formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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April 17, 2018 Mount Phou Si (part XIII in a series)

The Liberty Gazette
April 17, 2018
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Last week we shared our amazement at the storytelling talent in quaint Luang Prabang, Laos. They told of myths, legends, and folktales of kings and monkeys; of fruit from trees with magical powers; of villains and heroes, threat and beauty, comic fantasy and triumphant goodness.

One of the best loved tales of Laos is about Mount Phou Si (“sacred mountain”), which we climbed. Twice. It’s only about 328 feet tall, topped with a temple, Wat Chom Si, and sits right in the middle of the city, facing the Royal Palace (now the National Museum).

Uneven, somewhat-crumbly stone stairways are on two sides of the mount. Around lunch time we scaled 328 zig-zagging steps originating on the northwest side for the famed panoramic view. One of us was satisfied with the rewarded exercise.

The second time we abused our quads (355 steep and uneven steps on the southeast side, by the Nam Khan River) was because one of us had this brilliant idea to go again in time for a photo opportunity at sunset. Great idea, but not original. It turned out that about 500 of our closest strangers shared that brilliance.

While space was crowded at the top, sharing the moments with people from all over the world was actually quite fun. We took pictures at 5:36 p.m., 5:37, 5:38… When that last little pop of brightness was sucked down behind the mountains, all those stranger-friends with whom we now had something magical in common let out one big collective “Awww…” of jesting disappointment, and then, applause! We looked around at the happiness on every face.

With our new friends we would make it back down to the busy night market just getting set up. The main street between Mount Phou Si and the National (Royal Palace) Museum hosted the nightly event. Streets closed to vehicular traffic filled with local craft makers and sellers of popular authentic souvenirs. We also found the vegan buffet an English couple had told us about in a riverside café the night before. Vegan buffets are rare in any country. This solo chef was tops. We piled our plates, picking from about 30 options. The chef then heated our choices in his wok and we savored our meals in the fresh night air.

One of the dishes was mushrooms, which takes us back to the tale of Mount Phou Si. According to lore, the queen woke one morning craving mushrooms and sent the monkey king to gather them. The problem was that she wanted one specific type of mushroom, but she expected him to read her mind. He made several trips up and down the mountain, and each time she scoffed because he brought the wrong fungi. Finally, Monkey King had enough. He ripped the top off the mountain, brought the whole thing to the queen and told her to pick her own mushrooms. This explains why the mountain sits in front of the palace.

We didn’t see any ‘shrooms up there, so maybe drama queen finally found them herself.

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