Nestled beside the Mekong River about 30 miles outside of the Lao capital, there is a sublime park with a huge collection of Buddhist statues.
After a challenging tuktuk ride from downtown Vientiane (who said Vientiane’s roads are sleepy?!), I arrived at the famous Buddha Park and I thought this place was incredible! I have seen similar places such as the Park of the Monsters in Rome and Haw Par Villa in Singapore, but Buddha Park was the first truly religious place of this kind I have visited. As well as the amazing 130ft Reclining Buddha, which acts as a kind of centrepiece to the whole park, there are plenty of other attractions for you to seek out when you visit – including a three-headed elephant!
I don’t know how many Buddha statues there were scattered around the park, but let’s just say that it would be futile to try to count them! The statues are made of reinforced concrete and are ornate, and sometimes bizarre, in design. The statues appear to be centuries old, though they are not. There are sculptures of humans, gods, animals, and demons. There are numerous sculptures of Buddha, characters of Buddhist beliefs, and even characters of Hindu lore, including Shiva, Vishnu, and Arjuna – I even saw a Garuda, which I remember from Indonesian folklore.
If you are not an expert on Buddhism (nor Hinduism) then some of the design and imagery you seen in the park may go over your heads somewhat, but one thing you cannot ignore is the beauty of the place. In my opinion, Buddha Park is the best thing to do in Vientiane. There are plenty of wats and pagodas in the Lao capital, but Buddha Park – while not exactly a wat per se – must lay claim to be the most important religious site in the city (and country). The Government here promote the park quite aggressively as a tourist attraction and it is not hard to see why. I would quite happily spent the night here if it were possible (with a lot of mosquito repellent!). During the day, Buddha Park can get very busy, but early on in the morning, in the Lao sunshine, I was blessed to have the park almost to myself!
One of the more memorable sculptures is a giant pumpkin of sorts, and this has three tiers, one each telling the story of Hell, Earth, and Heaven. Visitors can enter through an opening which is a mouth of a demon head and climb staircases from hell to heaven. Each story contains sculptures depicting the level. At the top, there is a vantage point where the entire park is visible. From here, I got a really good overview of just how many Buddha statues were dotted about (but I still didn’t try to count them!).
I am told that Vientiane’s Buddha Park is partnered with a similar park called “Sala Keoku” in Nong Khai, Thailand. Both parks are located right next to the Thai-Lao border, only a few kilometres apart from each other, and the tallest structures of the Buddha Park in Vientiane can actually be seen from the Thai side. I haven’t been to Nong Khai, but one day I would like to inspect this Thai version of Buddha Park.