When visiting Southeast Asia, travelers find themselves face-to-face with cultures and customs that can only be described as downright bizarre. When it comes to seeing the out-of-the-ordinary, no corner of the globe can attest to being as chock full of oddball sights and sounds as Southeast Asia.
But while nearly every destination in the region has something strange in store for tourists, there are some places that raise the bar for the bizarre, and leave even veteran travelers with their jaws firmly planted on the floor. Of all of the weird and wonderful places to ogle the odd, these are our personal favorites.
1. Buddha Park
Most that venture to the sleepy capital city of Vientiane will spend most of their time strolling quiet streets and enjoy the leisurely Laotian way of life. Those up for a little adventure, though — and some seriously strange sights — usually head 25 kilometers southeast of the city toward Xieng Khuan, or Buddha Park, a bizarre sculpture garden that’s become a shrine to strange cult-like history. Construction started in 1958 and was led by the priest-shaman Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, who integrated Buddhism and Hinduism and surrounded himself with devout disciples of his religious principles.
So devout were his followers that they, along with Bunleua Sulilat, constructed over 200 statues in modern Buddha Park’s meadow despite having no sculpture training at all. The lack of expertise shows — strange departures from standard Buddha statue style still stand, including a pumpkin headed demon, stick-thin Buddhas and a terrifying eight-armed creature flailing about with knives in hand.
2. Suoi Tien Theme Park
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Travelers to Ho Chi Minh City will rarely journey far enough out of the city to reach Suoi Tien, and so it remains something of a local legend. Those that do, though, will find one of the strangest testaments to Vietnamese culture in an unlikely setting — a theme park.
The park features sculptures, wave pools, water slides and carnival rides that depict the country’s many folk legends and historical tales. Wanderers through Soui Tien are never short on amusement — the park holds within its walls a dinosaur garden, giant sculpted dragons and an enormous man-made beach under the towering stone face depicting a Vietnamese emperor. Nearly the entire park is painted in vivid colors and bursting with strangely careful detail, and some areas rival the craftwork otherwise reserved for pagodas.
3. Erawan Museum
When we think of a museum, most conjure up the image of quiet halls and rows of antiques hidden within glass enclosures, and a strict “no touching” rule. Not so at Erawan Museum, a massive, three-storey hall adorned in psychedelic artwork that’s meant to depict the three levels of the Thai cosmos. The idea for the museum was born from the eccentric imagination of Lek Viriyapant, who aimed to create a space where Asian antiquities and culture could be revered and adored.
Originally intended to be a traditional museum, Erawan quickly delved into the symbolic when it was designed with an elephant motif — the symbolic animal of Thailand. Now, that symbolic animal stands guard outside of the museum’s entrance. A massive 250 ton three-headed elephant towers over the front gates of Erawan, making the museum perhaps the most worth a visit in the entire city, even if that visit is just a stroll past the front gates.
4. Former Home of Ong Dao Dua (The Coconut Monk)
Ben Tre, Vietnam
Although the former home of the eccentric coconut monk could easily go unnoticed by passing travelers, the history behind it makes it one of the strangest and most intriguing places to visit in Vietnam. Born in 1909 as Nguyen Thanh Nam, the coconut monk became the founder and pseudo-messiah of the Tinh Do Cu Si religion, a fusion between Buddhist and Christian teachings. Although the sect began as a devout group of followers with no particular idiosyncrasies, the monk’s strange habits and ever-changing bizarre beliefs would eventually make Tinh Do Cu Si one of the strangest religious cults to have ever cropped up in the country.
Eventually, Nguyen Thanh Nam would take on the name Ong Dao Dua, or coconut monk, because of his three-year meditation stretch that included eating nothing but coconuts. Soon after, he would take over a dozen wives but bear no children (it was forbidden in Tinh Do Cu Si) and erect a bizarre homestead on the riverbank in Ben Tre. Today, only remnants of the oddly colored pillars and courtyard still stands, with most tour boats stopping off at its docks while tourists walk past it, unaware of its strange history.
5. Sriraj Medical Museum
In the city’s tradition of weird museums, the Siriraj Medical Museum located in the inner depths of Siriraj Hospital takes the cake as one of the most morbid and utterly odd locations on Bangkok’s city map. Split up into six separate sections between two buildings, the Medical Museum boasts a sometimes horrid and always strange collection of subjects — both human and animal — preserved in jars of formaldehyde, chilling rooms of skeletons and plenty of disturbing images and dioramas.
Wile not for the faint, this museum complex is an old fashion tool of education, whether to discuss anatomy, forensics or disease. There is a lot of disturbing exhibitions and subject matter and this museum is certainly not a stop for everyone. Only those with particularly strong stomachs and a taste for morbid adventure should venture onward.
In the mood to adventure through quirky and exuberant southeast Asia yet? Look into our tailor-made tour options to find the right mix for you, or discover the area on our Highlights of Indochina Tour. Whether you like the strange, or just the exotic, Buffalo Tours can cater the perfect trip for you!