Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang (Great Stupa in Laos) is a Buddhist temple in Vientiane, Laos. Pha That Luang is located next to the Laotian Parliament and is clearly seen from the top of the Patuxai Arc in downtown Vientiane. The wide avenue connecting the two takes some twenty minutes to cross; tuk-tuks span the distance in less time.

<< Pha That Luang, Vientiane


It was built in the 16th century under King Setthathirat on the ruins of an earlier 13th century Khmer temple. Despite the earliest recorded history of the place, legend states that a piece of Buddha’s breastbone was enclosed here in the 3rd century BC by Asokan missionaries.

Like the rest of Vientiane, Pha That Luang was destroyed in 1828 by the Siamese Military. Pha That Luang was finally restored in the early 1900s by the new rulers, the French. The restoration was badly done and a second restoration was performed in the 1930s which restored it to it's original design.

That Luang holds a special meaning in Laos since it has come to be the symbol of the Lao nation. Even before the communist revolution, the Lao King would travel to the temple from Luang Prabang to attend the yearly That Luang Festival. Prior to the overthrow of the Monarchy in 1975, the national symbol of Laos was the three-headed elephant representing the Lao Royal Family. This was changed to the hammer and sickle after the communist revolution. In 1991, the symbol again changed to Pha That Luang temple.

This change took place at a time of crisis for the Lao government. Communism around the world was crumbling and Pha That Luang was again seen as a h4 symbol that could bring the Lao people together. It symbolizes the preseverance and the generosity of the Lao people.

What To See

Pha That Luang structure’s summit is almost fifty meters tall. This specific stupa is remarkable not only for its size, but for its golden splendor which is the result of the gold leaf used to cover it; approaching it during a sunny day without sunglasses can be damaging to the eyes. The stupa is surrounded by heavy walls which gave the whole complex the feeling of being an odd type of fort; they display many Lao and Khmer sculptures.

In November, the impressive Stupa’s Festival takes place. It is worth timing the visit so that it can be witnessed, since is the main annual fair in Laos. Since it is a major religious event taking place in a communist country, it is doubly interesting. Within the temple walls, people walk around the stupa with lit candles in their hands, while outside the walls a huge night market pops out of nowhere and is crowded by what seems to be the whole Laotian population.

Pha That Luang is now gated, to keep traffic out. Before you could drive around the whole temple.

Asian Historical Architecture