Finding and Climbing the Steps of Mount Phou Si in Luang Prabang, Laos
How to Find the Steps
It's right in the heart of the town so, assuming you're staying somewhere near the centre, it's pretty straightforward to find. If you're on the road with the large night market (Sisavangvong Road), you will see the impressive Royal Palace Museum. Directly opposite the museum you will see steps—just start walking up! There is another set of steps you can use on the opposite side of the hill (Kingkitsarath Road, along the Nam Khan River); you'll see them lined by dragon hand rails. Again, just start walking up.
There is a third way to access the hill that I heard about from the local people. I walked in to Wat Siphoutthabath temple (opposite Saynamkhan River View Hotel), and as you pass through the temple's courtyard you'll see a sign and steps to the left that link you up to the main stairway to Mount Phou Si. I've heard people recommend walking up one side and back down the other. For me though, I retraced my steps back to Wat Siphoutthabath as it brought me conveniently back to my hotel, Saynamkhan River View.
Walking up Mount Phou Si
What Is Mount Phou Si?
Mount Phou Si a small mountain, only about 100 to 150 meters high, in the town of Luang Prabang. Tourists go there to see the Buddhist shrines and statues and to see the panoramic views of the town and the Mekong River. It has steps leading up both sides with plenty of shade to rest if you tire on the climb. I'd estimate there's about 300 to 400 steps to negotiate so you'll need to be in fair health to make it to the summit.
What's to See on Mount Phu Si?
- Mount Phou Si offers practically 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape, so it's nice for photographing the scenery and the rivers. It's busier in the early evening as it's a good place to view the sunset, but I climbed it in the middle of the afternoon, which was hotter, and this provided clear daytime shots of the surrounding nature.
- Roughly half way up is the first shrine called Wat Tham Phou Si and at this point, if you're attentive, you can explore a cave. To get into the cave you have to walk across the shrine, so take your shoes off because it's a holy place.
- You'll also see a number of interesting Buddha statues at this point, including Tuesday's Buddha, a reclining Buddha.
- At the summit is Wat Chom Si, a small Buddhist temple, and plenty of viewpoints to take memorable pictures. To one side you can see the Mekong River and to the other in the Nam Khan River. You can distinguish between the two as the Mekong is bigger and a browner colour whilst the Nam Khan is greener and smaller.
A Tourist Looks at the View of the Town on Mount Phu Si
Rating as an Activity
On a scale of one to ten, I'd give it an eight.
The good points are:
- the views are excellent and relatively free from obstructions and provide excellent opportunities for photographers.
- It's reasonably well maintained, though some steps are worn away and require you to tread carefully. At the point in the day I chose to go it was peaceful with maybe less than a dozen other tourists making the climb. The nature is lovely as the path is lined with trees and wild plants and there's plenty of shade and places to take a breather along the way.
- I cut a couple of points off because, in my opinion, the temple at the top is not particularly interesting nor photogenic.
- There wasn't much in the way of amenities either (at the time of day I went), so take your own water for hydration.
Golden Buddha on Mount Phu Si, Luang Prabang, Laos
Recommendations for Good Places to Stay
I can recommend two nice hotels right in the heart of the town. Firstly, consider Saynamkhan River View Hotel and try to get a room in the old wooden annex of the building where the rooms are more classical colonial style. Secondly, Le Bougainvillier, a step up in standard and price, is in an awesome location by the morning market and serves a delicious breakfast with homemade jams and desserts.
© 2017 Murray Lindsay