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Before 1975 the Lao spelled Louangphabang "Luang Prabang," the name by which it is still called by outsiders. The name means "Royal Buddha Image" and was the site of the royal residence until the Pathet Lao took over in 1975. After God destroyed the wicked in a great flood, he sent the only 3 rightepus men (whom he had preserved in Heaven) back to Earth with a buffalo to till the land. They settled Muaang Then (modern Dien Bien phu, Vietnam), but the buffalo died and a bitter gourd vine grew from its nostrils; from the gourds emerged the Thai people. Then Phagna Then, the king of the gods, sent his son Khoun Borom to rule them; at his death, the land was divided among his 7 sons, including Khun Lo, his eldest, who obtained Muang Sua (Louangphabang) and founded the 1st Lao dynasty in 687. It was conquered by Nanzhao, a Thai-speaking group from Yunnan. At about the same time the Khmers founded an outpost at Xay Fong (near Wiangchan, "Vientiane," 300 km [190 mi] to the south); its ruler Chanthaphanit replaced the Nanchao, probably before indravarman I's expansion of the Khmer empire in the late 9th century. Muang Sua's name was changed to Xieng Dong Xieng Thong. In the late 12th century Jayavarman VII briefly established Khmer suzerainty, but in 1353 Xieng Dong Xieng Thong became the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom; its 1st ruler was Fa Ngum, the son-in-law of the Khmer king. Fa Ngum spread Theravada, the oldest of the traditional Buddhist sects, and renamed his capital Luangphabang. Setthathirath I moved his capital to Wiangchan in 1560. When Lan Xang collapsed in 1707 an independent kingdom of Luangphabang emerged; it became a French protectorate in 1887. It numerous extant Buddhist temples and monasteries have made it into a major tourist site; one of its major landmarks is Mount Phou Si; a steep staircase leads 150 m (490 ft) to the Wat Chom Si temple.
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