Our second stop in Laos after some trekking in Luang Namtha was one I had anticipated long before coming to southeast Asia. We were going to the city of Luang Prabang where we would visit the popular Kuang Si Falls. While the beautiful waterfall attracts lots of visitors and it can get very crowded, we were still excited to go.
Getting to Kuang Si Falls
There are plenty of ways to get to Kuang Falla, which is 30 kilometers outside of Luang Prabang. The cheapest option would be to rent a bicycle and ride to the falls, but you’ll have to tackle some uphill and not mind the traffic on the road. Our visit was during the hot, dry season, so we decided against that. Another cheap option is to rent a motorbike for a day and hit the road, which is paved all the way to the falls. There is also the possibility to join one of the minivan tours to the waterfall. The minivans all leave at 11:30 am, and pick you up at your accommodation. The drawback of this is that you’ll arrive at the falls when everybody else does and have to leave again at a specified time.
We decided to go by tuk-tuk instead of any of those options since it was roughly the same price as renting a motorbike and paying for gas (motorbike rental in Luang Prabang can be expensive!). In the center of Luang Prabang are plenty of tuk tuks waiting to take visitors to the falls, or you can just stop one on the side of the road. A tuk-tuk to Kuang Si Falls costs 200,000 kip (US$25) and while this is expensive, it gives you the freedom to go and return whenever you like. There is also the option to share the tuk-tuk with other people and split the costs (you might have to wait a while for it to fill up). It took us about 45 minutes to get to the falls with the tuk-tuk. To beat the crowds, we left the hotel pretty early and made it to Kuang Si Waterfall by 8:30 am. The park opens at 8am, so you can leave town around 7 or 7:15 if you’d like.
Exploring Kuang Si Waterfall
When we arrived at the parking lot there were only a few other tuk-tuks there, so we hoped that the falls wouldn’t be crowded yet. We headed to the ticket booth and paid 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD) per person to enter the park. On the way to Kuang Si Waterfall, we passed through a bear sanctuary first. Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center takes care of some Asian moonbears that have been rescued from captivity. Moon Bears and other kinds of bears are hunted in Laos for their body parts or captured for their bear bile, both of which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Although the bears are obviously kept in enclosures at the rescue center as well, they have lots of space and plenty of things to climb on and play with, and are in an infinitely better place. As we walked past the enclosures, all the bears still seemed to be sleeping and it was hard to get a good look at them. There is no extra fee to visit Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center and they only survive on donations, so visitors have the opportunity to buy branded t-shirts or bags to support the center.
Shortly after passing the rescue center, we got our first glimpse of the falls through the trees. As we got closer, we saw that the water in the falls was indeed as turquoise as we had seen it in pictures. Another great sight was that there wasn’t another person around. We admired the first few pools for a while, then continued to follow the falls upstream toward the bigger tiers. The path to the side of the river led us past a few giant trees and many picnic areas, until it reached a small bridge just before the main falls.
A bridge leads over the river just before the 60 meter (200 ft) high main cascade and allows for an amazing view of the beautiful waterfall. It’s possible to swim in most of the pools of Kuang Si Falls, but a few – including the one just below the main falls – are off limits as they are considered sacred.
If you’re up for a little climb, it is possible to get to the top of the waterfall. There are paths leading up on both sides of the main falls. We went up on the left side of the falls, where the path was steep but still relatively easy to walk on – at least during dry season. Around five minutes into the hike the trail gave way to a long set of wooden stairs, where water was running down parts which made it look pretty special. After the stairs we followed the trail again for another ten minutes until we reached the top. There is also the option of visiting a spring and a cave, another two kilometers from the top of Kuang Si Waterfall. At the top of the falls wooden platforms in the river lead you to the edge and let you look down the falls, although trees and rocks obstruct the views a bit.
We headed back down on the trail to the other side of the waterfall. That path seemed a little steeper and more slippery than the one we had come up, but we made it down without issues. Prior to visiting I had read about a secret pool at one of the tiers of the main falls, where you can swim without having too many people around you. On our way down I spotted a mangled up fence with a Do Not Enter sign and a narrow trail leading toward the waterfall. Coming from the bottom up the right side of the falls, the fence and trail would be on your left, only a few minutes into the climb up. We crawled underneath the fence, which already had a big hole in it from a fallen tree and probably tons of people that came before us (it’s known as the secret pool at Kuang Si online). After the fence there’s another obstacle in the path, another tree trunk that you’ll have to climb over and you’ll reach the waterfall in a few minutes.
Just like the other pools at Kuang Si, this one was the same beautiful turquoise color. One of the main cascades of the falls were dropping into it and if you looked over the edge of the falls you could see people down on the bridge (try to keep away from the edge though, as you’ll be in everyone below’s picture). There were only four other people around, and even though the pool is definitely no secret anymore, it ended up being our favorite part of Kuang Si Waterfall. We swam in the refreshingly cold water and climbed up some rocks to get closer to the falls.
Reluctant to leave this beautiful place, we made our way back down toward the exit after a while. We were astounded to see how crowded it had become in less than two hours, as we passed big groups of tourists and locals alike on the way out. We were really happy with our decision to come as early as we did!
Our recommendation if you want to avoid the crowds and have Kuang Si Waterfall basically to yourself, is to head out there early in the morning. If you don’t mind a bit of scrambling and climbing underneath a fence, you should try to get to the “secret” pool of the main falls for amazing views and a refreshing swim without many people around.
Luang Pragbang Old Town
Back in town, Luang Prabang is a UNSECO World Heritage site and has many temples and beautiful streets to explore. Walking around the old town is the main draw for many visitors. A lot of the houses we walked past were beautifully restored and were holdovers from colonial times. We passed a few nice looking temples, with Wat Xiang Thong being our favorite.
We passed by a night market in the street next to the Royal Palace Museum and then headed up Mount Phousi – a 100 meter high hill – for sunset. We had heard that it was a popular spot to watch the sunset, but we definitely didn’t expect the amount of people we found at the top. It was around 5:30 pm when we reached the top after paying a entry fee of 20,000 kip, and the place was packed. It was almost impossible to get a spot to properly see the sunset, so walked back down relatively soon after, happy to escape the masses.
If you enjoy visiting temples and exploring a beautiful old town, spending some time in Luang Prabang is definitely worth the trip. It was the town with the nicest architecture we had seen in Laos and full of culture. The highlight of our stay in Luang Prabang was the trip to Kuang Si Waterfall, which became one of our favorite waterfalls we’ve visited. After a great stay in Luang Prabang, we had bus tickets to the adventure capital of Laos, Vang Vieng!