We saw many wonderful and fascinating places when we took a few days trip to Laos during our time in Vietnam and Buddha Park was certainly one of the highlights. Located near Vientiane is a park that is filled with sculptures representing Buddhist and Hindu images. Built in 1958, the park is a popular tourist attraction for those who travel to Vientiane. Buddha Park is also called Xieng Kuan or Spirit City and has over 200 statues of various sizes. We visited the park with a guide who was able to explain the meaning behind many of the different statues, which made the experience even more interesting.
One of the main sculptures is a large, round building with a demon face as its entrance. It is a three story building meant to represent Hell, Earth, and Heaven. To enter the building, you walk through the mouth of the demon, also referred to as the jaws of hell. There are many statues inside each of the levels and when you make it to the top you are rewarded with views of the entire park. Another focal point of the park is a large, reclining Buddha statue. We saw many similar such statues in Laos, but this one was definitely interesting.
Even though the park is only a little over 60 years old, the statues look as though they are centuries old. The park is near the Mekong river, which separates Laos from Thailand. The same sculptor also built a park in Thailand after fleeing Laos in the 1970’s, but the park in Laos is the original park. To fully enjoy the park and take time to see the details of the statues from various angles, you should plan on spending 2 to 3 hours in Buddha Park. It is certainly a fascinating experience and is a contrast to visiting all of the various temples (wats) that are in Vientiane.
We spent a few days in Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos, during our trip to Southeast Asia. Although it was a short trip to the country, it was certainly full of fascinating sights and an opportunity to gain insight into the culture. We had a guide for the entire time that we spent in Vientiane, which was great since it allowed us to learn more than we would have just visiting on our own. It also gave us the opportunity to hear firsthand stories about the changes that the country is undergoing and how the citizens feel about those changes. We’ve listed here some of our top recommendations for anyone who gets a few days in Vientiane.
Buddha Park – Also known as Xieng Kuan or Spirit City, Buddha Park is something that is truly amazing. With over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues of various sizes, the park will allow you to immerse yourself into various figures and the stories behind each of them. Even though the park is only a little over 60 years old, you will feel transported into something that could be centuries old.
Pha That Luang – Built in the 1500’s, Pha That Luang is a giant golden stupa that contains a holy relic that is believed to be the breastbone of the Lord Buddha, making it a great national treasure of the Laotian people. It is also the site of a Buddhist festival in November that attracts thousands of people to the city of Vientiane for the celebration. Walking around the golden architecture of the stupa, which is Buddhist shrine, is one of our favorite memories of visiting Vientiane.
Taking a Walking Tour of the Wats (Temples) – To say that there is a different wat or temple on every corner of the streets of historic Vientiane would not be an exaggeration. The Airbnb where we stayed was even located across the street from a wat. Most of them are open to the public for at least part of the day and each of them was unique in its own way despite some similarities. Some of our favorite wats were Wat Ho Phra Keo, Wat That Luang Neua, and Wat Si Saket, which is also a museum.
Patuxai (Victory Gate) – In the heart of Vientiane is Patuxai, or Victory Gate, which is Laos’ version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Just like the arch in Paris, going to the top of Patuxai provides amazing views of the city of Vientiane, which is the capital of Laos. The arch is made up of five levels that represent both the principals representing the coexistence of nations as well as the five principals of Buddhism. Regardless of the meanings of the five levels, today there are markets on each level as you climb to the top offering you the opportunity to buy local items and tourist trinkets.
Walking Along the Mekong River – When visiting Vientiane in Laos, one thing that should be on your itinerary is spending time along the Mekong River. There are many restaurants on the road that sits along the river as well as Chao Anouvong Park, the main park in Vientiane. There are also a few rooftop restaurants that are only a block or two away from the river that offer great views of the city as well as the river. We had been told before visiting that we should be sure to see a sunset over the Mekong River and we were definitely glad that we did. At night, the area around Chao Anouvong Park that is near the inner city, turns into a night market with street food, family activities, and vendors selling locally produced items.
The COPE Visitor Center – Although we weren’t originally planning on visiting the COPE Visitor Center, it turned out to be an enlightening experience. Part museum and part informative on the work that the COPE project does to help people who have been injured by the unexploded bombs that litter the countryside of Laos. Like visiting holocaust museums, it contains both disturbing images as well as an acknowledgement of the ravages of war.
Enjoy the Food of Vientiane – The food of Laos has been influenced by its neighboring countries as well as the French who once occupied the country. Fresh fish from the Mekong River can certainly be found on many of the restaurant menus as well as Laab, which is considered the national dish of Laos. We also enjoyed a couple of different styles of sticky rice and a variety of fried noodles with beef, chicken, and pork.
Although Laos and its capital, Vientiane, might not be on everyone’s typical itinerary for visiting Southeast Asia, it certainly worth spending time there. We definitely enjoyed seeing all of the fascinating sights that were in or around Vientiane. It was just a short flight from Hanoi, Vietnam where we were staying, and three days seemed like a perfect amount of time to spend there.
We enjoy travel of all kinds, but some of our favorite trips have been ones that have pushed us out of our comfort zone. There can be many different factors that make a certain trip create a little more tension than other trips. It isn’t that we get nervous about the trip, it is more that we are more anxious prior to our arrival and typically we settle in as soon as we arrive and start our adventure. It could be due to the language barriers, differences in culture, or even safety concerns. Oddly enough, we probably seek out these trips more now than visiting some other traditional travel destinations that people go to, especially from the United States. In no particular order, these are some of the places that we have visited that caused us to be a little apprehensive.
Chennai in Southeast India – We have talked about this trip many times as it was the trip that changed the way that we wanted to explore the world. The experience was truly amazing and we saw so many different temples and learned as much as we could about the local culture. Whether buying silk in Kanchipuram or heading to the coast to visit the ancient temples of Mahabalipuram, the trip was very different than anything that we had done previously.
Cochabamba and La Paz in Bolivia – There were several things that made this one of the best trips we’ve ever taken to a destination that many people don’t consider. It was our first opportunity to stay at an ecolodge and explore part of the Amazon Rainforest, which we did from Cochabamba. After a week of memories in the heart of Bolivia, we then went to La Paz where we able to take a tour that took us to Tiwanaku and then off to Copacabana to see Sun and Moon Islands. The different things that we were able to see combined with the people that we met really made this trip stand out.
Vietnam and Laos – Although many people travel to Vietnam, going to Laos was certainly a unique experience. Just traveling half way around the world can make a trip a little nerve-racking even if we’d read a lot about the culture before arriving. Seeing Halong Bay and taking a couple of tours into the countryside of the Ninh Binh Province were definitely highlights. Going to Vientiane in Laos, though, was a completely different experience. Even though the two countries border each other, there is no denying that they are worlds apart in many ways.
Egypt – Although it is definitely a destination that has attracted many tourists throughout the past hundred years, but we went shortly after the political unrest that caused Western tourists to be a risk. Other than having to have a police escort to visit Cairo’s Old Town area, we certainly never experienced anything that would have caused us concerns. Whether touring Cairo or taking a cruise down the Nile River to visit Luxor and Aswan, it was certainly an incredible trip. As amazing as the pyramids are to see, we were certainly glad that we took the time to explore even more of the country.
Regardless whether you travel to a place that feels completely natural or to one that makes you see the world in a new light, all travel is rewarding. There have been other trips that have pushed us either culturally or in other ways, but these are some of our favorite travel memories.