Pha That Luang – a symbol of Buddhism and Laos sovereignty

Pha That Luang, or “The Great Stupa”, is a must-see Laos attraction which locates in its capital, Vientiane. It is a sacred Buddhist monument in Vientiane which is well known as Laos most impressive religious architecture. The huge gold-covered Stupa is believed to enshrine a breast bone of the Buddha. The unique architecture, the impressive beauty and special meaning of Pha That Luang have helped this destination ranks in the top of Laos itinerary for travelers in Indochina travel.


Pha That Luang
A national symbol of The Land of a million elephants

Pha That Luang facts

A secret story behind The Great Stupa

Local legend tells that missionary monks of the Court of Emperor Ashoka from India arrived in the Vientiane in the 3rd century BC. As they traveled to Laos, they brought a sacred relic from the Buddha, which is believed as one of his breast bone. The monks erected a stupa to enshrine the bone. By the time, the ancient temple is no longer exist. However, it is believed that the spot where Pha That Luang was built on is the ruins of the ancient temple.

Nowadays, travelers can easily get to visit the special Phat That Luang, which is only about 4 km northeast of the city center, in Thanon That Luang. It was built in the year 1566, following the order of King Setthathirath, after he had made Vientiane the new capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom. Laotians honor his contributions by norming a statue of the king stands in front of the entrance to the stupa. At that time the temple was covered entirely in gold leaf.


The statue of King Setthathirath
The statue of King Setthathirath locates beside Pha That Luang

In fact, the Pha That Luang complex we are visiting today is not the original Pha That Luang. In 1827, the Siamese invaders came to the city of Vientiane, destroyed and looted the city. It then was heavily damaged and eventually left abandoned. Not until in the 1930s did it was rebuilt by the French to its original design. During the war of independence of Thailand against France in 1940, once more Pha That Luang was completely destroyed; and had to wait until the end of World War II to rebuild itself. It has been submitted to the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Gold covered Pha That Luang

The Pha That Luang that we are admiring today still has its majesty and scared appearance. The structures including a pinnacle in pyramidal shape which is 45 meters in height and width 69 meters. The main tower is surrounded by 30 other small stupas in turns. The whole complex is unique by its gorgeous golden walls. Significantly, the color of Pha That Luang is not from the paint, but real gold – the symbol of the splendor in Laos culture. Standing at 44 meters, the main tower of Pha That Luang is covered in real gold, with a set of painted turrets surrounding its central stupa. 500 kilos of gold leaf and other precious metal were used to achieve such impressive golden color of this religious attraction.


gold covered Pha That Luang
It’s real gold

Pha That Luang architecture

It includes three levels of walls. On top of the first level wall, there are various ‘sema’ stones which are used for marking the holy area and 30 stupas. At the center of each side of the wall, there is Haw Wai, which is a prayer gate. Arched gates lead to the third level that is 30 meters wide and contains the 45 meters high Stupa. The upper part of the stupa mirrors an elongated lotus bud topped with a multi-tiered parasol. To get to that place, visitors have to follow the stairs which are guarded by Naga snakes.

The pagoda is surrounded by golden colored cloister walls with little windows. On the inside of the cloister walls, there are galleries contain ancient Laos and Khmer artifacts like statues, many of them badly damaged, inscribed steles and other sculpting. Most of them need some restoration work. Among them is a statue of King Jayavarman VII of the Khmer empire.


Pha That Luang at night
Pha That Luang stands out at night with its gorgeous beauty

How to get Pha That Luang

Pha That Luang welcomes travelers to come daily from 8 a.m to 12 a.m in the morning and from 1 p.m until 4 p.m in the afternoon (closed on Monday). The best time to visit the golden stupa is in the early morning when the weather is not really hot and it is not too crowded.

Travelers can easily get to the Pha That Luang by motorbike, bus, taxi or the interesting local tuk-tuk. The temple is so iconic and famous that it is really easy to book a vehicle to visit. In case you don’t want to do it yourself, any hotel, guest house or homestay will happy to help you. The typical price for a one-way tuk-tuk is about 60,000 kip (approx. US$5). A tuk-tuk can carry 2-6 people, depending on its size.


The reclining Buddha Statue
The reclining Buddha Statue is housed nearby Pha That Luang

Visiting the Pha That Luang, you can access 2 parts such as the outer part and the interior of the stupa. Firstly, the outside is a combination of gardens, small temples (as known as Wat), monuments, statues, and a Palace. You can visit the outside of the site for free. It should be noted that the Palace Wat That Luang Neua in the complex has an impressive facade. Especially, the most striking is the small temples around Pha That Luang. Secondly, the inner is also interesting to visit. However, to visit the interior of the Golden stupa area, you just need to pay a symbolic fees of 10,000 kips (or USD1 per person). The price of admission is reasonable, so don’t forget to save some times to take a look.

Visiting Pha That Luang during the festival time 

As an iconic Buddhist temple in Laos, the Pha That Luang is responsible for many important religious events of the country, including the country’s most important Buddhist festival, the Boun That Luang. The festival is held during the full moon of the 12th lunar month, attracting thousands of people. The Pha That Luang festival lasts for three days as Buddhist ceremonies and celebrations to pay respect to the golden stupa and to give alms to hundreds of monks. The festival is interesting to see as it has activities including carnival rides, games for children, musical performances, parades of people wearing traditional costumes playing traditional music, candlelight procession, and fireworks.


Pha That Luang in November
Travelling to Pha That Luang in November is to discover the spiritual life of locals

Tips to remember when visiting Pha That Luang

  •         Take off your shoes before you enter Pha That Luang
  •         Dress appropriately in long sleeves, no short skirt, no flip-flop
  •         Do not speak loudly
  •         Do not buy any Buddhist relics because it’s illegal

Some Vientian tour suggestions to visit Pha That Luang

Let’s spend some great time getting around and contemplate one of the most famous attractions for your Laos tours, Pha That Luang. Its beauty is just breathtaking that can make you speechless while sitting in peace to enjoy the great scenes ahead.


Le Huu Dan – Travel Lover

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