The Kuang Si Waterfalls are fucking beautiful.
Located in a small patch of rainforest about 25km south-west of Luang Prabang they consist of a three-tiered 60m cascade followed by series of terraced jade pools.
The waterfalls are a major tourist drawcard attracting hundreds of people a day, especially in the heat of Laos’s summer which can see average maximum temperatures of about 38 degrees.
Several of the perennially cool and refreshing pools are open to swimmers and there’s even a fun-looking rope swing.
When I first saw them I was strongly reminded of the pools at Semuc Champey, in Guatemala.
Turns out they’re both travertine pools which are formed by calcium carbonate precipitating out of mineral waters, the same process that creates stalagmites and stalactites in limestone caves.
For those wanting to work up a sweat before going for a dip, there’s a hiking trail which leads to a small farm and lookout on the other side of the hill.
There are also two steep paths on either side of the main waterfall leading to the top with some good views out over the surrounding area along the way.
Facilities at the waterfalls include bridges, benches, picnic tables and change rooms.
Souvenirs, food and drinks are available from a variety of shops, street stalls and restaurants in the village just outside the ticket gate.
How much does it cost?
Entree is 20,000 kip. Free for kids under eight.
The Kuang Si Waterfalls are open from 8am until 5.30pm.
How to get there?
Travel agencies in Luang Prabang offer minibus services every day for 50,000 kip per person.
Tuk tuks can also be rented for 200,000 kip, or less if you’re a good haggler.
Ideally you would have a group of five or more people to keep the cost per person low.
We only had four people, but managed to talk our driver into taking us for only 160,000 kip. However, when we finished up at 2.40pm instead of 1.30pm as we agreed, he pinged us for another 5000 kip each.
The trip out there takes between 45 minutes to an hour.
The cheapest way to get out there if there is only one or two of you is to hire a bicycle. Be warned however that there are a couple of long, steepish hills on the way and it would probably take you a few hours. The return journey should be a bit quicker.
There are some bears in there
The Free the Bears sanctuary – founded by Australian woman Mary Hutton – is located just inside the gates to the waterfalls and cares for 23 Asiatic black bears, mostly rescued before being taken to “bile farms” in China.
The fluffy bears are kept in decent-sized enclosures filled with play equipment and visitors to the waterfalls usually spend a couple of moments watching them muck around.
The sanctuary is free but you can make donations or buy t-shirts and other souvenirs to help with its running costs.