Dec 27, 2014
Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park
GPS waypoint: 17°54'44.2"N 102°45'55.3"E
Location: Xieng Khouan (25 kms southeast of Vientiane), Laos
At Kip 70,000 a pop (US$8.75) for a packaged tour of the Buddha Park, it got dicey for a traveler on a shoe string like me. Fortunately, as I was having my noodle soup, the girl attendant said we could go there ourselves using the local bus. It was the start of some detective work, but it wasn't that easy. After asking so many people (who could not speak English) where exactly to take the bus, at what time, how much to pay, etc., we finally got our itinerary dialed-in. The following day, we were off to Buddha Park with no hitch whatsoever.
What is Buddha Park?
Buddha Park, also known locally as Xieng Khouan, is a park area along the Mekong River, that lies 25 kms southeast of Vientiane, about an hour away (depending on how long the local bus stays at the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to pick-up passengers). There are around 200 reinforced concrete sculptures of Buddha and other Hindu deities, the 2 most iconic of the structures being the 390-foot long reclining Buddha and the 3-storey high Giant Pumpkin, representing Earth, Hell and Heaven. It's not an ancient archaeological find but a fairly recent construction by one man beginning in 1958.
Bunleua Sulilat (June 7, 1932 - August 10, 1996)
Bunleua Sulilat started building the structures beginning in 1958. He was a shaman, a mystic and an artist who bridged the world of Buddhism and Hinduism which accounts for the eclectic structures in the park. He was mentored by a Hindu sage in Vietnam and folklore has it that he also fell down a cave where he met a Buddhist yogi who mentored him in the ways of Buddha. Interesting story. I just wish he lived long enough to write his autobiography. The things I read about him are just rehashed info from the park information.
Costwise, a do-it-yourself tour saves plenty. A packaged Buddha Park tour costs Kip 70,000/pax. With the itinerary above, it only boils down to Kip 22,000/pax (US$2.75/pax) and that even includes a bike rental and toilet fees!
If you are into ancient archaeological discoveries like that of Angkor Wat, perhaps Buddha Park is not for you. However, for sheer indulgence in its eccentricity, its scale and its surrealism, Buddha Park is worth a visit.
- open from 8am to 5pm
- first bus from Central Bus Station leaves at 5:50am and after every 15 minutes, last bus leaves at 5:30pm (presumably, this is also the last bus departing Buddha Park at 6:30pm). If you are left by the last bus from Buddha Park, you can take a tuk-tuk to the Friendship Bridge where you can board a bus coming from Thailand heading to Vientiane.
- if you want to renew your visa on the cheap side, you can do so by getting off at the Friendship Bridge and cross-over to Thailand.
- you can bring a small flashlight. Inside the center of the 'pumpkin', it's almost pitch black coming from a sunny outside - it takes a while for the eyes to adjust.
(Vientiane is slightly less expensive than Pakse, but still more expensive than Saigon, Bangkok or Phnom Penh)
- - (optional) you can rent a bike to get you to the Khua Din Bus Station (Central Station) and park the bike at the Morning Market, 2,000 parking fee. After returning from Buddha Park, you can ride your bike back or even explore the rest of Vientiane by bike.
- - bus fare from Vientiane to Buddha Park. Take #14 green bus.
- - entrance fee at Buddha Park
- - camera fee at Buddha Park
- - toilet fee within Buddha Park
- one big bottle, Beerlao (Kip 12,000 if by the river)
- 1.5 liter drinking water, sugar cane juice, soy milk
- one hour massage
- tuk-tuk ride from bus terminal to city center
- noodle soup with meat
- bicycle rental
- sleeping bus to Luang Prabang (155,000 if seated bus)
- dorm bed incl. breakfast
- double bed in a fan room, shared toilet incl. breakfast
- Vientiane is slightly less expensive than Pakse, but still more expensive than Saigon, Bangkok or Phnom Penh
- the tourist area where most of the hotels, restaurants, ticket offices, tour operators, etc., are located along the river beteen the Khun Bu Lom Road and Rue Chanthakhoumane - if you book a hotel within this area, no need to take a tuk-tuk ride to get to the main drag
- in Vientiane, internet speed is generally slow - some guesthouses only have lobby wifi. It was only very recently that fiber-optic connection has been made available, and at $200/month for the cheapest package, very few business owners are availing of it.
- this is an 11 hour bus ride along paved roads. You are advised to take the sleeping bus on the night trip - that way, you sleep while traveling and wake up in Vientiane, effectively saving you an additional day and sparing you the cost of one night's lodging. Bus price ranges from 150-170,000 Kip. Pakse's bus terminal is right in the city so you can just walk it.
- this is a 10 hour bus ride along paved roads. You are advised to take the sleeping bus on the night trip - that way, you sleep while traveling and wake up in Luang Prabang, effectively saving you an additional day and sparing you the cost of one night's lodging. Bus price ranges from 170-190,000 Kip. The bus takes off from the North Terminal. Even though you can get it cheaper to buy the tickets directly there, it would cost you more to ride the tuk-tuk to get there - best to have your hotel arrange the bus booking and you get picked-up right at your hotel.
- Buddha Park - an eclectic collection of concrete sculptures of Buddha and Hindu deities, 25 kms southeast. Package tour - . You can also do a self-tour
- Pha That Luang - a third-century golden Buddhist stupa right in the heart of the city - biking distance
- Sisaket Temple - a Buddhist temple built between 1819 and 1824. It houses thousands of tiny Buddha images and rows with hundreds of seated Buddhas from its cloistered walls. This could be Vientiane's oldest surviving temple
- Patuxai (Victory Monument) - a war monument built between 1957 and 1968, it is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France
- Wat Si Muang - a Buddhist temple built in 1563, considered to be home of the guardian spirit of Vientiane
- That Dam - a black stupa believed to be inhabited by a 7-headed king cobra who protected the Laotians from an invasion by the Siamese army
- Laotians hardly speak or understand English
- like Switzerland, Laos is land-locked by its neighbors - Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and China
- Laos is a communist country and has close ties with Vietnam, its communist neighbor. Best not to talk anything negative about the government
- some establishments will accept US$ for big purchases but it's best to exchange your dollars to Kip for the small day-to-day expenses
- Laotians are generally honest people with a calm demeanor, much like Cambodians
- like Cambodia, Laos is steeped in its devotion to Buddha - pagodas abound and monks are an integral part of the landscape
- best place to exchange currencies is at the border. City money exchange centers won't give you the best rates
- best to exchange US dollars to Kip for good rates. If you exchange Vietnamese Dong to Laotian Kip, the rate is horribly low
- Exploring Huay Xai, Laos May 9-11, 2016
- Exploring Luang Prabang, Laos Dec 30, 2014 - Jan 3, 2015
- Exploring the off-the-beaten-path of Pakse, Laos Dec 17, 2014
- Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park Dec 27, 2014
- Exploring Laos' Capital, Vientiane Dec 24-29, 2014
Dec 27, 2014
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