Rising 150 metres above the centre of town, Mount Phousi cuts a distinctive figure on the Luang Prabang skyline. The hill is popular as a place to watch the sun rise or set over the Mekong River. From the summit you can enjoy a spectacular 360-degree outlook across the city and its many temples, and out over the surrounding landscape to the mountains in the distance. Count on spending a couple of hours for the climb and descent, with several stops to see the temples, rest under the shady trees and admire the magical views.
There are hundreds of steps to negotiate, but the climb is gentle enough for anyone who is in reasonable health. For a complete experience, go up Mount Phousi on one side and use the other set of steps to make your way down again. You can pray and make offerings at several temples along the way. Next to Wat Chomsi at the top of the hill you can buy flowers to offer for blessings, as well as caged birds. The Laos believe that if you set a bird free you will enjoy good luck and happiness in the future.
The most popular time to visit Mount Phousi is in the late afternoon, in time to watch the sun set over Luang Prabang and the surrounding countryside. It can get quite busy at this time of day, however.
For a far more peaceful experience, try getting up early to catch the sunrise from the top of the hill, but be aware that it can be hard to get clear photographs of the view until the heat of the sun has burnt off the early morning mist.
The Thanon Phousi staircase consists of 355 steps that zigzag up to the summit, but it is well paved and offers several resting places along the way. Halfway up the hill is the Wat Tham Phousi shrine, which features a big-bellied Buddha nestled in a grotto and a reclining Buddha.