The city's most sacred monument, this massive, 147-foot-high, gold-painted stupa is also the nation's most important cultural symbol, representing the unity of the Lao people. It was built by King Setthathirat in 1566 (and restored in 1953) to guard a relic of the Buddha's hair and to represent Mt. Meru, the holy mountain of Hindu mythology, the center and axis of the world. Surrounding the lotus-shape stupa are 30 pinnacles on the third level and a cloistered square on the ground with stone statues of the Buddha. The complex is flanked by two brilliantly decorated temple halls, the survivors of four temples that originally surrounded the stupa. On the avenue outside the west gate stands a bronze statue of King Setthathirat erected in the 1960s by a pious general. That Luang is the center of a major weeklong festival during November's full moon. It's on the north end of town (a 10-minute songthaew ride from the center). The monument is also short songthaew ride away from the riverside. Be sure to head to the riverbank in the late afternoon to experience one of Vientiane's most spectacular sights—sunset over the Mekong.