Of all the places one can visit while staying in Vientiane, one of the quirkiest, yet most interesting attractions—bar none—would have to be Xieng Khuan, or Buddha Park.
Located approximately 25 kilometers southeast of downtown Vientiane on the Mekong River, Xieng Khuan or “Spirit City” is just as much a monument to one man’s eccentric and perhaps bizarre ambition as it is an impressive collection of massive ferro-concrete sculptures dotted around a riverside meadow.
Although the brontosaurian reclining Buddha and strange edifice resembling a pumpkin—with what looks like a dead tree sprouting from its crown—near the park’s entrance are two of the park’s more obvious attractions, there are statues of every conceivable deity in the Buddhist/Hindu pantheon. Even if you are not up on your Buddhist/Hindu deities, you will more than likely enjoy strolling around some of the more fantastic shapes.
Xieng Khuan was designed and built in 1958 (I knew there was something more compelling me to visit here—I was born in 1958!) under the direction of Louang Pou Bunleua Sulilat, a self-styled holy man who took Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and merged it—in a somewhat cryptic whole with mythology and iconography. It’s no wonder than, that the pumpkin-shaped structure (which you can enter and climb to the top) kind of calls to mind Dante’s Inferno.
(Do yourself a favor and climb to the top for a panoramic view of the park. Afternoon might be the best time; I was there in the morning and it was a little too hazy for photographs.)
Although one might think the park is nothing more than a tacky tourist trap, if you have run out of things to do while in Vientiane before you head to Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, or other destinations, it would be worth your while to take a trip out here.
To get there, you can take a bus (Bus #14 from Vientiane’s main bus station) which run about every 40 minutes. Be careful with hiring a tuk-tuk though; more than likely you will be charged an exorbitant amount to get there and back. On and I were lucky: we hired a tuk-tuk driver—who did not wait for unsuspecting tourists coming out of their hotels—for only 500 Baht.