Visiting Kuang Si Falls is a must-do activity when in the ancient capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. Around 30km from the city, it’s a short drive away and easily accessible by tuk tuk, organised tour group, or scooter. Here’s a slightly different route to take you off the beaten track to visit this stunning location!
Most people opt to reach the falls direct from the bottom of the pools (the logical end in fairness, with a car park and stalls for food all within a short walk) but the way I reached the falls is the perfect way to embrace the beautiful terrain and wilderness of the Laos countryside.
Having used Stray Asia for transport around Laos, our local guide taking us between destinations was an incredible source of knowledge and advice, and before dropping us off at our hostel was able to help us organise a day trip to the waterfalls from Luang Prabang. A great example of why local, insider tips are the best way to travel!
For the steep price 80,000 LAK* (just kidding, that’s around £7.30 – a bargain for a full day’s activity!) we were picked up early in the morning with a private minibus for 6 of us (400,000 Kip for a max. 10 people), along with a private guide and driven to a tiny village on the outskirts of the city. It was here that we were dropped off in the pouring, sweaty rain and we realised why we needed a guide. We began walking through fields, farmland, all with a gentle incline on the side of lush green mountains.
In the trusted hands of our guide who, without the help of any signposts, led us through a mix of jungle, mud, rocks, grass, and paths, we reached a small clearing to be greeted by a local stall seller who provided us with some vegetable crips as a snack.
Secret cave & spring water
From the clearing you can climb to the entrance of a hidden cave, which we were warned was very narrow, dark and unmarked. We ultimately decided against heading deep inside the cave as it was an additional 10,000 Kip (for entry and torch), but our claustrophobia got the better of us! From reading other accounts there are mixed reviews on the cave, some saying it’s nothing special (especially not compared to Pak Ou caves), others saying it was a welcome break from the busy falls down below.
At the base of the cave is a serene spring pool, with benches, a bridge log, and a rope swing to encourage visitors to take a break from their tiring hike and enjoy the playful surroundings. The beautiful waters are just a hint of the waterfalls to come, so we eagerly continued on our way to reach the main attraction.
Reaching the waterfalls
A 3km hike away from the cave and springs we eventually reached the top of the waterfalls themselves. Appearing as flowing pools the jungle is still thick, and narrow wooden bridges connect the pockets of water to eventually reach a small ledge where the waterfall begins. Take care when crossing between the pools, as the wood can be slippery so removing footwear is recommended. The views from the top of the waterfall are incredible, a glimpse of the rushing water below, surrounded by green jungle in all directions – pure paradise!
A short walk down the path and steps to finally reach the stunning main tier of the waterfall is well worth the effort, especially as we had anticipated and hyped up what we might find. The picture-perfect cascading waters emanating a bright green colour is utterly magical, and as you continue down the steps along the tiers of the waterfall you start to fully realise the height and enormity of the waterfalls.
At the bottom pool is a chance to take a dip, jump into the waters, and relax on the rocks beneath the falling water. A perfect and welcome break after hiking through the jungle, and a chance to soothe any itchy bites picked up along the way! The pools can become very busy around peak times, so time your visit well to avoid the crowds.
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre
After drying off, we visited the Bear Sanctuary where rescued bears are cared for and protected from poachers in a safe environment, and to bring further awareness to tourists of the devastating effect that traditional medicines are having on this species.
Across Asia bear bile is used in traditional treatments and medicinal recipies, leading to the native bears being poached, mistreated, and killed. The sanctuary serves to help these beautiful creatures, and to warn against buying into any products that are potentially harming them. While the enclosure is small, it was still an eye opening experience to learn about this issue.
Finally at the end of our trip we were met with a buffet spread of fish and rice for our lunch, provided for as part of our package. Needless to say we were starving after hiking, swimming, and exploring!
Why hike the alternative route to Kuang Si Falls?
Entrance to the falls grounds and bear sanctuary is itself 20,000 Kip, and being a hot tourist attraction food can be a little more expensive here anyway. I heard visitors getting deals to visit Kuang Si Falls by tuk tuk for at least 30,000 Kip return, however prices for a tuk tuk can vary. When you include the food provided, entrance to the falls, and the service of a guide through the jungle, you can make a saving by planning ahead. It’s well worth the experience of a guide to explore the springs and cave, as we came across many visitors lost or confused as to how these hidden gems can be reached. Getting off the beaten track in Laos is the best way to see the countryside, and the views are unrivalled.
Top tips for visiting Kuang Si Falls
- Wear comfortable shoes. And ones that you won’t mind ruining, it can be very muddy!
- Likewise, bring plenty of water, bug spray, and sun cream for any hiking you plan to do.
- Comfortable clothing is of course essential, but don’t forget swimwear and a towel if you plan to swim in the falls.
- Maximise the day. The best time to visit Kuang Si Falls is early morning to finish your hike before the peak time of tourists around lunch, however this is also when the water is warmest for swimming.
- You can only swim in some of the pools (nearer the bottom). Do respect this and follow the signs of where you can and cannot get in the water – it’s for your own safety too!
- If starting from the bottom of the falls and you’d still like to hike to the top, there is word of a secret pool if you access from the right hand path. If your main goal is to just reach the top, there are much easier steps to the left.
*Price at time of visit (May 2016)