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.
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.
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.
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.
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.