One of the first things I did upon my arrival in Luang Prabang was to sign up for a one day trek to Kuang Si waterfall. (Actually, the very first thing I did upon landing in the Luang Prabang airport was to thank the gods that I had arrived safely after flying in the small propeller Laos Airlines plane, but that’s an aside.) Having failed miserably so far to go on a trek in both Chiang Mai and Pai, I was getting antsy and looking forward to a good, long walk through the jungle.
I was lucky in that my group compared of a diverse and fun group of 6 other people. We started our walk by visiting two traditional villages, the first of which was a Hmong village, and the second, a Vietnamese village.
As we walked through the village, our guide talked about some of the traditions of the villages and how its inhabitants live their day to day lives. I have to admit that it did feel a little voyeuristic, us foreigners walking uninvited through the village compound, spying and commenting on the locals, but we were assured by our guide that the villagers actually quite enjoy seeing foreigners showing interest in their way of life.
Immediately upon leaving the village, we walk past a rubber tree plantation, the rubber from which is collected and sold by the villagers.
As we continue our trek past forest clearings (for rice fields) and trees, some local dogs decide to join in the fun and keep us company.
After about an hour and a half, we finally reach our lunch spot. Our guide leaves us to our own devices as he prepared lunch for the group. Us trekkers busied ourselves with exploring a nearby cave, containing (you guessed it), Buddha statues. The cave goes in about 100 metres and is completely dark. We were given torchlights but there wasn’t much else to see besides the odd bat.
After a good lunch consisting of some simple local food, we took a short walk to a nearby creek which was filled with fluttering butterflies. It was lovely and we would’ve stayed longer if is wasn’t for those pesky mosquitoes.
After another 40 minutes or so of walking, we finally caught sight of what I would say is the main tourist highlight of Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si waterfall! We had reached the upper tier of the falls, where shallow pools high up on the hillside cascade 60 metres down over three tiers.
We cautiously peeked over the edge but could see nothing but a 90 degree vertical drop. Eager for more, we followed our guide down the hill steps with renewed motivation. This was what greeted us at the bottom.
And yes, the colour of the water really is that milky greeny-blue colour.
Smaller cascades continue downstream, with numerous basins for bathers to play in.
Though the water looked very inviting, it was fairly cold and I ended up just wading in until the water came to my knees, instead of actually swimming in the pools. Others around me were far less wussy and some proceeded to climb atop trees and upper level cascades to jump into the pools below.
As you leave the area, you will come across a Asiatic black bear sanctuary (part of the Free the Bears foundation). It’s sad to see them caged up, but these bears were saved as cubs from illegal poachers and traders, away from a torturous life in a Laos bile farm. You can lend your support by donations or buying some of the merchandise on sale.
- The cost of my day trek was USD35 which included transport, lunch, water and entrance fees (20,000 kip) to the waterfalls (which includes entry to the bear sanctuary as well)
- If you are solely interested in the Kuang Si waterfalls, you can take a private / shared tuktuk from Luang Prabang, or rent a motorbike or bicycle. I was advised against cycling (my first choice) as the roads leading to the falls are busy (i.e. smoky and dusty) and filled with trucks (dangerous for cyclists)
- There are changing facilities and toilets on site
- Remember that local Laos people are pretty conservative and they swim fully clothed. Women in bikinis may therefore attract some unwanted attention.
- You cannot swim in all of the pools, so adhere to the signs