Buddha Park, Vientiane, Laos

Buddha Park, Vientiane

With half a day to kill in Vientiane, my son and I decided to take an excursion to Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan), about 25km out of town. Our hotel quoted a round trip fare by taxi of US$20, including waiting time. This seemed a bit steep so we opted for the public bus instead.

You need bus No.14

We caught a smart green bus (a gift from the government of Japan) from the bus station behind the morning market. It was bus number 14 and the fare was 5,000 kip each (about 60 cents). Nobody understood ‘Buddha Park’ so if you want to do the trip I would suggest you learn the Lao name or have it written down so that you can confirm you are on the right bus. After a trip of 40 minutes or so, the bus terminated at Friendship Bridge (which is at the Thai border) and we were transferred to a clapped out mini-bus to complete the final 20 minutes of the journey over a potholed, gravel road. The mini bus driver charged another 2,000 kip for this stretch.

Hum the monk.

One of our fellow passengers was a friendly monk called Hum. He is 21 and he informed us that he had been a monk for 2 years and prior to that a novice since age 15.

Reclining Buddha

Buddha Park is an open field with a collection of Buddhist and Hindu statues. Although the statues look ancient, construction only began in 1958 and they are made of concrete. This attraction was the pet project of a Lao mystic called Luang Pu Bunleau Sulilat. He fled Laos when the communist Pathet Lao took over in 1975. In 1978 he began building a very similar park called Sala Keoku near Nong Khai on the Thai side of the Mekong River, quite close to the Friendship Bridge.


The main features of the park are a 120m long reclining Buddha statue and a bizarre 3-storey giant pumpkin with the tree-like embellishment sticking out of the top shown in the photo above. Visitors can enter the pumpkin through the mouth of a demon and climb some very steep steps to emerge on the roof.

There is a restaurant at the park and the bus for the return journey departs from opposite the park entrance.

Skinny Statues


Cope Visitor Centre, Vientiane

One of the more unusual tourist attractions in Vientiane is the visitor centre run by COPE, the Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise.

This mini-museum highlights the continuing after-effects of unexploded ordinance (UXO) resulting from America’s ‘secret’ war on Laos during the period 1964-1973. These were the Vietnam War years and the US was trying to prevent North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam by disrupting the Ho Chi Minh supply corridor (which partly ran through Lao territory) by means of a massive covert bombing campaign led by the CIA.

Each red dot represents a bombing raid.

Here are some of the facts, according to COPE:

  • Laos was the most heavily bombed country ever (per capita).
  • There were 500,000 bombing missions, or 1 every 8 minutes for 9 continuous years.
  • 2 million tons of ordinance were dropped.
  • 270 million ‘bombies’ (the bomblets inside cluster bombs) were dropped.
  • 80 million (around 30%) failed to explode and remained unexploded after the war.
  • 25% of villages in Laos are still contaminated with UXO.
  • 20,000 people have been killed or maimed by UXO in the nearly 40 years since the war ended.
  • 40% of these victims have been children.
  • 13,500 of these people have lost a limb(s).
  • 100 new casualties are still occurring annually.

Cluster Munitions - Bombies

COPE campaigns to ban cluster bombs but the centre is also a poignant reminder of the immorality and futility of all wars.

With America desperately trying to avoid its looming ‘fiscal cliff’, President Obama wants to raise US$1.6trillion in new taxes over the next 10 years. The US spends nearly that amount on its military every year. Shaving just 10% off its defence budget would solve the fiscal cliff in one go without having to raise a penny in new taxes. If only the President read my blog!

The Vietnam War is still harvesting limbs.

Long Weekend in Vientiane

Pha That Luang

Communist GoldMy eldest son and I have just returned from a short break in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. This is the fourth such trip we have made together in recent years, the previous excursions being to Kathmandu, Rangoon and Siem Reap. My son calls them  ‘Daddy’s Dysentery Tours’ because he was attacked by Delhi Belly in both Burma and Cambodia. Fortunately he had no stomach problems this time.

A three day visit is inadequate to do justice to a country as large as Laos but it is more than ample time to see all the tourist attractions of Vientiane, which is quite a small city of around 250,000 people.

Vayakorn InnRoom at the Vayakorn

We stayed at the Vayakorn Inn which is centrally located, comfortable and good value at US$35 per night (breakfast was $4 extra). They keep the wooden floors shiny and unscuffed by insisting that all guests take off their shoes and leave them on racks in the lobby.

A sign in the room reads  ‘please be aware that accompanying any local joiner into your room is illegal and against Lao PDR law.’  Not sure what they’ve got against carpenters!

My only criticism of the room was the duvet which must have been 15 tog and more suitable for a Siberian winter than a sultry Laotian evening. 


Laos was once a French colony and their influence can still be found in the food (baguettes, charcuterie, good coffee), some of the older colonial architecture and in the street name signs (e.g. Rue Mahosot). There also seem to be quite a few French and other Europeans living in Vientiane and running restaurants for the hordes of western tourists. The foreign tourists mostly fall into two categories: young backpackers on the South-East Asian adventure circuit or middle aged, well-heeled types looking for an exotic cultural experience. Few spend much time in Vientiane, preferring to move on to more atmospheric towns like Luang Prabang.

Tuk TukCycling in Vientiane

Most tourists get around by tuk-tuk, rented bicycles or on foot. By Asian standards the streets are quiet and traffic-free and this is one few capitals in this part of the world where cycling is relatively safe.

Presidential PalaceLao National Museum

The Presidential Palace is one of the city’s landmarks. It was once an elegant French villa but has been progressively extended and embellished to its current appearance. The Lao National Museum covers the country’s prehistory up until the present day. Most space is given over to their struggles against the French and the Americans and the period since 1975 when the Communists took over.

Vientiane Monument

One of the city’s more recognisable landmarks is the Vientiane Monument, also known as the Anousavari Monument, which looks like an oriental version of the Arc du Triomphe. The signboard below is very self-effacing. I think they are being rather harsh on themselves. Or perhaps they just copied the English text from a guide book without realising that the wording is a little insulting.


The roof structure contains three levels of souvenir shops.

View from the roof.Souvenir shops.

The main attractions in Vientiane are the Buddhist temples and we visited at least a dozen of them.

Phra Keow

Although many of the temples look ancient they are not that old because most of Vientiane’s temples were burnt to the ground during the Siamese invasion of 1828 (which was not very neighbourly of the Thais). Only Wat Sisaket survived intact and is therefore the oldest.

Wat InpengPha That Luang

Wat SimuangPha That Luang

Pha That LuangGreat Sacred Stupa

Bees make a home next to Buddha

A young Lao couple were posing for their wedding photos in national dress at Wat Sisaket.

Wat Sisaket as a backdrop for wedding photos for this young couple.

The other things to do and see in Vientiane include shopping at the night market and the morning market, and trying out some of the many decent restaurants.

Beer Lao regularBeer Lao Dark Lager

Lao beer is very reasonably priced and comes in a few varieties. A popular place to sample it is on the terraces of the cafes next to the River Mekong which enjoy good sunset views.

Mekong Sunset

We enjoyed our stay. If I had to chose between Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Vientiane, which are similar in many ways, I think Siem Reap has a slight edge due to better shopping, better restaurants and of course having Angkor Wat on its doorstep. But on the other hand, Vientiane did not have the delhi belly!

That Luang