That Luang (Royal Stupa)
Royal Stupa at Sunset © Oliver Spalt
The Royal Stupa is a symbol of Buddhism and Lao rule, and is Laos' most important religious building. A wonderful sight for tourists to Vientiane to behold, the dazzling golden temple and its spire are visible from afar - and locals claim that if you have not visited That Luang, you have not visited Laos. The base of the stupa has walkways and stairs connecting the different levels, designed for the faithful to climb. Each level has different architectural features pertaining to Buddhist doctrine. Worshippers stick balls of sticky rice to the walls as a mark of respect to the spirit of King Setthathirat, who built the shrine in 1566 and whose statue stands in front of the temple. The effects of the setting sun on its golden surface are stunning. There is a lot to see in the area and it is best to have a local guide to show you around so that you don't miss anything and can understand the significance of what you're seeing. Paying entrance only allows you to walk around the stupa and you get almost as good a view from the other side of the walls so some people prefer not to pay. The three temples that surround it are free and you can see the golden, reclining Buddha statue without entering. It is best to get to the site early, before the tour buses arrive.