Dec 27, 2014
Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park
Location: Buddha Park, 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.
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Buddha Park blogs
- Visiting the Salakaewkoo (Buddha Park) in Nong Khai, Thailand Apr 23, 2020
- Do-It-Yourself Tour of Buddha Park in Vientiane, Laos Dec 27, 2014
Next stop: Exploring Luang Prabang
Vientiane City Bus Route Map
Vientiane FYI / Tips
- 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.
Udon Thani (Thailand) to Vientiane by bus
Take the International Bus at Udon Thani Bus Terminal 1 - no pre-purchase, on sale tickets only for the next departing bus, Baht 80 (Kip 23,500), departing times 8:00, 9:00, 10:30, 11:30, 14:00, 15:00, 16:30, 18:00, no visa-no ticket (except ASEAN), unloading at Khua Din Bus Station, 2hrs 15mins
Pakse to Vientiane by bus
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.
Vientiane to Luang Prabang by bus
This trip 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 - Kip 70,000. 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
- Night Market
- Mekong River Bank
- Ho Phra Keo
Vientiane Cost Index
As a general rule, Laos is a little more expensive than Thailand. What would be sold in Bangkok for Baht 40-50 would sell for Baht 50-60 in Vientiane. Some vendors would accept Thai Baht as payment, and may even exchange Baht for Kip. Vientiane is slightly less expensive than Pakse, but still more expensive than Saigon, Bangkok or Phnom Penh
- Kip 10,000 one big bottle, Beerlao (Kip 12,000 if by the river)
- Kip 5,000 1.5 liter drinking water, sugar cane juice, soy milk
- Kip 50,000 one hour massage
- Kip 20,000/pax tuk-tuk ride from bus terminal to city center
- Kip 12,000 coffee
- Kip 15,000 noodle soup with meat
- Kip 10,000/day bicycle rental
- Kip 10,000/kilo laundry
- Kip 175,000 sleeping bus to Luang Prabang (155,000 if seated bus)
- Kip 40,000 dorm bed incl. breakfast
- Kip 80,000 double bed in a fan room, shared toilet incl. breakfast
Laos Travel Tips
- 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
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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