Svelte and golden Pha That Luang, located about 4km northeast of the city centre, is the most important national monument in Laos – a symbol of Buddhist religion and Lao sovereignty. Legend has it that Ashokan missionaries from India erected a tâht (stupa) here to enclose a piece of Buddha's breastbone as early as the 3rd century BC.

A high-walled cloister with tiny windows surrounds the 45m-high stupa. The cloister measures 85m on each side and contains various Buddha images, including a serene statue of Jayavarman VII, the great Angkor-era king who converted the state religion of the Khmer empire to Buddhism.

Pha That Luang: The History

Pha That Luang is a remarkable stupa, a Buddhist monument, in Laos. So, how did Laos end up with this architectural marvel? The history of Buddhism in Laos actually dates back to at least the 3rd century CE, when the Indian emperor Ashoka sent emissaries to spread Buddhism across Asia. According to tradition, one of those emissaries ended up in Vientiane, and founded the first Buddhist temple of the city.

That temple was replaced by the Khmer Empire of Laos in the 13th century, but the new temple later fell into disrepair. Then, in 1566, the Laotian king Setthathirat decided to move his capital from the city of Luang Prabang to Vientiane. When he did, he realized he had to rebuild Vientiane into a royal capital worthy of his throne, and he started by building the stupa of Pha That Luang. As a Buddhist, the king would have hoped that building the stupa would help on his own path to enlightenment, as well.

The stupa you see today is directly modeled on King Setthathirat's, but it is not unaltered. In 1828, Pha That Luang was almost completely destroyed by the invading Kingdom of Siam. The biggest thing to save it from being burnt to the ground was likely a desire to pillage all the gold from it.

The stupa was abandoned after that, until the French decided to rebuild it once they expanded their empire into that part of Asia. The French ultimately rebuilt the stupa along Setthathirat's plans in 1930. It was again nearly destroyed in 1940 during the independence movements of Southeast Asia, but after World War II was finally reconstructed into the monument you see today.

Pha That Luang: The legend

According to legend, which is supported by physical evidence found from the reign of King Jayavoraman VII, the original obelisk was indeed an ancient Cham construction that was built sometime between the 9th and 14th centuries.

Many artifacts have been discovered at the site including a statue of Jayavoraman VII dating from between AD 1181 and 1219, which is presently located at the northern end of the inner cloister.

The story of Pha That Luang became clear at the beginning of the 16th century, which is known among historians as the middle of the ancient Lao period. King Saysetthathirath ordered the construction of the current stupa in AD 1566, six years after designating Vientiane as the capital of Laos.

Previously, the capital was situated in what is now Luang Prabang (then known as Xiengthong). King Saysetthathirath built the grand stupa so the new capital would have an equally splendid place of worship similar to the Grand Stupa in Chiang Mai, which at that time was the capital of the neighboring Lane Na kingdom, now northern Thailand.

The king wanted to project himself as a patron of Buddhism and to achieve enlightment like the Lord Buddha, but before doing so he needed to make merit in all aspects of his life.

He also wanted a site where he could hold an annual festival that would provide an occasion to test the loyalty of his chief administrators from all corners of the Lane Xang kingdom. This festival would also pay homage to the gods and to King Fa Ngum, who is attributed with bringing the third wave of Buddhism to Laos.

Through this annual event, the king wanted the people of the Lane Xang kingdom to come together to make merit and observe religious practices, celebrate together and consolidate solidarity, strengthening the kingdom to ensure it remained intact.  The festival (now known as That Luang Festival) has been held every year since.  

Because King Saysetthathirath wanted to be a Bhothiyana, an enlightened one, he came up with the idea of surrounding the main stupa with 30 smaller stupas of equal size known as Palami (fulfillment of goodness) stupas.  At the base of each small stupa, a flattened plate of gold was inscribed with words depicting ariyasat (the four noble truths - the essence of Lord Buddha’s teachings). These plates also contain information of the date of the renovation of the stupa to its current size and can still be seen today inside the cloister at the eastern entrance of That Luang.

The wording on the fourth line of plates reads: “This stupa contains the ashes of Lord Buddha and was built by King Saysetthathirath. May it last for more than 5,000 years."

The revered sacred place has been worn out over time and damaged by wars perpetrated by foreign imperialists. Whenever the country was invaded, religious and sacred places of worship such as That Luang were among the first targets for looting and indiscriminate destruction.

The latest renovation took place in September 2016 and finish in time for That Luang Festival in November 2017. 

This is the fourth major renovation of the stupa, with others having taken place in 1819, 1930-1935, and 1976.

Pha That Luang: The Festival

The Pha That Luang is the scene of the country’s most important Buddhist festival, the Boun That Luang, held during the full moon of the 12th lunar month. Thousands of people flock to the grounds for three days of Buddhist ceremonies and celebrations to pay respect to the golden stupa and to give alms to hundreds of monks. Buddhist devotees walk around the That Luang three times holding incense sticks to pay their respect.

Days of festivities precede the Boun That festival when the grounds are filled with hundreds of stalls selling food, clothing and various crafts. Activities include carnival rides, games and rides for children, musical performances, parades of people wearing traditional costumes playing traditional music, candlelight procession and fireworks.

Here is the dedicated article about That Luang Festival

Pha That Luang: The Architecture

Let's look at the stupa a little more closely. There's actually more to it than just its shiny façade. Pha That Luang is a massive monument, over 147 feet tall. It has a unique, pyramid-like shape and is surrounded at the base by 30 smaller spire-shaped stupas. The associated temple around the stupa also contains numerous statues and paintings of the Buddha, as well as altars that are used in Laotian festivals throughout the year.

Buddhist architecture tends to be deeply symbolic, and Pha That Luang is no exception. The entire stupa is divided into three tiers, each narrower than the last. These three tiers represent different places in the Buddhist cosmology. The bottom tier is the underworld, the middle represents the 30 perfections of Buddhist teaching, and the top tier (with its reaching spire) represents heaven or enlightenment.

In this sense, the entire temple is a map of Buddhist teachings. You start with a broad base, which is life. As you study the Buddha's teachings you are refined, and your path narrows until ultimately you reach enlightenment at the pinnacle of your spiritual journey.

Pha That Luang: The ground

3-level stupa surrounded by a cloister

The pagoda is surrounded by cloister walls with small windows. The galleries on the inside of the cloister walls contain ancient Laos and Khmer artifacts like statues, many of them badly damaged, inscribed steles and other sculpting. Among them is a statue of King Jayavarman VII of the Khmer empire.

The Pha That Luang consists of three levels. On top of the first level wall are hundreds of sema stones that mark the sacred area. At the center of each side of the wall is a prayer gate called Haw Wai, an open structure with a double roof containing a Buddha image. The stairs to it are guarded by Naga snakes.

On top of the wall marking the second level are hundreds of sema stones and 30 small stupas. Arched gates lead to the third level that measures 30 by 30 meters and contains the 45 meter high stupa. The upper part of the stupa resembles an elongated lotus bud topped with a multi tiered parasol.

Temples surrounding the stupa

The large grounds surrounding the golden stupa contain several other Buddhist structures. In front of the That Luang is a statue of King Setthathirat, King of the Lan Xang Kingdom and founder of the monument.

When the stupa was built in the 16th century, four temples were constructed around it, one on each side. Today, only two remain. To the South is the Wat That Luang Tai, an open sala like building with a three tiered roof. To the North is the Wat That Luang Neua. This is the temple where the supreme patriarch of Laos Buddhism resides. The elegant structure has a very ornate front façade and a multi tiered roof, with an ornamental Dok so faa at its center.

Hor Dhammasabha Buddhist convention hall

The recently constructed Hor Dhammasabha or Buddhist convention hall was opened during the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the city of Vientiane. The building used for meetings and Buddhist ceremonies has a beautiful, intricately decorated colorful façade over the main entrance. Its roof consists of multiple, multi-tiered sections. The central part is topped with a golden spire, the two flanking roof sections are decorated with a Dok so faa ornamental roof element. Inside the Hor Dhammasabha is a Buddha image in the Bhumisparsha mudra seated in an ornamental throne. The ceiling is adorned with several colorful motifs, like deities and Dhamma wheels.

Other structures on the grounds include a bell tower, several stupas, a very large golden reclining Buddha and a number of pavilions sheltering images of the Buddha. A circular platform surrounding a large Bodhi tree contains Buddha images in several mudras. Outside the walled area are souvenir shops and food stalls.

Pha That Luang: The Renovations

The latest renovation took place in September 2016 and finished in time for That Luang Festival in November 2017. 

This is the fourth major renovation of the stupa, with others having taken place in 1819, 1930-1935, and 1976.

The recent restoration involves work to improve the main structure, paintwork, surrounding garden, drainage channels, electrical system and other features, notably the gold leaf that was placed on the top of the stupa with more than 10 kilogrammes of gold leaf on the central spire.

A few days prior to the 2017 That Luang festival, a Buddhist procession took place to worship the newly renovated Pha That Luang.

Pha That Luang: Practical Information

How to get to Pha That Luang

The golden stupa is located on Thanon That Luang a few kilometers North East of the Vientiane city center. It is found about 500 meters East of Kaysone Phomvihane road (road 13) that runs North from Patuxai monument. The easiest way to get there from the center of town is by private tuk tuk which will cost around 60,000 Kip.

Here is the location of Pha That Luang on Google Maps for your reference.

Opening hours

The That Luang opens daily from 8 am until noon and from 1 am until 4 pm (closed for lunch between noon and 1 pm).

Best visiting time is early morning when few tourists are around.

Entrance fee

Admission to the golden stupa is 10,000 Kip per person.

Entrance to the surrounding buildings and temples is free.

Pha That Luang: Photos

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!


Taking a cruise on the fascinating Mekong River offers a unique and memorable travel experience. The Mekong River, one of the longest rivers in Asia, flows through several countries, including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Each destination along the river offers its own distinct cultural, historical, and natural attractions. In this article, we will go over what you can expect when cruising the Mekong River. 


Despite being open to tourism for the past two decades, Laos remains a destination brimming with hidden treasures and unexplored gems, awaiting the arrival of curious adventurers.

Among these remarkable places is the Xe Champhone Loop, an enchanting location that captures the essence of Laos.

In early September 2022, we had the privilege of embarking on an Educational Tour organized by the esteemed Tetraktys Organization. Our objective was to delve into the wonders of this loop and promote its allure to international tourists.

During our expedition, we were awe-struck by the captivating sights and valuable insights we gained. The area boasts an abundance of captivating natural landscapes, rich traditional culture, and warm-hearted hosts.

We have compiled comprehensive information about this captivating region below.

Stay connected to discover more about this hidden gem!


A report from Andy Jarosz from BBC Travel about his day trekking to the remote 100 waterfalls in Nong Khiaw 10 years ago (in 2012). The experience that you cannot miss when visiting the area. Check out the details as below so that you have some ideas of what to expect.

In the last four years, the rural village of Nong Khiaw has seen a steady stream of adventure travellers who want to experience the 10km trek before it disappears.

Strictly speaking, the name of the 100 Waterfalls Trek in northern Laos is misleading, since it is impossible to say how many waterfalls tumble through the thick jungle along the steady 10km ascent, with each one tumbling immediately into the next.


Bucolic Wat Phou (Wat Phu, Vat Phou, Vat Phu) sits in graceful decrepitude, and while it lacks the arresting enormity of Angkor in Cambodia, given its few visitors and more dramatic natural setting, these small Khmer ruins evoke a more soulful response. While some buildings are more than 1000 years old, most date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The site is divided into six terraces on three levels joined by a frangipani-bordered stairway ascending the mountain to the main shrine at the top.

Visit in the early morning for cooler temperatures (it gets really hot during the day, and on the lower levels there isn't any shade) and to capture the ruins in the best light. Make sure to grab a map at the entrance as there is little to no signage here.


The phrase ‘banana pancakes trail’ is the stuff of legend in Southeast Asia’s backpacker route. Along the banks of the Mekong, across many a dorm room and questionable dive bar, backpackers come to learn the story of the first tourists to travel ‘on the ground’, making a conscious effort to immerse themselves in local life. Decades later, their influence is having transformed the region: tourism here is now the fastest growing on Earth, receiving a quarter of total travelers worldwide. 

When you travel through Southeast Asia these days, it is hard to imagine that tourism was almost non-existent just a half century ago. Here is the story of how hippies, guidebooks and banana pancakes helped to create one of the most famous backpacker routes in the world.


Preah Vihear Temple (Prasat Preah Vihear) is an ancient Hindu temple built during the period of the Khmer Empire, that is situated atop a 525-metre (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. In 1962, following a lengthy dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that the temple is in Cambodia.

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On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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Luang Prabang
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The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

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The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

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