In March 2009, prior to crossing the border into Vientiane, Laos, a friend and I spent two nights in Nong Khai, a pleasant little town on the banks of the Mekong River. One of the attractions I wanted to visit there was Sala Keo Ku. This is one of many possible romanized spellings and seems to be more commonly spelled Sala Kaew Ku. However, I use the spelling written on the main pavilion complex of the park, a large, three storey building which houses the mummified remains of the chief architect of this mesmerizing place, also known as Wat Khaek. The place is a surreal and bizarre statue or sculpture park a few kilometers outside the town itself.
Although I am not Belgian, my European home base is Belgium, the land of the surrealists, Magritte, Delvaux and others. I enjoy surrealism and the Sala Keo Ku park is certainly a worthy contender for the Asian version of the top ten surreal attractions. It is bizarre, and yet, enchanting, in a macabre, somewhat sinister way.
The work was started by an interesting character called Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a Lao national. He was not a monk, but Luang Pu, a title traditionally reserved for monks, came to be applied to him. He and his 'followers' (he seems to have been a bit of a cult leader) started building this park in 1978, having already built a similar park in neighboring Laos. The park consists of giant concrete sculptures of Buddhist and Hindu deities, towering up to 25 meters tall. My two favorites were the depiction of Buddha meditating under the protection of a seven-headed Naga snake, with each snake having an impressively long tongue, and a giant, unfinished brickwork sculpture of an enormous Buddha sculpture still missing his hands, which currently consist of steel wire supports around which the hands will, presumably, be built. Many of the sculptures are very amusing (look for the elephant wading through a pack of dogs).
Another fascinating part of the park is the Wheel of Life. This is an area surrounded by a low, round wall, access to which is gained by going through the long, low-roofed 'mouth'. Not easy for a middle aged European with bad knees, but easy for this young, short and supple Thai lady.
The Wheel of Life consists of a group of sculptures representing the stages of life from the foetus, through childhood, adolescence, marriage, adultery(!), old age and death. The Mut Mee guest house drew up this fascinating diagram of the Wheel of Lifesculptures.
If you are in, or passing through Nong Khai, it would be a shame to miss this place because it is certainly worth an hour or two of your time.