Although Vientiane does not have as many landmarks and tourist attractions as one might expect of a capital city, the ones that visitors can explore certainly do not disappoint. These tourist sites are definitely worthwhile in terms of their historical and cultural significance, and one of them is the That Dam.
The That Dam is an imposing and mysterious landmark filled with local legend and folklore. It stands guard over the town’s center along Chantha Khoumane Road and is found not far from the famous market of Talat Sao.
Due to years of neglect, the stupa is now almost entirely covered with moss and weeds with bricks that are starting to crumble because of age. It was then given the name the Black Stupa because of its appearance, which actually translates to That Dam in Laos.
Despite having a dozen local folklores associated with the stupa, there are basically two myths that stand out in the imagination of the locals. For one, the stupa was believed to once have a coated layer of gold. However, the gold was said to have been carted off by the Siamese armies when they invaded the city in 1828. They then left this stupa behind in black to remind the people of the devastating act that occurred during the time.
Another myth revolves around the supernatural coupled with significant occurrences in Vientiane’s history as well. It is said that the stupa was inhabited by a seven-headed dragon that came to life when the Siamese armies invaded the city. The dragon rose to the rescue of the Vientiane population when the capital went to war with Thailand in 1828. Unfortunately, while the dragon was protecting the local citizens, he failed to protect the stupa, which in turn lost its layer of gold.
Today, the stupa sits at the center of a quiet roundabout found near the American Embassy near the center of Vientiane. Since the stupa was not given a vast square or yard like the other structures, it might be easily overlooked at times. Upon first glance, visitors will surely cringe at the sight of such an odd-looking stupa; however it does hold great history in it. Despite the stupa being nothing more than a black and decaying structure, what makes it stand out is its interesting story to tell. Those who are very curious about the history of Laos will find the stupa an amazing sight to see. History is what makes this stupa stand out and it is a history that can be appreciated by only a few travelers. Whether you are one of them or not, having your picture taken alongside the stupa is still an interesting reminder of the land you visited that is full of significant historical events.
Myths, legends and folklore aside, the That Dam remains a fascinating sight of the capital city, proving that not all precious things in Asia have to be covered in gold. Nowadays, the black stupa’s crumbing impression against the bright blue skies of Vientiane feeds the imagination of many people, reminding them of the ghost era from the country’s past.