Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.
In addition to tennis lessons, another outing I organized for the kids during their school break this week was a 1/2 day visit to Buddha Park, better known in Lao as “Xieng Khuan” (not to be mistaken with Xiangkhouang, a province known for the famous Plain of Jars). I had seen photos of the Hindu and Buddhists sculptures there and it looked like a cool place to visit with the kids since the park grounds provide green open spaces for them to run around in. I also wanted to give them a different environment to play in aside from the typical playground structures we’d been going to each day.
Boy was it different! Spooky in fact. While some figures were lovely and serene, others were monstrous and ghoulish. Seeing all of them together gave me the immediate impression of a dream in which you’re not exactly frightened yet you want to wake up because of the potential for it to turn into a nightmare – NOT exactly the kind of feeling you would purposely induce in your two-year old children. When we pulled up to the park, I had one of those “What-have-I-done-?” parenting moments of extreme self doubt. But there we were and there was nothing else to do except get out of the car.
The kids held on to their stuffed bear and baby-doll really tight and reluctantly started to explore. My daughter at first asked, “Where’s the playground mommy?” Then luckily, a little boy of what I guess to be about six or seven years old appeared out of nowhere – a sprightly, talkative, animated child who M&O warmed up to immediately. He delighted them by clambering onto the statues, or climbing trees, and talking to them in excited fast-paced Lao about every figurine. He even demonstrated a Buddhist offering by kneeling down and motioning the traditional cupped hands to the head then to the ground three times, albeit using some pilfered flowers from another statue for demonstration. This prompted M to give the same customary “nop” to the statue, too – a sight that makes me so proud every time I see her do it to friends and strangers when greeting them. It makes me happy that both of my kids will have at least two years of exposure to a culture very closely related to Thai since I had lost all connection to it while growing up in the US. I just hope that the child’s play here with their friend will ward off the possibility of scary dreams in the middle of the night. We shall see.
Buddha Park is about 25km southeast of Vientiane and best reached by car or bus. Some guidebooks say you can get there via Tuk Tuk or Jambo but the last 6km is a dusty bumpy dirt road that is corrugated by all the heavy trucks that haul sand and rocks dredged from the Mekong River into Vientiane for the many construction projects and I’m told that Tuk Tuk and Jambo drivers won’t even agree to drive all the way there anymore. You an easily spend 1/2-hr or more walking around looking at all the statues, even longer if you are into photography. There are shady areas with picnic tables and a small gift shop and some snacks for sale but I didn’t see much in the way of a substantial so you should you pack your own lunch if needed. The entry fee for each adult is 5,000 kip (.63 cents) plus a 3,000 kip fee for taking pictures. For some reason the 3,000 kip parking fee was waived for the vehicle I came in.