Standing guard over the town’s center on Chantha Khoumane Road (opposite the U.S. Embassy) not far from Talat Sao, the imposing and mysterious That Dam (pronounced tawt dahm )is one of Vientiane’s more noticeable landmarks steeped in local legend and folklore.
Now overgrown with moss and weeds with its bricks crumbling from age, this ancient landmark is also known as The Black Stupa (which means that dam in Lao). There are two myths associated with the stupa, which have fed the imagination of locals. It is believed that the stupa was once coated in a layer of gold; however, the gold is said to have been carted off by the Siamese when they invaded in 1827 leaving this black stupa behind to remind Laotians of this terrible act. On the other hand, many Laotians believe the stupa it is inhabited by a seven-headed dragon who tried to protect them from the armies of Siam when they invaded Laos (but, obviously not protecting the gold).
Myths and legends aside, it remains a curious and fascinating sight in Vientiane where all that is precious in Asia does not necessarily have to glitter in gold. Today, the old black stupa—its crumbling spire creating an ominous impression against an azure sky—fuels one’s imagination evoking bygone eras and ghosts from Laos’s past.