Wat Phra That Phanom

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This temple is a potent and beautiful place – even if you're feeling templed out, you'll likely be impressed. At its hub is a stupa (tâht), more impressive than any in present-day Laos and highly revered by Buddhists from both countries. It's 53.6m high, and a 16kg real-gold umbrella laden with precious gems adds 4m more to the top. The stupa is lit up spectacularly at night, and a visit in the evening is extra-special, with prayer chants and gongs reverberating around the complex.

The local legend tells that the Lord Buddha travelled to Thailand and directed that one of his breast-bone relics be enshrined in a chedi to be built on this very site; and so it was in 535 BC, eight years after his death. Historians, on the other hand, assume the first construction was around the 9th century AD, and modifications have been routine since then. In 1690 it was raised to 47m and the current design went up in 1941, but it toppled during heavy rains in 1975 and was rebuilt in 1978. There's a replica of how the original, short stupa may have looked in a pond in front of the temple. And you'll find replicas of both the present and the previous designs all over Isan.

Behind the surrounding cloister is a shady little park with more statuary and a museum. To the north is what was once the largest gong in Thailand, and to the south is a market with food and handicrafts for all the Thai tourists visiting.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby attractions

1. That Phanom Museum

0.04 MILES

The museum at Wat Phra That Phanom tells the history (mixed in with the legend) of the tâht and also holds a collection of religious art (alms bowls,…

2. Replica Stupa

0.16 MILES

In a pond in front of the temple is a replica of how the original Phra That Phanom could have looked. It was built of bricks from the stupa that fell over…

3. Kong Gate

0.26 MILES

Standing tall on the road in front of Wat Phra That Phanom is an arch that symbolically connects the tâht to the Mekong. The block of French Indochinese…

4. Wat Hua Wiang Rangsi

0.53 MILES

This riverside temple has a bóht built in 1921 and the original paintings inside are simple but interesting. They're central Thai-style rather than Isan…

5. Tai-Lao Open-Border Market

0.59 MILES

This busy market running along the river takes place every Monday and Thursday. It's mostly the same fresh food and household goods found in other Thai…

6. Phra That Renu

7.88 MILES

The Phu Thai town of Renu Nakhon, 15km northwest of That Phanom, hosts a 35m-tall pink-and-white chedi that closely resembles the pre-1941 That Phanom…

7. Dong Natad

22.19 MILES

Dong Natad is a sacred, semi-evergreen forest within a provincial protected area 15km east of Savannakhet. It's home to two villages that have been…

8. That Ing Hang

24.45 MILES

Thought to have been built in the mid-16th century, this well-proportioned, 9m-high thâat is the second-holiest religious edifice in southern Laos after…