‘The Kuang Si Falls’
‘Kuang Si waterfalls’
‘THE KUANG SI WATERFALLS DAMMIT!’
… scream the good people of Facebook when I ask them what I should get up to whilst in Luang Prabang. I trust in them and take the plunge, a little skeptical that Kuang Si will in no way be able to compete with the waterfalls of the Plitvice national park in Croatia. It felt like i’d eaten a peanut M&M and now someone was offering me a bog standard M&M, it’d still be chocolaty goodness, but just not as good. However, it turns out these followers and friends of my mine know their stuff, regular M&M’s are tasty!
I’ll probably sit down in a month or so and cringe at that first paragraph, but the Kuang Si falls were great, there’s no getting away from it. Located around 30km / 40 minutes outside of Luang Prabang in the (wait, you’ll never have guessed) Tat Kuang Si Park, the falls are sometimes called Kuang Xi falls. Fear not however, this slight change in spelling means little, you wont miss the falls, not by a long shot. Why? – because tuk tuk drivers all around Luang Prabang town centre spend a high proportion of their day pitching tours to backpackers and tourists alike. You’d do well to walk through town without being asked if you wanted to take a tour.
The usual rules apply for any tour, the bigger your group the lower the cost individually. A generally rule is that any tuk tuk will cost 200,000 kip for a return journey. The entry fee into the park, to the falls and rescue centre is a combined 20,000 kip which is payable at the entry gate.
- Tuk tuk – 200,000 Kip between X number of people (as a general rule)
- Entry fee – 20,000 Kip per person
The Kuang Si Waterfalls
The entrance to the falls isn’t shy, a great gate giving you more than an indication of which way you should be heading. Getting to said gate however can take time due to the great market area that swarms around it.
The smell of BBQ hits you the minute you land down in the car parking area. Stall owners (missing only a shiny suit) throw a salesmans smile your way in the hope they might persuade you to try such flame grilled delights. If BBQ isn’t your thing there’s all manner of other food available, and of course your favourite Beer Lao is never too far away. I do love me a good bottle of Beer Lao, but Namkhong beer was not to be ignored and was often cheaper.
Scattered between the food and a few souvenir shops are small bars, these are most likely where your tuk tuk drivers will arrange to meet you later in the day. Our driver didn’t give us a time, he just said to come find him when we were ready. I’m not sure if that’s the norm, but we thought it was excellent. However long you spend at the falls though, remember to note down the licence plate of your tuk tuk, or better yet take a picture. With so many around its sometimes hard to find yours again.
From the gate to the falls is a very short walk. First you will pass by the Bear Rescue Centre (we’ll come to that in a minute), but even before the rescue centre, the first thing you’ll probably take notice of will be the rather impressive forestry you are to walk through en route to the falls. The vine riddled tress tower over you creating a slight darkness, so watch your step. Emerging from the darkness after a short period this is what greats you …
Most of the pools in the lower section are open for swimming, except one which is a sacred site and therefore closed. Changing facilities are available and they’re pretty well kept. Impressed yet?
The water itself although an incredibly inviting colour is in fact utterly freezing, but to be honest after the initial shock it comes as a welcome relief from the heat. Depending upon how brave you are feeling, you can either edge in slowly or take the rope swing. If you take the swing route remember to add your best Tom Daley routine if you want a series of 10s from the watching crowds.
Whilst all of the smaller falls and their turquoise waters are stunningly beautiful, there is no doubting the main attraction. Follow the camera flashes up the hill and you’ll soon arrive at the big one. Surrounded by decking and a few wooden foot paths, great views of the giant fall are easily obtained.
The view from above
On the day of our visit it was safe to say that most visitors ventured as far as the BIG waterfall. Its impressive no doubt, but few dared to venture any further. Truth be told we probably wouldn’t have done either save for Matt, a new friend we’d made that morning. Matt insisted that there was a path to the top of the falls and within minutes had located the partially hidden staircase. It felt like something out of LOTR. Time to get those legs pumping.
The climbing wasn’t too taxing in terms of steepness and duration, the terrain was a little tricky though. The paths were very smooth and more than once we found our feet sliding out from underneath us. But with a little team work and some bulging quads we soon made it to the top.
Was the climb worth it? Hell yes! The views were incredible and the quiet blissful. Whilst the big fall was surrounded by noisy crowds all maneuvering to get their photos taken, up at the top there was nothing except the serine trickle of the free flowing water amongst a series of small pools and tree routes.
Normally when I think of bears (not all that often) I usually think of this because I have a slight warped mind …
But on a serious note we’re all pretty much aware of mistreatment of bears around the globe, particularly those that are used in circus acts and made to dance for the amusement of disgusting individuals whilst also being kept in terrible conditions. Its pretty sick stuff.
The Tat Kuang Si Rescue Centre was set up back in 2003 and now looks after an amazing 23 bears, most of whom were taken into care by the Laos government after being illegal poached or traded. All 23 are Asiatic Black Bears (you can meet some of them here), and due to this set up have been saved from an awful life at the hands of likely bile farming. I wont go into detail about bile farming, its a grim as it sounds.
On the day of our visit, the bears were pretty active and fun to watch. They have some bid old climbing frames to clamber on and over, and how often do you get to see a bear in a hammock? Epic!
On the flip side we did see a few bears staring at a walls and rolling their heads as if in some form of trance. Not that we’re experts, but we wondered if this was a psychological reaction as a result of traumatic experiences at the hands of the cruel. Very sad, but at least they’re now in a safe place.
So, is a visit to the Kuang Si Waterfalls worth it. Yes I would definitely say so. As mentioned its best to go in a large group so that you get a better tuk tuk rate, but even if you pay a bit over 40,000 KIP each its still worth it.
Like most attractions, its best to arrive early to avoid the crowds, and the crowds did swell to an impressive size around lunch time. Whilst there are numerous picnic benches scattered around we couldn’t find a single spare seat.
Its also worth mentioning that although there are changing facilities, there are no lockers. Taking a swim and leaving your valuables to one side is at your own risk. We had no problems though. All in all a great way to spend a day whilst in Luang Prabang.
Laos and Cambodia Video
There’s a spot of Kuang Si footage in this short video I made, skip to around 1.40 if you’re interested … or you could make me do big happy faces by watching the whole thing.
Example of big happy face … :D
Where in the world?