Soaking up some nature

Kuang Si 5

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Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos, is a beautiful city: the stunning UNESCO world heritage site, filled with splendid French architecture, greets tourists with bright colours, delicious smells and some outstanding sights. However, just a 45 minute ride away is something perhaps even more remarkable – the Kuang Si Falls, also known as Tat Kuang Si, Laos’ largest and most spectacular waterfall site.

When you arrive at the Falls you are met with the sounds of rushing water, laughter and the playful splashes of children and adults alike. However, it is a few minutes before you are struck by the true magic of this spot. As you emerge onto the first viewing bridge, it becomes clear: vividly turquoise blue water cascades down the three tier waterfall, creating small pools at regular intervals, shaded by the surrounding forestation. It is wonderful to see locals enjoying the pools alongside the tourists.

It is a truly outstanding site. As well as being breathtakingly beautiful, these pools are a very welcoming site for tourists looking to cool off (temperatures in Luang Prabang regularly reach 30°C or above). However, do not be tempted to stop for too long at the lower pools – the top of the waterfall is reached via a small walkway, and it is well worth the steep, precarious climb to the top. Here, you can also reach the top pool, in which you can swim right to the edge and look out over the Falls from the top of the 60m cascade – an incredible sight that is not to be missed – just don’t forget a bottle of water for the climb!

There is also a spot at the higher pool where you can swim underneath the waterfall itself and into a small alcove created by a rock overhang behind the waterfall. If you are lucky enough to own a Go Pro, it makes for some fantastic footage. The higher pools tend to be less busy, as the climb is not suitable for children, so if you are looking to enjoy the sights in relative peace and quiet then the hike up is a must.

Kuang Si 3After exploring the higher pools, make sure you take a trip to the middle pool, where there is a great spot for jumping into the water for anyone feeling a bit more daring; there are also various jumping levels depending on how brave you are. However, make sure it is deep enough before jumping into the pool, as seasonal changes occasionally leaves it too shallow. From this spot there is also a fantastic view of the scenery that surrounds the Falls, just as beautiful as the main attraction.

There are also picnic benches around the lower pools and stalls selling food and drink, so it is an ideal spot to spend the whole day. When visiting the lower pools, also look out for the thousands of tiny, glittering fish that like to nibble at tourists’ feet – totally harmless, but a strange feeling nonetheless.

As you enter or leave the Falls do not forget to stop at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. Opened in 2003, the Centre houses rescued Asiatic Black Bears, or Moon Bears, that were illegally taken from the wild as cubs. Tourists who visit the centre can learn about these beautiful, endangered bears, and see them roaming around the enclosure – they revel in scratching their behinds on logs (or anything they can find) for watching visitors.

After experiencing the vibrancy of Luang Prabang itself, it is obvious why the KuangSiFalls are so popular with both tourists and locals. They offer a peaceful retreat from the intensity of the city, and indeed the intensity of travelling itself for any visiting backpackers. It is also a fantastic way to experience the beauty of the natural world after a few days in the more hectic city.

At just 20,000 kip entry – that’s about £1.50 here – it would be foolish not to make a visit. It is easy to get a tuk tuk from the centre of Luang Prabang but there are also mountain bikes available for hire in a number of places along the main street. Go off-peak to experience the Falls when they are less busy, take some amazing photos and see one of most spectacular sites that Laos, and indeed the whole of South East Asia, has to offer.

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