Buddha Park, like many ofVientiane’s other attractions, is more curious than spectacular. A rogue monk is said to have attempted to reconsolidate Buddhism and Hinduism into his own brand of mysticism through a rather prolific collection of sculptures depicting various deities and scenes from both religionsin the 1950s. The choice of building material, cement with steel frames, provided a swifter means of production than the traditional stone carvings, but also a less durable outcome. Many of the sculptures are weathered and crumbling, adding to the aesthetic of a ruin from the not-so-distant past.The reclining Buddha of impressive dimensions is revered by the park’s Lao visitors.
The park provides no context for the various myths it depicts, ranging from the beautifully serene to the grotesquely surreal; a little background reading about the main myths of Buddhism and Hinduism would probably enrich the trip for most visitors beyond simply snapping pictures of the many sculptures.
The park has a sister across the river in Nong Khai, built in 1978. The Thai version is bigger and is surrounded entirely by concrete, while the Lao park features a hefty amount of greenery and is an excellent spot for a picnic. The park has a small restaurant at the end, which is a nice spot to sit with some Beer Lao and fried rice while overlooking the river. Large amounts of sand are currently being transported around this part of the river, so the view involves a lot of heavy machinery, but it isn’t noisy or particularly bothersome.
Buddha Park, called Wat Xieng Khuang in Lao, is located around 25 kilometres outside of Vientiane proper on the riverfront, a few kilometres past the Friendship Bridge. Bus number 14 runs regularly from the central Khua Din Bus station, opposite the morning market. Tickets are 6,000 kip each way. Shops nearby sell food and beverages.
Come for the myths, stay for the atmosphere.
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. Tha Deua will continue onto the left-hand road that runs toward Friendship Bridge and is the main thoroughfare for truckers driving maniacally in and out of the city. Do not take this road. Instead, take the right-hand road that runs along the river. It will snake through villages and paddy, sometimes carrying you in the wrong direction, but if you always stick to the bigger road, you won’t get lost.
Just before Friendship Bridge you’ll wind up back on the main road. You’ll pass Friendship Bridge, and as you drive along the river, you’ll pass Nong Khai on the other side. The road will get dustier and sandier as you get closer to Buddha Park. Cover up to protect from the sun and the dust, and definitely wear sunglasses to keep the dirt and bugs out of your eyes. Finally, try to avoid lingering in the villages after the park closes and driving home after sunset. The roads aren’t well lit and while the country roads are full of potholes, the main roads will have huge trucks zooming by, which can be a harrowing experience in the darkness of the night. In the daytime, however, it’s a delightful drive. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot an ice cream man in his ice-creamobile, usually blasting the Mexican hat-dance and always ready with a cold refreshing treat.