A guide to Mount Phousi: Luang Prabang's sacred hill
If you haven't climbed the 300 stairs to the top of Mount Phousi to take in the epic views, have you even been to Luang Prabang?! With an incredible 360* panorama over the whole of the town, this sacred hill is not to be missed! From what to know before you visit, whether sunrise or sunset is better, and how to get to the top, this guide has you covered.
Rising 100m up from the peninsula that straddles the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Mount Phousi (also known as Phu Si) is the boss when it comes to the Luang Prabang skyline.
Where UNESCO-protected Luang Prabang is the spiritual heart of Laos, Mount Phousi is the heart of that same charming city in both spirituality and geography.
Ancient legend tells of a powerful Naga (part human, part serpent deity in Buddhist and Hindu belief) who used to call the mountain home, and there are beautiful little temples and shrines dotted throughout the hill, their gilded rooftops just visible above the trees. Saffron-clad monks wander along the leafy paths, and incense drifts on the breeze.
From the peak, you can take in a stunning panorama of Luang Prabang and the tranquil valley in which it sits. In the distance, the blue jungle-clad mountains rise above the peaceful rivers, and the whole scene is absolutely breathtaking. There's a reason Luang Prabang was one of our favourite cities in Asia - and Mount Phousi one of our favourite views! The sunsets here are, without doubt, some of the best you'll ever see (more on that below!).
In our view, exploring Mount Phousi is a must-do for any traveller in Laos. If you're keen to check it out yourself, check out our tips below to maximise your experience.
mount phousi, luang prabang's sacred hill
things to know before visiting mount phousi
MOUNT PHOUSI ENTRANCE FEE
Entrance fees for Mount Phousi are about 20,000 kip (~ £2/ USD$2.50 ), and you'll pay this about halfway up.
MOUNT PHOUSI OPENING HOURS
You can climb Mount Phousi from 5:30am each day, and while it "technically" closes at 6pm, it's open till after sunset each day.
ACCESSIBILITY IS AN ISSUE
The only way to the top of the mountain is via two stairways on either side of the hill (each with over 300 stairs). If you have issues with mobility, unfortunately this might be a spot you'll have to pass on. There are also plenty of amazing spots along the two rivers to watch the sun go down, so you definitely won't miss out though!
Phou Si directly translates to 'sacred mountain' or 'sacred hill'. Indeed, Phousi is incredibly sacred to the Lao people, and Wat Chom Si that sits at its summit is an important part of active Buddhist life in Luang Prabang. On each of the stairways you'll find people selling blessings (flowers, incense, etc) to leave at the various temples and buddhas.
There are also tiny birds in cages that you can purchase to release at the summit for good luck (though we absolutely wouldn't advise this, as it supports a cycle of animal cruelty).
Overall, please keep Phousi's sacred standing in mind, dress appropriately, and behave in a calm and respectful manner. And don't climb all over the temple the top for a better view or photo!
DON'T BUY ALCOHOL TO DRINK AT THE TOP
As you walk up the stairways to the top of Phousi Hill, you'll come across a few vendors selling food and drinks (and BeerLao). Resist the urge to buy any alcohol to enjoy with your sunset - drinking at temples is a big no no.
We saw a few tourists at the top trying to flout this, which was pretty disappointing and disrespectful to see.
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WAT CHOM SI
Wat Chom Si is a temple and golden stupa sitting atop Mount Phousi. Constructed in 1804 by King Anourat, the 20m high golden stupa sits on a narrow terrace that has some pretty incredible 360* views over the whole of Luang Prabang.
There's also a smaller grotto that's home to large golden Buddha, and it's an active site for the locals here - so don't be surprised to see monks and locals laying offerings.
The main drawcard for tourists visiting though, are the epic sunset views from the terrace!
mount phousi: sunrise or sunset?
Each evening, as the fading sun dances on Luang Prabang's shimmering rivers and mountains and crowns the charming city in golden hues, sun worshippers flock to Wat Chom Si, the temple atop of Mount Phousi, to enjoy the show. We also joined this merry flock, and it didn't take us long to work out exactly why Mount Phousi's sunsets have become something of a tourist ritual when it comes to things to do in Luang Prabang.
Watching the sky chameleon itself into pale pastels and deep ochres over the valley is a truly mesmerising sight.
The feeling of peace here is palpable. With no trucks rolling through the city (trucks and buses are banned), the birds and the hum of cicadas seem louder, while the scent of delicious food wafts through the air. On the river, fishermen pull up their nets and slowly make their way home as lamps begin to illuminate the streets below. The whole scene took our collective breath away.
Less peaceful, unfortunately, are the hundreds of other tourists clambering over the temple for the best viewing position. During this last golden hour of daylight, Phousi becomes seriously overcrowded, particularly around a rocky outcrop that's become famous on Instagram.
Be prepared to watch some of this epic sunset through the back of someone else's camera! Going at sunset is still absolutely worth it for the experience, but it's definitely worth being aware of.
If you take your photography seriously, try to get there at least an hour before to grab your spot and set things up.
If you're a keen photographer looking to get some special shots, or just want a truly magical Mount Phousi experience, we actually recommend getting up before dawn and heading up to watch sunrise over the city instead. You can always count on human laziness to guarantee that the crowds will be a fraction of their usual size this early in the morning too.
This is also when the monks receive their daily alms in Luang Prabang's streets, so time your visit right and you'll also be able to watch this special ceremony.
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how to get to mount phousi
You really can't miss the hill, as it's the highest point in the whole of Luang Prabang town! The town is small enough that it's definitely within walking distance from most central areas.
There are two staircases leading to the top of Phousi Hill, with plenty of stairs to navigate up! The first, which rises opposite the Royal Palace Museum on Sisavongvang road (near Luang Prabang's night market), tends to be the most popular route up to the top with only 328 steps.
The only drawback is that there aren't many scenic spots on this way up, but it is the quickest way to get to the summit.
The second way to the top begins next to the Nam Khan river on Thanon Phousi, with 355 steps (now you can see why the first option was the more popular!).
Personally, we'd recommend going up this way, as it takes in a number of important cultural sites, including: a small cave temple called Wat Tham Phousi, a reclining Buddha, a number of seated Buddha images calling for rain, meditating, or holding alms bowls, a multi-headed serpent, and a footprint of Buddha.
There are also lots of beautiful scenic viewpoints over Luang Prabang and the two rivers so it's worth taking your time on this path to soak it all in.
We chose a slightly more rambling way, and spent some time exploring the grounds of Wat Pha Phoutthabat, an active temple, and watching the young monks going about their days. The path connects up with Thanon Phousi eventually.
Mount Phousi Map
NEED TO BOOK ACCOMMODATION IN LUANG PRABANG?
Luang Prabang is a firm favourite on the backpacker trail through Laos, which means that great hostel accommodation can be found throughout the city. Check Hostelworld for available hostels in Luang Prabang now.
Airbnb is definitely growing in popularity in Luang Prabang. Use our Airbnb code to get £25 off your next booking!