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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrLuang Prabang’s highest hill, Mount Phou Si, topped with a golden stupa and temple, is its most prominent landmark and found right in the heart of the town center. Taking a leisurely walk up the hill, and climbing to the very top viewpoint, is the number one tourist attraction in town and something which we’d highly recommend you do; although the time you choose to visit will highly determine the levels of enjoyment. The climb is not too steep and easily done by anyone with an average level of fitness, especially because the breathtaking views from every side, and multitude of Buddha statues and temples you’ll find along the way, facilitate a very slow ascent.
Steps have been built on both the northern and southern side of the hill, making a one directional trip the most rewarding by far. The views at the top are magnificent and all encompassing; taking in the confluence of the two rivers the town is built on, as well as granting stunning vistas of the nearby wilderness, farmland and outlying mountains. Mount Phou Si is as popular as any spot in Luang Prabang, yet crowds are never too bothersome here except, that is, if you decide to climb up for sunset views. 99.9% of tourists in town will be doing the same thing, every single day.
Head up at 6 a.m. for sunrise views instead and you’ll be rewarded by equally gorgeous views with only a teeny tiny fraction of the crowds for company. Of course, heading up here at any time of day is a splendidly rewarding thing to do, crowds notwithstanding.
Around Mount Phou SiMost tourist activity is centered on the base circumference of the 150m high hill, with a smattering of local restaurants, bars and shops lining the southern, western and eastern end. The northern perimeter of the hill runs along Sisavangvong Rd, Luang Prabang’s main tourist road, named after the Laotian King for whom the Haw Kham Royal Palace was built. Here you’ll find the highest concentration of souvenir shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafés, as well as the near infinite row of stalls which comprise the Luang Prabang night market.
Up Mount Phou SiClimbing up from the southern end is the most popular route, as it’s the longest and the one lined with most interesting statues and relics. There are over 300 steps to climb, but a multitude of scenic rest stops along the way. About half way up you’ll come across a gorgeous collection of Buddha statues of all shapes, sizes, and positions. The Wat Tham Phousi shrine is nestled on the mountainside and home of a large-sized reclining Buddha as well as several beautifully pot-bellied, seated statues.
Up to this stage the hill is free to explore, with a ticket-booth of sorts coming up shortly after. When you do see it, you’ll have the choice to skip payment, go around for northern views and walk back down, or you can pay the modest ₭20,000 ($2.40) ticket to climb the second half of the hill. As the walking track, monuments, shrines and temple are serviced by locals, the modest price is their way of collecting funds for their hard work. As you collect your ticket and continue up, you’ll notice the path narrowing and the views revealing to be even more impressive.
The path splits to the left and right, with the right side leading to a modest shrine and yet another striking viewpoint and the left leading further up to the very top viewing platform. If there are considerable tourists on the hill, this is where you will most likely come across them.
Wat Chomsi is the golden temple and stupa which was built on this site in 1804 and an important worshiping place for local Buddhists. In fact, Mount Phou Si is revered for its religious significance which is reason enough to be appropriately dressed when visiting. A few stalls selling snack, drinks and offerings are set up immediately before the viewpoint.
The viewing platform is a multi-leveled platform ideal for sitting down and enjoying the amazing views. You’ll see the mighty Mekong River on the northern side and its snaking tributary (the Nam Kham River) on the southern side. Luang Prabang is certainly not short of superbly relaxing places to sit and watch life go by yet the top of Mount Phou Si would have to rate as the most sublime one of them all.
Although climbing up and enjoying the sunset views can be disheartening (elbowing your way to the front of the platform can be a tad annoying) there is, as usual, as very good reason why doing this is so popular. The glow of the sun’s last rays over the Mekong River makes for one of the most unforgettable scenes you’re likely to enjoy in Laos. If you can tune out to the continuous chit-chatter of visitors and clicking of cameras, and concentrate on the view, you’ll certainly enjoy a most memorable moment.
As the lights of downtown start to flicker into life, descend the short distance down the northern staircase. You’ll find yourself right in the middle of the vibrant scenes of the fantastic night markets.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jan 30, 2015