A Guide to Climbing Mount Phousi Luang Prabang Laos
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO-protected ancient town in Northern Laos that lies on the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Often described as the “Jewel in Laos Crown”, Luang Prabang displays a unique blend of ancient traditions and French colonialism.
And right in the middle of the town sits its most prominent highlight: a sacred hill called Mount Phousi.
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Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang
Mount Phousi (also known as Phousi Hill) is a small hill about 100 metres high, located in the heart of Luang Prabang. It is bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other by the Nam Khan River.
The top of the hill is the best place to see sunset, and on a clear day, you should get 360-degree views of the entire Luang Prabang town, including both rivers and the forested mountains in the distance.
Apart from offering the best viewpoint in Luang Prabang, Mount Phousi is also an important religious site for the locals as it houses two temples and several Buddhist statues.
Best Time to Climb Mount Phousi
Best Season to Go
Mount Phousi is open all year round even during the rainy season between June and September. Just remember to be extra careful if you climb during this period, as the stairs and rocks can be quite slippery when wet. And bear in mind that the views may not be that great if it’s too cloudy.
Therefore, the best time to visit is between November and March, when the rainy season has just ended but the weather is still not too hot.
During my visit in September, it fortunately didn’t rain, but the sky was always cloudy throughout my trip.
Best Time to Go
As with any other hill or mountain, the best time to climb is always early in the morning for sunrise, or in the late afternoon for sunset. The temperatures are also pleasant at these times of the day when it’s not too hot.
Mount Phousi is an especially popular spot for watching the sunset, and it’s easy to understand why. Unfortunately, that also means that it gets overcrowded very fast, with some tourists climbing over the temple to get the best view (please don’t do this!).
If you wish to avoid the crowd, go before sunrise instead. Another advantage of going early in the morning is that you’ll get a chance to watch the alms-giving ceremony that takes place daily on Luang Prabang streets. But do be careful when climbing before sunrise, as it can be very dark.
How to Get to Mount Phousi
Mount Phousi is impossible to miss as it is literally the highest point in the whole of Luang Prabang, and it’s not like there’s any skyscraper around to obscure it from view. The town is also small enough that this hill is within walking distance from most parts of town.
However, if you don’t want to walk, there are other options such as bike/scooter rental and tuk tuk (local minibus).
Two Different Starting Points
There are two different stairways to get to the top of Mount Phousi:
- The main one is just opposite the Royal Palace Museum on Sisavangvong Road. This is the most popular route as it is the quickest and slightly less taxing (only 328 steps). However, it is also less scenic.
- The other one is on Phousi Road, located next to the Nam Khan River, with a total of 355 steps. At the start of the stairway, there is a map showing the various attractions on Mount Phousi. On this route, you’ll get to see a few viewpoints as well as a number of Buddhist statues, and Buddha’s footprint.
Mount Phousi Entrance Fee
The entrance fee to Mount Phousi is 20,000 kip (USD 2.15) per person. About halfway up the steps, you will find someone sitting at a foldable plastic table and issuing tickets.
There are no fixed opening hours, but in general, people can climb Mount Phousi as early as 5:30 a.m. till after sunset each day.
What to Expect on Mount Phousi
I didn’t want to join the evening crowd for sunset, but I didn’t want to wake up early for sunrise either. So, I went to Mount Phousi at around 10:00 in the morning.
With a full bottle of water in my rucksack, I slowly made my way up from Phousi Road. It was very peaceful — I only met a few other travelers going up and down the steps.
A short climb later, I encountered a display of golden Buddha statues. There was a Buddha calling for rain, a Buddha holding an alms bowl, a meditating Buddha with a multi-headed serpent, a sitting Buddha surrounded by his disciples, and a large reclining Buddha.
About halfway up the hill, there is a small cave temple called Wat Tham Phousi that supposedly housed several more Buddha images, but I didn’t enter.
And finally, after many short breaks, I reached the top. There were some rocks you could stand on to get the best views of Luang Prabang. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for me to see much.
On the top of the hill is Wat Chom Si — a temple and a 20-metre-tall golden pagoda topped with a 7-tiered parasol. The pagoda, which sits on a white rectangular base, can be seen from almost everywhere in Luang Prabang. Wat Chom Si was built by King Anourat in 1804.
After spending some time taking pictures and enjoying the view, I went down the other stairway toward Sisavangvong Road.
How Difficult is Climbing Mount Phousi?
Standing at a height of only 100 metres, Mount Phousi is technically just a small hill. And since there are concrete stairs from the bottom to the top, there’s no hiking skill or experience required.
As long as you are of average fitness level and can climb stairs, you’d be fine. There are 328 steps on the main stairway and 355 on the other. Each of them has several landings if you need to stop and catch your breath.
The stairway is shaded by trees for the most part, but if you’re not used to warm climates, avoid going at midday. Most importantly, stay hydrated — bring enough water or buy some from the vendors at the entrance.
Including breaks and photo stops at each of the viewpoint and Buddha statues, it should take you approximately 30 minutes to get to the top of Mount Phousi.
Additional Tips for Climbing Mount Phousi
- If you’re climbing before sunrise, it can be extremely dark. Bring a flashlight and be careful on the steps.
- To get the most of the trip, climb up one stairway and go down the other, so that you’ll get to see it all.
- Mount Phousi is considered a sacred mountain by the locals. Please be respectful — do not climb over the temple or statues.
- Do not make a lot of noise or consume alcohol at the top.
- Dress modestly as you would in a place of worship.
- On the stairways, you’ll find vendors selling flowers, incense, etc. You can purchase these to leave at the temple or statues as an offering.
- They also sell captive birds to be released. I wouldn’t recommend taking part in this practice, as it only encourages the cycle of animal cruelty.
Final Thoughts on Climbing Mount Phousi
Is Mount Phousi worth visiting?
They say that if you haven’t climbed Mount Phousi, you haven’t been to Luang Prabang, and I think I have to agree with them. The place has such a great spiritual significance to the local community that your trip to Luang Prabang would be incomplete if you don’t make the time to see it.
Although the 300+ steps to the top were quite a strenuous workout for a couch potato like me, it was well worth the effort. Most of all, I enjoyed the peace and quiet during the hike. And I did get a glimpse of Luang Prabang from above despite the cloudy skies.