Guidebooks describe a climb of about 430+ steps to reach the top of Phou Fa hill (+1625m a.s.l.). In actual fact, there is a seems-just-as-long climb up from the starting point near a little restaurant (or a drive up a winding deeply rutted unpaved track) to get to the start of the aforementioned climb of about 430+ steps. While climbing up the cat ran into a bunch of high school boys on their way down, who yelled what seems to be the standard English that most young Lao teenagers know - 'I WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND I LOVE YOU!'
At the start of the final climb is a sort of clearing with a structure that seemed like another restaurant, some wooden benches among the trees where high school kids were hanging around, & a caretaker who collects the 3000 kip admission fee and 5000 kip camera fee before sliding away the PVC pipe that he uses to barricade the stairs leading to the summit.
Views from the top - Phongsaly's main street narrows into a little lane leading to the left past a basketball court & on to Hat Sa:
The cat had earlier lunched on noodle soup with the most delicious broth it had ever tasted in one of those little houses along the street, sitting in front of a cupboard full of family photos in the living room. Midway through the cat feeding session, it looked up & straight into a bedroom directly across from its table, where a young guy sitting on the bed was watching the cat eat. Later when the cat wanted to pay and leave, it had to hunt around for the lady who had sliced the noodles from a freshly-pounded rice flour 'pancake' - she was washing two tubs of laundry along a drain outside the house. The yellow Beer Lao buntings hanging across the doorway seemed to be the only sign that this was a restaurant, & proof that the cat had not strayed into someone's kitchen begging to be fed =P
Almost all of Phongsaly town:
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There was this great feeling of being on top of the world & away from it all, of having reached the northernmost point of the cat's route in the northernmost province of Lao, a long long way off from anywhere else, with nothing much except forest & mountains after mountains after even more mountains for miles and miles around - far from the madding crowd =)