Budda Park - Xieng Khuang

Often called 'Buddha Park' (Suan Phutt. admission US$O.16, plus US$0.16 for parking; open 8am-4.30pm),this collection of Buddhist (and Hindu) sculpture lies in a meadow by the side of the Mekong River 24km south of the town centre off Thanon Tha Deua.

Now a public park, Xieng Khuang was designed and built in 1958 by Luang Pu (Venerable Grandfather) Bunleua Sulilat, a yogi-priest-shaman who merged Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, mythology and iconography into a cryptic whole. He developed a very large following in Laos and north-eastern Thailand, and moved to Thailand around the time of the 1975 Revolution. In 1978, he established the similarly inspired Wat Khaek in Nong Khai, Thailand, where he now resides. Originally, Bunleua is supposed to have studied under a Hindu rishi (sage) who lived in Vietnam. According to legend he was walking in the mountains when he fell through a sinkhole and landed in the rishi's lap!

The concrete sculptures at Xieng Khuang (Spirit City) are bizarre but compelling in their naive confidence. They include statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Arjuna, Avalokiteshvara, Buddha and every other Hindu or Buddhist deity imaginable, as well as a few secular figures, all supposedly cast by unskilled artists under Luang Pu's direction. The style of the figures is remarkably uniform. Children will enjoy cavorting around some of the more fantastic shapes, such as the deity with tentacles.

The large pumpkin-shaped concrete monument in the grounds has three levels joined by interior spiral stairways. The three levels are said to represent hell, earth and heaven. The rooms on the inside have been filled with small sculptures; you can either go in or look through windows from an outer hallway at each level. The last spi'ral stairway leads onto the top of the structure, from where you can view the gigantic sculptures outside.

A few food vendors in the park offer fresh coconuts, soft drinks, beer, ping kai (grilled chicken) and tam maak-hung (spicy green papaya salad).

Getting There & Away

Buses (US$O.12) bound for Xieng Khuang depart from the Talat Sao terminal every 20 minutes or so throughout the day. Alternatively, a chartered jumbo costs around US$3.50 one way, US$4.50 return. Or hop on a shared jumbo (US$0.15) as far as the old ferry pier at Tha Deua and then walk or take a saamlaw (three-wheeled taxi) for the final4km to the park. You could cycle here fairly easily as the 24km of road is relatively flat all the way