According to the Lao people, Phra That Luang was built in the 3rd century as an Indic temple. Buddhist missionaries, sent by the Emperor Ashoka of India, including Bury Chan and five Arahata monks, who are beliefed to have brought a holy relic of Lord Buddha which resides in the stupa. Phra That Luang was rebuilt in the 13th century as a Khmer temple.
In the mid of the 16th century, Lane Xang King Setthathirat relocated his capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. He ordered the re-construction of Phra That Luang in 1566.
Phra That Luang was rebuilt in the northeastern outskirts of Vientiane, about 4 km from the center. Phra That Luang's bases had a length of 69 meters each and was 45 meters high. The main stupa was surrounded by 30 smaller stupas.
In 1641, the Dutch envoy Gerrit van Wuysoff visited Vientiane. He was received by the Lao King at the temple site of Phra That Luang, where he was received in a magnificent ceremony. Gerrit van Wuysoff was impressed by the "enormous pyramid and the top was covered with gold leaf weighing about a thousand pounds".
However, the Phra That Luang stupa was repeatedly plundered by Burmese, Siamese and Chinese invaders.
Phra That Luang was heavily damaged by the Siamese invasion in 1828 and left abandoned. In 1900, Phra That Luang was restored by the French colonialists to its original design based on the drawings from the French architect and explorer Louis Delaporte.
The final reconstruction work was done in the 1930s.
Phra That Luang is revered in a festival each year during November, where laymen honor monks with food offerings. Phra That Luang is the most important symbol of the Lao state and its people.