One of the top attractions in Vientiane is not actually in Vientiane. Buddha park is about an hour away by public bus. Buses leave frequently from the central bus station. Just look for bus 14. It’s really easy since the buses display their destination and price in English! When me and my friend approached the bus station, people already started asking “Buddha park?” and would then point us in the right direction. We only had to wait ten minutes for the bus to leave.
It was a very comfortable, airconditioned bus and after driving past the huge American embassy, several temples and the friendship bridge to Thailand, we were dropped off at the park. It’s a very bizarre place. One day there was a man with a vision, who wanted to build sculptures from Buddhism and Hinduism. He did this here and later also in Thailand, on the opposite side of the river.
First we climbed up a pumpkin. I’m still not sure what a pumpkin has to do with religion, but we entered it through a gigantic mouth. Inside this mouth was a long corridor and several small staircases that led up to the next level. The levels represented hell, earth and heaven. From the corridors you could look at the levels through little windows, or you could enter hell and slowly make your way up to heaven via even smaller passages. Eventually both ways would end up outside on top of the pumpkin. From here you had a great view over the park.
There was a gorgeous lying Buddha, lots of gods with multiple faces or multiple arms, and it seemed like some of the statues displayed what happens to bad people. It was nice to spend some time walking around, although it wasn’t a huge place. When we were halfway through a young novice approached me. “Hello, do you have some time?” “Uhm, yeah…” “Can we sit somewhere and speak English?” So we hid behind a big temple and sat on a stone wall.
It turned out I was talking to a novice with a vision. We talked for two hours and learned all about his life and his dreams, that according to himself were rather crazy. Our new friend had come from a town further north, to join the temple to get a high school education. He told us about the rules of the school. No killing, not even mosquitos, not stealing, no exercise, no make-up. He explained to us that ladyboys could not become novices. I could not help laughing. This is obviously an issue here, but it just seems so surreal. He didn’t think he’d ever become a monk though, they had over 200 rules to adhere to!
This young novice wanted to become a millionaire instead. He wanted to earn money and work with tourists and he wanted to use that money for good and help people, like the refugees from Syria. I was well impressed with how informed this 15 year-old was about what was going on in the world, what had happened in South East Asia and about more trivial things like movies. He seemed very smart and compassionate, was openly talking about things, keen to learn and yet also still a teenager who loved to watch movies and youtube. “We have one TV in the temple too.”
He explained to us what they learn in the school and what a day looks like. He gets up really early so he has some time for himself before the school program starts. Then they go to take the alms, walking barefoot over the streets, receiving food and at times money from the people. “I always walk in the back. Sometimes I get candy, but I give it to the little kids, because they don’t have much.” He also said he doesn’t really like doing this. “When I get older, when I’m finished with school, I’ll earn my own money so I can buy my own food. I don’t like taking food from people who are poor.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this talk, but it was way past lunch time and although novices can’t eat after 12 o’clock, my stomach started rumbling and craved food. So we said our goodbyes, wished him the best of luck in his mission to become a millionaire and went to the restaurant. Afterwards we walked through the rest of the park and climbed into the pumpkin one last time. What a great and unexpected experience!