Climbing out of the back of the tuk-tuk into the searing heat of the northeastern afternoon sun, I saw the usual market stalls that pop up around the edges of car parks and tourist sites. Ice cream, cold sugary drinks, clothing and local textiles. Nothing unusual here. Ten seconds later I was rooted on the spot, staring upwards in amazement and fumbling for my camera. Towering above, atop a half-finished body of brick and mortar, the serene face of an enormous buddha stared out over the hustle and bustle below.
I had come to visit the Sala Kaew Ku sculpture park. I knew what to expect. I knew there would be sculptures – the clue is in the name, right? I was not prepared. The scale left me dumbfounded.
Entering the park proper, I wandered its paths in awe. Everywhere I looked, massive concrete figures rose above me or peeked out through lush greenery in the distance. Visual layer upon layer revealing itself everywhere I turned. So much majesty competing for my attention in such a compact space. I didn’t know where to turn. I looked up instead, seeing a statue of Buddha being sheltered by a seven-headed Naga serpent as he meditated rising 80 feet above me.
I wandered the park, mesmerised by the amazing vision of one man – Luang Pu Boun Leua Sulilat. A Laos man who made it his life’s work to bring into material form the mystical knowledge he gained while living in a cave in Laos with an ascetic hermit named Kaew Ku, after whom the park is named. Self-taught and working in concrete because of its low cost, with the help of hundreds of unskilled yet enthusiastic workers, he originally built his sculptures in a park in Laos, starting in 1958. When Communist rule took over in Laos in 1975, he fled over the Mekong to Thailand. He started his work over again in 1978, across the river from his original park. Re-creating and improving his designs at Sala Kaew Ku, he continued to work until his death in 1996. His mummified remains reside on the 3rd floor of the pavilion at Sala Kaew Ku.
Over one hundred sculptures of varying size dot the park, resting amongst greenery and fish ponds. These ponds are home to a multitude of fish, including some very large catfish. Whilst the sculptures were the highlight of my visit to the park, I suspect the kids had different opinions. Scattering fish food upon the water and watching the feeding frenzy (Ben’s emphasis and choice of wording) that ensued was a huge hit with the kids.
Yes, it’s bizarre, the meaning behind the sculptures often perplexing for those of us who can’t read the inscriptions, but it’s wondrous. I just kept walking around and repeatedly saying to Alex and the kids, “Isn’t this amazing?”
You be the judge…
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