Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

That Dam — Vientiane’s imposing and mysterious stupa

That Dam — December 30, 2007That Dam — December 30, 2007That Dam — December 30, 2007That Dam — December 30, 2007That Dam — December 30, 2007That Dam — December 30, 2007That Dam — December 30, 2007

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.

That Dam — December 30, 2007

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).

That Dam — December 30, 2007

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.


  1. Andy, I wish I knew the answer to that. I know that many of the stupas are the responsibility of the Buddhist temple and whatever money is needed to renovate or repair them must come from donations. On my last visit to Vientiane last month, I noticed that That Dam was in more disrepair than the last time I was there and that That Louang is also looking a bit rundown. A lot has to do with money. In Tokyo, or Seoul, palaces and temples are closed until they are renovated, but there is more money in those cities.

    On the other hand, I remember reading something years ago about about what there were all these ancient ruins in Thailand and why they were never renovated, and if I am not mistaken it was something along the lines of it is better to build new than to renovate. I don’t know if this is really true, but it might explain why there have been no attempts to renovate That Dam.

  2. wrong stupas are going up all the time in every temple — as for renovation, given past results, better leave be

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