Monday, August 18, 2008

Buddha Park Laos: Pieces of the Bizarre – An Introduction


In 1958, a whimsical mystic named Bunleua Sulilat envisioned a place where the fiery products of his imagination come to life in the form of larger-than-life concrete sculptures which combine Buddhist and Hindu deities as well as of beasty creatures. He turned a deserted patch of land 24 kilometers southeast of Vientiane into his blank canvas of bizarre sculptures, a product of childish spontaneity and a sense of wonder. His choice of material was the one most accessible to him that time, the cement factories that used to dot the Lao riverside. His eccentricity spread like wildfire, which spawned fanatic followers. The park was named Xieng Khuan, better known as the Buddha Park aka Suan Phut.

Sulilat was a Luang Pu, a Venerable Grandfather, a combination of a myth-maker, spiritual cult leader and a sculptor, whose quirky and weird visions eventuated into cryptic works. Thus, in his master pieces, statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Arjuna, Avalokiteshvara, Buddha, and numerous other deities can be recognized; every piece of work was supposedly cast by devout followers and unskilled artists under Sulilat’s supervision.


During the revolution when communism rose in the country in 1975, the Thailand-born shaman fled the country by crossing the nearby Mekong. Three years later, he established the similarly inspired Buddha Park, called Wat Khaek in Nong Khai, Thailand. The latter would be the more elaborate between the two, facilitating inclusion of the modern objects (like cars) among his statues. He died in 1996 at the age of 64.

I consider my visit to this park as among my favorites during the whole backpacking trip, mainly because this was a tactical uncertainty. It was not part of the itinerary. Moreover, I was running out of time. The park is far from Vientiane. Transportation going there isn’t that easy to come by unless you are willing to hire a tuktuk for the whole trip, which would be expensive. I was in awe of the huge statues standing all over the park. It was a case of bewilderment, of fascination. During my visit, the park was almost deserted and I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being “watched” by these statues. They stoked my imagination. The mind indeed is a powerful creator. This park is a testament to this.


For this blog post, I took the liberty to pick and showcase very specific details from selected oeuvres; little portions from these unpainted giant sculptures. The images that you see on this page are the exact portions of these standing structures, taken from my own photographs taken at the aforementioned park. These are not drawings or paintings, but magnified and colorized/de-colorized portions of Sulilat’s works from Xieng Khuan (which literally means “Spirit City”). It is rather easy to ignore the artistic details from these concrete sculptures because the whole objects are mind-boggling, scene-stealing pieces from a very eccentric (some say sick) mind. In the succeeding posts, you shall see the unabridged, unmodified pieces as they stand in the park.

Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, the eccentric myth-maker, spiritual cult leader and a sculptor who founded the Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park).

Post Script:

Xieng Khuan, the buddha park of bizarre scuptures, should not be confused with Xieng Khuan, the northern province, whose major city of Phonsavan is usually used as a gateway to the mysterious Plain of Jars.
Historical References:

- John Maizels, Deidi von Schaewen, Angelika Taschen (ed.), Fantasy Worlds, Taschen (2007), pp. 218-221.
- John Maizels (ed.), Raw Vision Outsider Art Sourcebook, Raw Vision Ltd (2002), pp. 98-99.
- Lonely Planet Laos by Andrew Burke and Justine Vaisutis

Up next: Journey to the Buddha Park and Sulilat's bizarre sculptures:

Part 2 is here:


Unknown said...

i keep looking forward to your every new posts. my favorites here are the 1st and last photos. are you into professional photography? or did you take lessons in it? ang galeng kasi.

Cathy Pena said...

hi. ive been following your blogs since FOREVER, although for the most part i'm just a "silent" admirer. you inspired me to try it but so far, after a few blogs, it's not easy pala to maintain. nakakatamad minsan. great site. can't wait for the follow up post to this one. cheers!

Anonymous said...

wow, a buddha park, huh? i guess if you've the moolah for that, then go! hahaha! you never know what could make a good tourist attraction ;-)

eye in the sky said...

@ lucy: no, i'm not in the professional photography business, and i haven't taken any photography classes either. travel and photography are just hobbies. i like travel coz it allows me a schizophrenic personality of sorts. the thing's that i am able to do while traveling are a no-no when i'm homebound, like riding motocycles or bikes, and i rarely ride buses too, if at all. thanks for taking your time to visit the site. ;->

eye in the sky said...

hi cathy. that was a sweet message. i appreciate it. i don't have lofty ideals for this blogsite other than to document my travels so that i remember them exactly as they happened. if you've noticed, the posts are text-heavy and detailed, though they may tend to bore. i wanna remember every detail kasi.

if it helps other travelers (pinoys and otherwise) for their travel planning, or if it somehow provides information for those who just want to learn more, then they're all bonuses already. as to your blogsite, keep on writing. your posts are interesting. you're on the right track.nauna lang naman ako ng mga anim na buwan sa yo. ;-:

eye in the sky said...

hey caryn, yes, it is a buddha park - some of the most bizaare works i've ever laid eyes on. i did go, and didn't hire a private tuktuk, but took a commuter bus that passes through the park. saved a bundle too. ;->

pamatayhomesick said...

pre dyan nanggaling ang "ong bak"?

escape said...

first photo is stunning! beautiful!

eye in the sky said...

ever!!! muntik na akong nahulog sa inuupuan ko! bwahaha. kaw talaga! i have seen the movie "Ong Bak", it's not horror, but an action story showcasing thai martial arts called "muay thai". the lao people have their version called "muay lao" but i guess it isn't as prolific nor as famous. having said that, "ong bak" doesn't originate from laos, but from thailand.

you're one hilarious chap! ;->

eye in the sky said...

the dong! thanks, buddy! can't wait to finish documenting everything from the trip. don't you find "posting" a lot of work? ako kasi minsan, gusto ko ng tapusin in one go. haha. pero nasasayangan ako kung di ko ma document as it happened. it's a time-consuming project i took upon myself. matatapos ko rin to. thanks for the visit!