Buddha Park: A surreal journey

A view of the park shows many intricate sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deitiesm.

Buddha Park is just 25km southeast of Vientiane and local people call Vat Xieng Khuan (meaning 'Spirit City'). It attracts many tourists each day for a surreal glimpse into a wondrous realm of gods and demons. The park contains over 200 religious sculptures blending Buddhist and Hindu themes. The ornate and at times bizarre statues, some of which tower over the visitor with immense scale, were all skillfully crafted from cement by a monk named Luang Pou (Venerable Grandfather) Bounleua Soulilat in 1958. The sculptures depict Lord Buddha and characters from Hindu lore, humans, gods, animals and demons, as the designer combined these two faiths into his own blended religion. The fi rst sight that greets the visitor is a giant three-storey pumpkin, containing a sculpture garden and three fl floors representing the three levels of life – Heaven, Hell and Earth. Visitors can enter through the gaping mouth of a demon and climb to the top for a fi ne view of the park. The journey from hell to heaven follows a steep and narrow staircase passing sculptures that illustrate the characteristics of each level. "I felt a little scared and spent 10 rather diffi cult minutes getting up to the top of the giant pumpkin. After that, I thought it's not easy either way, whether you end up in heaven or hell," a foreign tourist said of the experience. Those who persevere arrive at the top to a vantage point from where the entire park is visible, including most of the statues. An enormous 40 metre-long reclining Buddha is another main attraction. A walk around the grounds reveals scattered statues of various animals and gods, each forming part of a grand story of earthly life, Buddhism and Hinduism. Many young Buddhist monks visit the park from temples around Vientiane and beyond to view the inspirational Buddha statues.