Largest Buddha Statue Unearthed in Laos Sparks Viral Debate Over Ownership Among Mekong River Nations

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(Photo: Laotian Times)

The recent discovery of the largest Buddha statue ever found in Laos, standing at least two meters tall, has ignited a viral sensation and intense debates across social media platforms in the Mekong River countries, including Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. The statue, unearthed in the Tonpheung District of Bokeo Province near the Mekong River, has become a focal point of controversy regarding its authenticity and original ownership.

The controversy began when a Thai metallurgist, known as “Ajan Tong,” suggested that the statue appeared too new to be over a hundred years old and challenged anyone to scientifically verify its age, promising to discard his degree certificate if proven otherwise.

Ajan Tong further expressed concerns about a potential scheme behind the unearthing of the Buddha statues, implying that some individuals might have buried the statues only to dig them up later to exploit people’s beliefs for monetary gain. 

As the post garnered significant attention from both Lao and Thai users, Ajan Tong later deleted it and offered an apology for any confusion it may have caused. He clarified that his intention was solely to express concern regarding the excavation of the Buddha statue.

Meanwhile, the debate soon expanded as Cambodian social media users joined in. A TikTok account claimed that the image belonged to Cambodia, posting the image with the caption, “This Buddha statue used to belong to Cambodia. A Cambodian historian has confirmed this. Laos should return it to Cambodia.”

The veracity of this claim remains uncertain, as it is unclear whether the TikTok account is operated by Cambodian citizens or individuals seeking to provoke controversy.

The issue has rekindled historical tensions among the three nations, reviving old conflicts and disputes. Social media users from Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia have been actively engaging in discussions, with some rejecting the notion that the statues were deliberately buried for later exploitation.

The Buddha statue is part of an ongoing search for ancient artifacts in Laos’ Tonpheung District, where hundreds of images have been discovered. The precise age and origin of these images remain unknown, but many Lao people believe they are remnants of temples and stupas from the town of Souvanna Khomkham, which existed several hundred years ago.

The search began in March when local authorities found a Buddha image head and small headless images during road repairs. It was then elevated to a national level, with the Lao government forming a committee of senior officials to oversee professional excavations and maintain accurate records of artifacts.