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That Luang, Vientiane

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Golden spires of the majestic Pha That Luang in Vientiane, Laos.

Pha That Luang, or simply That Luang, is a famous monastery with an iconic stupa. Located in Vientiane, it is one of the two most recognisable landmarks of the city, the other being the Patuxai Monument. It is also the highlight of my visit to Vientiane. I am documenting it here in AsiaExplorers so that you too may enjoy an online visit to it.

The name That Luang means "Great Stupa". It stands as both a symbol of Laos as well as the most important monument in the country. According to legend, the breastbone of the Buddha was brought to this site by Buddhist missionaries from India in the 4th Century BC.

The Pha That Luang was constructed by King Setthathirat in 1566. Its official name is Pha Jedi Lokajulamani, which means "Precious Stupa of the World". That Luang is a multi-tier stupa, each level representing a different stage of Buddhist enlightenment. The lowest level represents the material world; the second level represents the world of appearance; the highest level represents the world of nothingness.

The stupa is surrounded by a quadrangular cloister measuring 85 m on each side and containing fine examples of classic Lao and Khmer sculptures. The cloister's windows were many especially tiny by King Chao Anuvong, as a defense against attack: they proved to be of little use though. When the Siamese, Burmese and Chinese invaded Vientiane in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they left That Luang in ruins.

Serious restoration of That Luang was only carried out in 1931 by the French. The main stupa, which is 45 meters (146 ft) high was regilded in 1995, on the occaison of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Originally, there were four wats on each side of That Luang, but today, only two remained, the one on the south, Wat That Luang Tai, and the one to the north, Wat That Luang Neua. Wat That Luang Neua is the residence of the Supreme Patriach (Pha Sangkharat) of Lao Buddhism.

At the entrance to That Luang is the statue of King Setthathirat. If you visit Vientiane in mid-November, you may have the opportunity of witnessing the That Luang Festival, Vientiane's biggest annual event.

UNESCO Inscription

That Luang was added to the Tentative List of UNESCO's Laos World Heritage Sites in 1992, awaiting full inscription.

View of That Luang from afar - it is much bigger than it appears here.

Entrance to the Pha That Luang compound.

View of That Luang with a pavilion in the foreground.

The cloister around That Luang. In the background is That Luang Neua, one of four temples built by King Setthathirat that surround Pha That Luang.

Tiny Buddha images are embedded in the banisters of the temple.

Diagonal view of Pha That Luang showing the main stupa surrounded by secondary stupas.

AsiaExplorers members at Pha That Luang.

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