Picture this. A genie appears unto you and says, “You shall have a tract of land, of two or maybe three hectares. And upon this land, and within the boundaries of this park, your dream shall be built.
Be it a mighty medieval castle; a big top with a never-ending circus for your continuous entertainment; a garden filled with chocolate creeks, candy-covered flowers and a free-flowing fountain of champagne… it’s yours.”
What would you build?
Steve and big Budz
Actually, the mystical man Bunleua Sulilat, spiritual (some say cult) leader and artist from Laos, along with his volunteer sculptors, had no genie – they worked incredibly hard to create Mr Suliat’s lifelong dream park. It’s just that this particular dream park was a little… different.
Sulilat imagined a sculptural playground, where concrete Buddhas, Hindu figures and a host of other mythical creatures twisted, played and danced together. Why? To actualize two of his greatest ponderings – the beauty of sculpture and the mystery of religion. Some revered him. Most believed him to be insane…
To reach the park is an adventure in itself. The journey, about an hour from Vientiane, capital of Laos, should technically require a four-wheel drive vehicle, but instead is served by wibbly 3-wheeled tuk-tuks, driven by some of Vientiane’s shadiest daylight robbers. As the road leaves the city, it’s paved and smooth, but after passing the “Friendship Bridge” – an Australian-built route across the Mekong River to Thailand on the other side – the road becomes an undulating rise and fall, a bone-separating thrash in the back of a barely-assembled, motorised wheelbarrow.
The park is presided over by a somewhat laissez-faire caretaker – a gigantic, yet relaxed and unintimidating, reclining Buddha. Other than that, there’s no real order or structure to the park – the statues stand in circles, lines, squares, zigzags; alone or amongst others. There are humans, gods, gargoyles and other mythical beings. Many of the written descriptions are faint. There’s no need to understand each statue, though, to appreciate the adventure that lies within the park.
The best way to view the park is by climbing through the mouth of a huge gargoyle, whose raging yawn marks the downstairs entrance to a concrete spherical lookout that’s topped by a twisty, yet strangely symmetrical tree. Once passing through the mouth of the salivating menace, one must crawl through three stories of discarded, limbless figures dancing lustfully between the shadows. Apparently these storeys represent the steps from hell to heaven.
the cement apple
heaven or hell? Hang on… what the f…?
I recognized Buddha, Shiva, Ganesh and a few other of the more familiar gods. But as we ambled through, click-clicking away, I stopped wondering what to make of the eerily smiling archers, the bent old cripples and the eight-armed deities. Somehow it made more sense that way.