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

image
24-hour response
guaranteed!
REQUEST A FREE QUOTE

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!

Comments
SIMILAR BLOG ARTICLES

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.

...more

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.
 

...more

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.

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Preah Vihear has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-century-long Khmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles.

Preah Vihear is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north–south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, in which it is now located, as well as the Khao Phra Wihan National Park which borders it in Thailand's Sisaket province, though it is no longer accessible from Thailand.

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

...more

Deep in the forests of Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, the elegant spires of an ancient stone city soar skyward above the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park.

The Khmer Empire’s various capitals thrived here from the 9th to 15th centuries, while their rulers presided over an empire that stretched from Myanmar (Burma) to Vietnam. Including forested areas and newly discovered “suburbs” Angkor covers more than 400 square kilometers.

Though just one of hundreds of surviving temples and structures, the massive Angkor Wat is the most famed of all Cambodia’s temples - it appears on the nation’s flag - and it is revered for good reason. The 12th century “temple-mountain” was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is an architectural triumph laden with artistic treasures like the bas-relief galleries that line many walls and tell enduring tales of Cambodian history and legend.

In other parts of Angkor such art depicts scenes of daily life - offering scholars a precious window into the past.

Reading the below epic guide for Angkor Archaeological Park, you will have all the information you need from its history, maps, best time to visit and so on to have the best out of your Angkor tours

...more

Banteay Kdei Temple (Prasat Banteay Kdei), meaning "A Citadel of Chambers", also known as "Citadel of Monks' cells", is a Buddhist temple in Angkor, Cambodia. It is located southeast of Ta Prohm and east of Angkor Thom. 

Built in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries AD during the reign of Jayavarman VII (who was posthumously given the title "Maha paramasangata pada"), it is in the Bayon architectural style, similar in plan to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but less complex and smaller. Its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls and consist of two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister.

This Buddhist monastic complex is currently dilapidated due to faulty construction and poor quality of sandstone used in its buildings and is now undergoing renovation. Banteay Kdei had been occupied by monks at various intervals over the centuries till 1960s.

...more

Just east of Angkor Thom’s Victory Gate is Chau Say Tevoda. It was probably built during the second quarter of the 12th century, under the reign of Suryavarman II, and dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. It has been renovated by the Chinese to bring it up to the condition of its twin temple, Thommanon.

...more
NOT READY YET?

We believe you have the right to arm yourselves with as much information as possible before making any decision.

Check below the detailed information for our different destinations, our plans by travel theme or time frame to learn more before moving forward...

places to visit in Laos
Luang Prabang
bee-white Luang Prabang

The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

Vang Vieng
bee-white Vang Vieng

Vientiane
bee-white Vientiane

The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

4000 Islands
bee-white 4000 Islands

Phonsavan
bee-white Phonsavan

Nong Khiaw
bee-white Nong Khiaw

Laos PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Family
bee-white Family

The combination of fun and educational activities

Cycling
bee-white Cycling

Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

Must-see
bee-white Must-see

Check out all the must-see places and things to do & see

Luxury
bee-white Luxury

Unique experience combined with top-notch services

Honeymoon
bee-white Honeymoon

Easy excursions combined with unique experience making the long-lasting romantic memories

Trek & Hike
bee-white Trek & Hike

Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

Cruise
bee-white Cruise

The combination of some must-see experience and the cruise tour along the mighty rivers

Unseen
bee-white Unseen

Reveal off-the-beatentrack routes, least explored destinations, and unknown tribe groups

Laos PLANS BY TIME FRAME
white-icon About 1 week
yellow-icon About 1 week
white-icon About 2 weeks
yellow-icon About 2 weeks
white-icon About 3 weeks
yellow-icon About 3 weeks
white-icon About 4 weeks
yellow-icon About 4 weeks
image
Already got a plan? REQUEST A FREE QUOTE
Laos TRAVEL TIPS & GUIDE

Either are you wondering about best time to visit, visa policy, or how to get the cheapest flight, we have your back!
WHAT MORE? Choose the country you plan to visit, then search for your nationality below to see our special travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.

Tourist Visa Policy
bee-white Tourist Visa Policy
Best Time to Visit
bee-white Best Time to Visit
Budget & Currency
bee-white Budget & Currency
Getting Around
bee-white Getting Around
Getting Flight There
bee-white Getting Flight There
Buying & Bargaining
bee-white Buying & Bargaining
Useful addresses
bee-white Useful addresses
Internet & Phone
bee-white Internet & Phone
Packing List
bee-white Packing List
Tipping Customs
bee-white Tipping Customs
Safety & Precautions
bee-white Safety & Precautions
Local Etiquette
bee-white Local Etiquette
Travel Insurance
bee-white Travel Insurance
Vaccinations
bee-white Vaccinations
CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
Vietnam
bee-white Vietnam
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Thailand
bee-white Thailand
Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country's glittering temples and tropical beaches.
Cambodia
bee-white Cambodia
There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
Myanmar
bee-white Myanmar
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.
loading
back top