Gods and Monsters on the Mekong
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My travels have taken me to many weird and wonderful places throughout the world, but few have struck me as so purposely eccentric as the twin Mekong twin statue parks (which the locals call "Buddha parks,") products of the twisted vision and dogged perseverance of holy man Luang Puu Bunleau Surirat Luang Puu. From what divine beings this prophetic yogi received his directives is unknown; However, in 1958, something told the monk to begin building statues to honor the gods - not merely the gods who hold sway over the area, but deities, heroes and legends drawn from theologies worldwide, arranged in no discernable order. Sword wielding Hindu deities peacefully share turf with the Buddha, deep in meditation. A sculpture of two skeletal lovers locked in embrace sits on a park bench, watched over for eternity by primitive bestial totem deities.
Whoever imparted these sacred building orders upon the monk never told him to stop. After the communist victory of 1975, he and his sect were forced to leave the country. A lesser man might have given it up, but not Luang Puu Bunleau Surirat Luang Puu. Undaunted, he crossed the Mekong and began building what would eventually become an even larger sculpture park, just a few miles from the first one. Today, the Thai Park has a carnival-like atmosphere complete with piped in Thai pop music and a visitor's center selling the late master's paintings, and other spiritually uplifting knick-knacks. The Laotian Park is smaller and quieter, with neither pop music nor souvenirs to distract you from appreciating the statues. Both parks stand as bizarre testaments to the power of spiritual artistry and high weirdness. Should you find yourself on either side of the Mekong close to the Thai / Lao friendship bridge, both parks are easy to find. The Thai park is on the outskirts of the border town of Nong Khai, and the Lao park is on the banks of the Mekong just a few miles south of the Friendship bridge.
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Published on 5/10/02