“ A collection of Buddhist and Hindu statues by the river Mekong in Vientiane, Laos. „
Sala Xieng Khuan
The rather odd place is also known as the Spirit City Temple or Buddha Park and is like nothing I have ever seen before. It is about a forty minute drive out of Vientiane and 25km south the last part of the journey is along a bit of a dirt road which was made worse for us because it was pouring with rain.
The park is open daily between 8am and 6pm so plenty of opportunity to get there and the entrance fee 2000 kip which is about 15p so really you do get great value.
We arrived at the park and had the choice of going in and coping with the tropical downpour or huddling under a shop front looking at a few statues and then going off without seeing most of the park. We chose to take our umbrellas and walk. I was okay as I had crocs on and so I was able to paddle through the huge puddles, our guide took his shoes and socks off and rolled his trousers up, my husband can't walk in bare feet so his trainers were soaked.
This is not a temple or Wat but more a rather unusual collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. The park covers a huge ten acres beside the mighty Mekong River which seemed to be rising as we watched the rain pouring down. There were a few seats and a shop where you could buy souvenirs and snacks that had it been fine we could have done watching the Mekong River from one of the seats.
The park was the brain child of a yogi/priest/shaman/monk called Luang Bu Bunleau Sulilat and was created in 1958. Bunleau Sulilat, helped by a number of unskilled artists used basic concrete to create all his sculptures and when you see them you cannot help but be impressed.
Luang Pu (Venerable Grandfather) Bunleua Soulilat was a priest and devoted his life to both Buddhism and Hinduism which is interesting in itself although the religions do share a common philosophy. Having built this amazing park of statues this monk was forced to flee from Laos in the 1970s because of the Laotian Communist Revolution. He moved to Thailnad which is actually just across the Mekong River and there he built a similar park in 1978, in Nong Khai which is called Sala Keoku . Luang Pu Bunleua Soulilat died in Thailand near the Sala Keoku Park in 1996.
The word "Sala" in Lao and Thai means the place where you can meditate or recover. So the creator of these parks wanted to have somewhere where people could go to meditate and relax. The park and its statues are to remind believers that they are here on earth to earn 'credit' for the next life. In order to attain happiness and peace of mind, they must stop being greedy and take time to reflect on the reality of life.
The other words in the title of this park Xieng Khuan mean spirit city which I suppose is one way of describing all the spiritual statues in the park. Within the ten acres of park you will find well over 200 of these concrete statues so you get your money's when you visit.
The most obvious statue that you cannot fail to notice is a huge pumpkin like building with a demon at the entrance with a huge open mouth. As you enter through the demon's mouth you find it has three stories and these are supposed to represent, Hell, Earth and Heaven. Once you reach the top there is a viewing platform from which you get a pretty good view over the whole park.
The second most obvious statue is that of an enormous reclining Buddha, so big that it is almost impossible to fit it in a photograph. As you walk around the park or paddle in my case you come across statues of humans, gods, animals, demons, and all different. The concrete is now dark grey and I can't say that they are particularly beautiful but they are quite charming in any way and somehow you are drawn to their quirkiness and you can't help but be impressed by the sheer number and variety of statues within the park.
Initially we were very fed up with all the rain but having spent about forty five minutes paddling around the park I actually found it quite atmospheric and once I had decided just to paddle through and go for it I enjoyed trying to get photos of all the various statues and somehow the rain added to the rather grey looking concrete in an odd sort of way.
I recognized quite a few of the Hindu gods and the Ramayana story was clearly depicted in almost the centre of the park. Buddha statues showed Buddha in every position including the massive reclining one which ran along one side of the park.
I was absolutely taken with the park and loved all the weird and wonderful statues. It is a sort of Buddist/Hindu Alice in Wonderland with all the imaginary and fantastically bizarre statues. Many do tell stories and have a serious role in their religions but somehow en masse the effect is very Lewis Carroll in an Asian sort of way.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in Vientiane as it is not difficult to get there, if you are on a tour it will certainly include a visit but if you are travelling independently then there is a bus or you can take a taxi which are relatively cheap. You can't quibble at the entrance fee but don't rely on getting a picnic there as the shop looked pretty basic.
We didn't really take much notice of the shop as so many people were sheltering under the awning. There are public toilets but there are not exactly luxurious if you get my meaning.
Well worth a visit and I have never seen anything quite like this place. It reminded me a little of the Tiger Balm Gardens as they were in Singapore years ago but have fallen into disrepair since.
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