Legend has it that Buddha Park creator Luang Pu Bounleua Sulilat fell into a cave as a young man and met a hermit named KeoKu who would become his mentor, learning the trade of stone carving that would one day lead to his creation of the park. Judging from the park’s contents, I believe Luang Pu must have fallen on his head. Many of the Buddha statues and Hindu sculptures are insane. But I mean that in the very best way possible.
This is not a temple, although the setting does lend itself to quiet self-reflection, and there is a temple located within the park grounds.
This is not an amusement park, although some of the statues are most definitely a source of amusement.
But an attraction cannot be rated by what it isn’t, but more accurately by what it is. And Buddha Park is unquestionably one of the most curious spectacles in Laos, and a novel place to spend a few hours. If you’ve time to make it part of your itinerary, the half-day excursion to Buddha Park should not be missed.
While I was researching things to do in Vientiane before I arrived in Laos, this was the one place I knew I had to check out.
My love for the quirky knows no bounds. What can I say — I’ve got a crush on all things kooky.
Xiang Khan means “Spirit City” and it earns that moniker easily. If you’ve come looking for traditional Buddha statues, you may be disappointed since only a few of the 200+ statues fit that bill. Luang Pu had an affinity for traditional Buddhist and Hindu mythology, and the statues here reflect that. Many of his creations are bizarre, quirky, and sometimes even borderline menacing. But each of the statues scattered throughout the park is meant to tell a story.
A three-story “pumpkin” is the central attraction in Buddha Park, and visitors are welcome to enter through the open mouth of the demon to make their way to the top of the structure. The entrance is meant to represent Hell, the second level represents Earth, and the rooftop is Heaven. The view here is worth navigating the tight squeezes and dusty narrow staircases. Those that make the climb are rewarded with a spectacular view of the entire grounds with the mighty Mekong River acting as a backdrop.
Just across that river in the Thai city of Nong Khai is a sister park. Luang Pu created that one as well after he fled Laos in 1978. Crazy or not, Luang Pu knows how to repay old debts — he named that sister park Sala Keoku in honour of his hermit/mentor friend.
How much does Buddha Park cost?
How to Get to Buddha Park
Buddha Park’s location is approximately 45 mins (25 kilometres) outside the centre of Vientiane, but thankfully there are a number of options for transportation to Buddha Park
Bus to Buddha Park
This is by far the cheapest way to get to Buddha Park. Bus #14 picks up from the Vientiane Capital Bus Station. Google Maps refers to it as Khua Din Bus Station. Many locals will just refer to it as Talat Sao bus station (because it’s across the street from Talat Sao Morning Market shopping centre) or just Morning Market Bus Station. Anyhow, it’s not that far a walk from most hotels if you’re staying near the river, and if I was able to find it, I have every confidence you should be able to as well. Just look for a sign that looks like this:
This is not where you’ll actually catch the bus #14 mind you, you need to walk down the street a bit and cross over to catch the #14. Ask any bus driver and they will be more than happy to point you in the right direction. One approached me since I obviously had a confused look on my face.
The bus is air-conditioned and mostly filled with locals, and a scattering of tourists heading to either the Friendship Bridge to make their way to Thailand, or to Buddha Park. Expect to spend about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the park.
The bus driver will yell out “Buddha Park” when he’s outside the entrance, so no need to worry that you’ll miss your stop.
The bus for the return journey from Buddha Park back to the Vientiane Capital Bus Station leaves from one of the small restaurants across the street from the park. (if you squint closely you can see the sign that reads “Bus Stop.”
Rent a motorbike
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, and perhaps like to meander your way out to Buddha Park (and the prospect of getting lost doesn’t faze you), there are plenty of hotels and tour companies in Vientiane that will rent you a motorbike or scooter for the day. Bikes come in both standard and automatic, so be sure you know what you’re getting before you plunk down you cash.
If you have data on your smartphone you can use Google Maps to follow the route down Tha Deua Road towards the Friendship Bridge.
The cost of renting a motorbike can vary widely, so take a few minutes to shop around. I was originally going to rent a motorbike to get to Buddha Park, so I just made a note of rental prices on my phone when I stumbled across a place as I was walking through the city.
Technically you are supposed to have an international drivers license to rent a motorbike in Laos, but my Alberta license was enough. The rental company will probably ask you to leave your passport behind as a deposit.
The quality of motorbikes can vary widely as well, so be sure to check the condition of the tires, any nicks, dings, or scratches that the rental company may come back to try and charge you for later, and of course if the brakes and steering actually work. It’s a good idea to take the bike for a test run around the block before committing to renting it. Also be sure to get a helmet and ensure the number of helmets is written on the rental agreement.
Manual motorbike rentals are cheaper than automatic, and some places will rent for 5 to 8 hours instead of full the full 24-hour day. The cheapest price for an automatic I saw was 60,000 kip for the day, and the most expensive was 100,000 kip. Most rentals were in the 70,000 to 80,000 range.
If you do decide to rent a motorbike to get to Buddha Park, make sure you get a helmet, and make sure you’re back in the city limits before dark — the roads outside Vientiane are not very well lit, and those big trucks passing you on the highway are a force to be reckoned with.
Organized Tour to Buddha Park
Prices can vary widely for this option. Some tour operators offer Buddha Park as part of a package where you get to see some of the main tourist attractions in Vientiane as well. Some offer it as a standalone trip — basically they drop you off at Buddha Park and pick you up at an agreed upon time, usually one to two hours after drop-off. The cheapest price I could find was a shared van for 40,000 that included pickup and drop-off. Most sold the excursion for 70,000, but some went as high as 160,000 for the package that included Buddha Park.
There are many more things to do in Vientiane than the quirky Buddha Park though. I ended up spending 9 days in the city so was lucky enough to see almost everything that the city had to offer. But more of that to come in the next few weeks.