Phousi attracts many visitors but more needs to be done to tackle garbage

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - While climbing the steep stairway with more than 300 steps that leads to the top of Phousi mountain in Luang Prabang province, one feels a little sad to see the numerous plastic water bottles discarded by visitors.

From the peak of the mountain located in the centre of Luang Prabang town, visitors can get a panoramic view of the whole world heritage site. But the beauty is often marred by the garbage, especially the plastic bottles.

As he led a group of journalists from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia while they were visiting Phousi last week, tour guide Bounlae Viriyavongsa told Vientiane Times that the rubbish looked bad and posed an environmental problem.

“Tourists visiting the mountain should not throw their garbage here. These are mostly plastic drinking water bottles they bring with them. There are a lot of bamboo baskets or trash bins on the mountain, and also on the way up to the mountain to collect garbage,” he said.

“The foreign tourists don’t leave their empty plastic bottles, but local visitors discard these bottles after drinking,” he added.

An official from Luang Prabang province, however, told Vientiane Times: “It’s not only Lao people who dump garbage but also the foreigners. This problem has been tackled for a long time, but it is still not good enough as it should be, because some people dump garbage anywhere they want. They should drop their rubbish in the bins.”

Others said it was difficult to remove the garbage because it is often hidden from view by the numerous trees on the high mountain.

In the Lao language, “Phou” means mountain and “Si” means colour. The mountain is located in the centre of the old town of Luang Prabang with the Mekong River on the right side and Nam Khan River on the left.

Tourists rarely go up to the peak in the mornings during the summer because it is quite hot, but there are usually many people at the top in the evenings. During the peak season, about 200 or 300 people visit the mountain to see the beautiful sunset. The mountain attracts a lot of visitors from November to April.

A ticket seller at Phousi said sometimes about 10 million kip is collected a day from ticket sales. One ticket costs 20,000 kip.

In 1353, King Fa Ngum brought the sacred Prabang statue to Meuang Viengkham and in 1489, the revered Buddha image was moved to Meuang Xiengthong for public worship. The name of the town was then changed to Meuang Luang Prabang in acknowledgement of the presence of the statue, and it has remained unchanged since then.

The town’s preservation has been supported by international organisations and friendly countries such as AFD, Asian Development Bank, European Union, KFW, JICA, AFCP, the Republic of Korea, China, Thailand, and the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.

Luang Prabang was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. Vat Phou Champasak received the same recognition in 2016, and UNESCO declared the music of the Lao khaen part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage in 2017.

By 2020, Laos expects to welcome 6.2 million international visitors. The nation hopes to receive about 5 million visitors in 2018, up from the 3.6 million last year and more than 4.6 million in 2015.