Xiang Khuan (literally meaning “spirit city”), is a sculpture garden 15 miles (25km) east of Vientiane. Commonly known in English as “Buddha Park,” it certainly lives up to its name, featuring 200 statues depicting Buddhist and Hindu figures. In short, it’s one crazy place that you wouldn’t expect to find here or anywhere else, for that matter.
For more on visiting Buddha Park, read our article: Buddha Park: The Hidden Gem of Greater Vientiane.
We’re taking this particular Saturday to explore this one-of-a-kind place (well, almost one-of-a-kind, but we’ll get to that), and taking Noe along for the ride, because what else is he going to do with his Saturday?
I guess it’s fitting that Noe’s first public bus ride should be on a local Laotian bus and not, say, a city bus in Portland, or tour bus or something, because that would just be crazy, right? It is starting to get just a bit awkward, however, as just the other day Noe asked, “mommy and daddy, why don’t I ride in my car seat anymore when we go places?” And I had to explain to him that its because there aren’t usually any seat belts to secure it with. That seemed to put the questions to rest.
We caught the #14 bus to Xiang Khuan (some only go to Friendship Bridge/ Thai border) at the Central Bus Station (across from Talat Sao “Morning Market”). We were pleasantly surprised that for about US$0.75 (6,000 Kip) per person each way we got a pleasant hour-long ride with air conditioning and comfy seats on one of Vientiane’s big Japanese-donated green and white city buses. If we had hired a tuk tuk for the day to take us out there it would have been US$25-$40, and definitely not as comfortable of a ride. Currently, buses run all day long about every 20 minutes.
Entrance into the park was 5,000 Kip ($0.60) and an extra 3,000 Kip if you have a camera (though I don’t think they charge for smart phones).
After entering the park, we immediately spotted these cool picnic shelters. We had read that Buddha Park was a good place to do a picnic, but was not expecting this. Noe needed to feed anyway, so I grabbed some beverages from a nearby kiosk and we enjoyed some quiet time out of the sun.
Lori’s been wanting us to do “3-month pictures” since Noe reached that milestone. Now that we’re closer to four months than three, it was apparent we better get cracking. This seemed like a good time.
A diaper — and wardrobe — change.
It’s official! We’re back in Asia!
It just didn’t feel like Asia without a squat toilet. All of the restaurants we’ve visited in Vientiane (even very local ones) have had Western-style toilets, so two weeks have gone by before spotting my first since returning. And now that we have that formality out of the way, bring on the Buddhas!
Wha…? Um…this is not exactly what I had in mind when I think of Buddha sculptures. While there are numerous statues depicting the Enlightened One, himself, there are also many other religious symbols and imagery, including characters from Hinduism such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Arjuna. And then, there’s the giant pumpkin, above, which has three levels representing Hell, Earth, and Heaven. Simply enter through the demon’s head and see for yourself!
After shimmying and squeezing our way to the top, we’re treated to a sweeping view of the grounds — and the hot midday sun.
Another view of our picnic hut.
Very large (130-foot-long), reclining Buddha.
So…you’d probably like to know what the deal is with all this. At first glance, this place appears to be very old, but in reality all of this was started in 1958 by a sculptor named Bunleua Sulilat, whose unique Buddhist-Hindu perspective was largely shaped by a Hindu rishi (sage) who he studied under in Vietnam (the story at Buddha Park actually says he met the rishi after falling into a cave when he was a child, but who knows). All of the sculptures here are constructed of reinforced concrete.
And apparently is a popular place to have your wedding photos taken…
Apparently, there’s actually another very similar sculpture park by the same guy right across the river in Thailand. After the 1975 revolution in Laos, Sulilat fled across the river. Missing his beloved sculptures [I guess], he decided to build another park called Sala Keoku. Noe says he’s excited to visit that park as well, but not right away as the novelty may wear off a bit. Wise thinking, Noe.
One of the biggest surprises of the day was this awesome restaurant adjacent to the park near the Mekong.
Lori and I would gladly make the trip out here again just to eat at this place. Why more places don’t offer similar accommodation is beyond me.
We hardly ever get a pic of three of us, but remembered to take one here. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Few things beat a cold BeerLao in a hut by the Mekong.
…except BeerLao and LAAB in a hut by the Mekong. And not just any laab, really, really fresh and amazing pork laab. And hell yes, it’s spicy. That’s the only way to eat it!
Oh, and I almost forgot the papaya salad. Mmmm.
Feeding again! Hungry little booger. Guess he was inspired.
While you’re out, Noe, let’s get some photos!
After two weeks in Vientiane, it was great to get out of the city for a day and get to visit a pretty unique place. All told, our day out ended up costing the three of us about US$14 (including roundtrip transport, entry, and a delicious and satisfying meal).
And just as promised, the #14 bus arrived less than 20 minutes after we saw the previous one pass. Granted, we sat in the bus for a half hour waiting at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge parking lot, but it was a small price to pay for cheap, reliable and air-conditioned transportation back to the city.