A veritable feast of Buddhas at Xieng Khuan

Posted: March 30, 2011 in South East Asia
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We had a day to kill in Vientiane and the weather was cold as ice. It instilled lethargy in us that I’ve not felt since my last winter in England. You know that listless apathy that prevents you from making decisions and for doing anything with energy. After a fat boy breakfast at the Scandinavian Bakery, where I polished a breakfast platter for 2, I persuaded Muneeza that the weather was going to hold to give us time to scooter down to the Buddha Park about 30km outside the town.

I’d read about The Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) in a local guide and it sounded intriguing. The park sits in a grassy field alongside the Mekong River and is full of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, most in plain stone. It was designed and built in 1958 thanks to the eccentricity of Luang Pu (translates as ‘Venerable Grandfather’) Bunleua Sulilat, a yogi/shaman who merged Hindu and Buddhist philosophies together. I was hooked on the story – I love the impact that one person can have by bringing to life their vision.

We hired a moped for a bargain 50,000kip ($6) and headed south. The journey itself was part of the experience. We passed through small towns on the periphery of Vientiane, with rice fields on both sides. As we neared the Friendship Bridge, the bridge built to provide a land border between Thailand and Laos, the Mekong River emerged on our right hand side. After the bridge the road deteriorated into a pothole ridden dirt track. The old moped limped across the bumpy road, sounding rather dejected and forlorn. It was hard to keep the bike upright as the wheels slipped badly in the muddy tracks. At junctions, the engine wouldn’t idle; it simply cut out. It was hit and miss if it would start again. It meant I had to keep the rear break lever pressed whilst revving the engine – not the safest option.

Muneeza on scooter by Mekong River

After about 45 mins, thinking we had taken a wrong turn, the Buddha Park emerged through the trees. It was an incredible sight. Huge stone effigies loomed from the treetops. Inside the park, the beauty of the intricate stone masonry on show pleasantly surprised us. The statues come from all across the South East Asia region and from as far back as the 4th century. It’s like walking across a giant slice of history, both cultural and religious.

One strange edifice offered a path to a rooftop vantage point from which we could look across the whole park. You entered through the mouth of a large gargoyle and inside we found a narrow passage way. It looked like something from a GCSE pottery class and smelt like the pottery workshop at school. Beyoind the passageway lay an inner chamber, visible through small windows cut in the wall. Inside this chamber was a bizarre collection of clay and stone figurines, some as tall as us, others small statues that didn’t even reach the knee. We couldn’t find any explanation as to what this symbolised or what it has been originally used for.

From the passageway, we found a series of narrow, steep steps that led up successive levels to the rooftop. On each level the same inner chamber could be found, though the figurines in each were different. Still the same smell of the pottery class.

We emerged on the roof from the narrowest of windows. The view was spectacular. In front of us was a panorama of huge Buddhist and Hindu iconography dating back centuries, beyond which was the serene Mekong. At the far end stood a tall tower that resembles the Temple of Inscriptions at the Mayan City of Tikal in Guatemala. It looked like the Mekong had surged and planted hundreds of statues neatly in the park for a higher purpose. The giant Reclining Buddha is the largest we’ve seen throughout our travels and it was great to sit back and admire the art of the multitude of craftsmen who created these images.

Rooftop view at Buddha Park

We hopped back on the moped deeply satisfied that we had made the effort to come and see this place. If you ever find yourself in Vientiane, hire a moped from ViaVia restaurant, fill it up for $2, hit the road and head for Xieng Khuan. You won’t be disappointed.

love jamer & muneeza x

 

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