According to the Lao people Pha That Luang was originally built as a Hindu temple in the 3rd century. Buddhist missionaries from the Mauryan Empire are believed to have been sent by the Emperor Ashoka to build the stupa. It was rebuilt in the 13th century as a Khmer temple before falling into ruin. It was not until the mid-16th century, when the capital of Lao was relocated from Luang Prabang to Vientiane that Pha That Luang was restored.
The stupa was repeatedly plundered by the Burmese, Siamese and Chinese, and was destroyed by the Thai invasion in 1828. It was not until 1900, when the French restored it to its original design based on detailed drawings from 1867. The first attempt to restore it was unsuccessful and it had to be redesigned and then reconstructed in the 1930s. During the Franco-Thai war Pha That Luang was heavily damaged from Thais air raid. After the end of World War II Pha That Luang was again reconstruction to its present state.

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