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Learn About Laos’ National Symbol; the Golden Pagoda of Pha That Luang

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Pha That Luang is a large gold-covered stupa located at the eastern side of Vientiane.  It is considered Laos’ most important national monument, appearing in the country’s coat of arms.  The pagoda’s full name is Pha Chedi Lokajulamani, which means world-precious sacred stupa.

Legends of the pagoda dates back to the 3rd century.  At the time, it was originally built by Indian missionaries sent by Emperor Ashoka, which was used to enclose a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone.  Archeologists have found no trace of this but excavations have uncovered the pagoda being built by the Khmers as a monastery in the 12th century which eventually fell into ruin.

The first restoration project occurred in the mid-16th century when King Setthathirat moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane.  In 1641, Gerrit van Wuysoff, a Dutch envoy of the Duth East India Company visited Vientiane and was overly impressed by the “enormous pyramid and its top which was covered with gold leaf weighing about a thousand pounds”.

The glory of Pha That Luang did not last much longer after this.  The ongoing skirmishes between Laos, Myanmar and Siam left the pagoda vulnerable.  In 1828, a Siamese army invaded the capital and left Pha That Luang in a heavily damaged state which was eventually dismantled by treasure hunters.  It was not until 1900 that restoration work on the stupa began with the French.  This attempt was unsuccessful, but another French restoration project in the 1930’s finally brought Pha That Luang back to its former glory.  The architecture includes many references to Buddhism as well as Lao culture and identity, eventually becoming the country’s national symbol.

The main spire may look like a pyramid from a distance but is actually slightly curved.  It is 45 meters in height and is surrounded by 30 smaller stupas.

Pha That Luang is surrounded by a cloister roughly 85 meters long on each side and contains a large number of Lao and Khmer statues, including one of a meditating Jayavarman VII.  The area is also an art gallery, with fine displays of paintings by local artists.

Situated on the banks of the Mekong River, Vientiane has a relaxing atmosphere that makes it feel more like a small town.  Explore Laos’ capital by bike or car to discover the hidden charms of this quiet city with Exotissimo’s Vientiane City Tour – Full Day package.  Visit all of Vientiane’s main attractions, including Pha That Luang before ending the day along the banks of the Mekong River as the sun begins to set.  A world of natural beauty, stunning vistas, and magnificent wildlife lies just outside of the city.  Our three day Vientiane Natural Escape Soft Adventure tour is a great way to experience the city’s culture as well as the diverse ecosystems of the area.  You can also see our Laos tours and Laos day trips pages for other holiday ideas into this fascinating country.

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