statues. Although the statues look ancient, construction only began in 1958 and they are made of concrete. This attraction was the pet project of a Lao mystic called Luang Pu Bunleau Sulilat. He fled Laos when the communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975. In 1978 he began building a very similar park called Sala Keoku near Nong Khai on the Thai side of the Mekong River, quite close to the Friendship Bridge.

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The main features of the park are a 120m long reclining Buddha statue and a bizarre 3-storey giant pumpkin with the tree-like embellishment sticking out of the top shown in the photo above. Visitors can enter the pumpkin through the mouth of a demon and climb some very steep steps to emerge on the roof.

There is a restaurant at the park and the bus for the return journey departs from opposite the park entrance.

Skinny Statues

Long Weekend in Vientiane

Pha That Luang

Communist GoldMy eldest son and I have just returned from a short break in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. This is the fourth such trip we have made together in recent years, the previous excursions being to Kathmandu, Rangoon and Siem Reap. My son calls them  ‘Daddy’s Dysentery Tours’ because he was attacked by Delhi Belly in both Burma and Cambodia. Fortunately he had no stomach problems this time.

A three day visit is inadequate to do justice to a country as large as Laos but it is more than ample time to see all the tourist attractions of Vientiane, which is quite a small city of around 250,000 people.

Vayakorn InnRoom at the Vayakorn

We stayed at the Vayakorn Inn which is centrally located, comfortable and good value at US$35 per night (breakfast was $4 extra). They keep the wooden floors shiny and unscuffed by insisting that all guests take off their shoes and leave them on racks in the lobby.

A sign in the room reads  ‘please be aware that accompanying any local joiner into your room is illegal and against Lao PDR law.’  Not sure what they’ve got against carpenters!

My only criticism of the room was the duvet which must have been 15 tog and more suitable for a Siberian winter than a sultry Laotian evening. 

Baguette

Laos was once a French colony and their influence can still be found in the food (baguettes, charcuterie, good coffee), some of the older colonial architecture and in the street name signs (e.g. Rue Mahosot). There also seem to be quite a few French and other Europeans living in Vientiane and running restaurants for the hordes of western tourists. The foreign tourists mostly fall into two categories: young backpackers on the South-East Asian adventure circuit or middle aged, well-heeled types looking for an exotic cultural experience. Few spend much time in Vientiane, preferring to move on to more atmospheric towns like Luang Prabang.

Tuk TukCycling in Vientiane

Most tourists get around by tuk-tuk, rented bicycles or on foot. By Asian standards the streets are quiet and traffic-free and this is one few capitals in this part of the world where cycling is relatively safe.

Presidential PalaceLao National Museum

The Presidential Palace is one of the city’s landmarks. It was once an elegant French villa but has been progressively extended and embellished to its current appearance. The Lao National Museum covers the country’s prehistory up until the present day. Most space is given over to their struggles against the French and the Americans and the period since 1975 when the Communists took over.

Vientiane Monument

One of the city’s more recognisable landmarks is the Vientiane Monument, also known as the Anousavari Monument, which looks like an oriental version of the Arc du Triomphe. The signboard below is very self-effacing. I think they are being rather harsh on themselves. Or perhaps they just copied the English text from a guide book without realising that the wording is a little insulting.

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The roof structure contains three levels of souvenir shops.

View from the roof.Souvenir shops.

The main attractions in Vientiane are the Buddhist temples and we visited at least a dozen of them.

Phra Keow

Although many of the temples look ancient they are not that old because most of Vientiane’s temples were burnt to the ground during the Siamese invasion of 1828 (which was not very neighbourly of the Thais). Only Wat Sisaket survived intact and is therefore the oldest.

Wat InpengPha That Luang

Wat SimuangPha That Luang

Pha That LuangGreat Sacred Stupa

Bees make a home next to Buddha

A young Lao couple were posing for their wedding photos in national dress at Wat Sisaket.

Wat Sisaket as a backdrop for wedding photos for this young couple.

The other things to do and see in Vientiane include shopping at the night market and the morning market, and trying out some of the many decent restaurants.

Beer Lao regularBeer Lao Dark Lager

Lao beer is very reasonably priced and comes in a few varieties. A popular place to sample it is on the terraces of the cafes next to the River Mekong which enjoy good sunset views.

Mekong Sunset

We enjoyed our stay. If I had to chose between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Vientiane, which are similar in many ways, I think Siem Reap has a slight edge due to better shopping, better restaurants and of course having Angkor Wat on its doorstep. But on the other hand, Vientiane did not have the delhi belly!

That Luang

List of Asia’s Largest Reclining Buddha Statues

Wat Phothivihan, Kelantan, Malaysia

I have visited a number of Reclining Buddha statues over the years and I thought it would be interesting to find out how many more are out there. The answer is a lot!

Wat Chaiyamangalaram, Penang, Malaysia

I have trawled the internet to see if there is a definitive list but there doesn’t seem to be one. That could be because there are so many of these statues.  I started to piece together a list but gave up when I reached 30 as I kept finding new ones. The following is as far as I got, ranked in order of size (length). Needless to say there are very many omissions and errors.

  1. Yiyang County, Jiangxi, China – Length 416m
  2. Win Sein Taw Ya, Mudon, Myanmar – 180m
  3. Lawka Tharaphu Pagoda, Dawei, Myanmar – 75m
  4. Great Reclining Buddha, Monywa, Myanmar – 90m
  5. Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar – 66m
  6. Mya Tha Lyaung, Bago, Myanmar – 58m
  7. Shwethalyaung Buddha, Bago, Myanmar – 55m
  8. Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang, Samut Prakan, Thailand – 53m
  9. Hoi Khanh Pagoda, Binh Duong, Vietnam – 52m
  10. Thich Ca Nhap Niet Ban, Phan Thiet, Vietnam – 52m
  11. Wat Khun Inthapramun, Ang Thong, Thailand – 50m
  12. Galagoda Temple, Sri Lanka – 50m
  13. Wat Phra Non Chaksi, Singburi, Thailand – 46m
  14. Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand – 46m
  15. Nanzoin Temple, Fukuoka, Japan – 41m
  16. Wat Xieng Khuan, Vientiane, Laos – 40m
  17. Wat Phothivihan, Kelantan, Malaysia – 40m
  18. Wat Lokayasutharam, Ayutthaya, Thailand – 37m
  19. Wat Hat Yai Nai, Hatyai, Thailand – 35m
  20. Wat Chaiyamangalaram, Penang, Malaysia – 33m
  21. Manuha Temple, Bagan, Myanmar – 27m
  22. Wat pamok Worawihan, Ang Thong, Thailand – 23m
  23. Mahavihara Mojopahit, Trowulan, Java, Indonesia – 22m
  24. Dazu Rock Carvings, Szechuan, China – 20m
  25. Jorakuzan Mantokuji Temple, Takayama, Japan – 16m
  26. Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, Ayutthaya, Thailand – 15m
  27. Gal Viharaya, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka – 14m
  28. Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand – 9m
  29. Shinnyo-en Ogen’in Temple, Tachikawa, Japan – 5m
  30. Gua Charas, Pahang, Malaysia – 3m

Sri LankaChauk Htet Gyi Pagoda, Burma

Finally, the smallest reclining Buddha statue that I came across is the Jade Buddha, Shanghai, China which measures only 96 centimetres but it is made of precious jade.

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