Laos: Of breathtaking waterfalls, bears and butterflies

Nothing quite stirs a love for nature more than the mesmerising sight of water crashing down rocky slopes and pooling around you at the base.

If you happen to be in Luang Prabang in Laos, looking for a one-day or half-day trip, head to the Kuang Si Waterfall, or Tat Kuang Si, one of the most popular tourist spots there.

The waterfall, sometimes spelt Kouang Si, is located at Ban Thapene village around 26 km from Luang Prabang, and any number of tour operators or tuk-tuk drivers will happily take you there.

It is certainly a spectacular waterfall, with water tumbling through multiple tiers with the main cascade at around 50-60 metres high.

It is swamped with both foreign tourists and locals, especially in the afternoon, who come there to picnic, bathe in one of the three swimming holes or just soak up the positive energy created by the falls.

All the brochure photos of these falls show stunning turquoise blue coloured water, said to be due to the calcium carbonate content in it. However, if you’re there during the rainy season, don’t be disheartened if you encounter a more muddy brown coloured water instead, as it could perhaps have been stirred up by heavy rains.

Areas of interest in the vicinity of the waterfall area are detailed in the poster.

From the entrance, it is a 10-15 minute walk to the main waterfall viewpoint.

Steps are provided to make the trek into the interiors a little easier.

If you still have the energy you can follow a trail for a further 2 km to the water source and cave.

Beware the slippery steps ahead.

This involves walking on steps that are semi-submerged. Beware, as these steps are mighty slippery. There is another trekking trail on the other side of the river which is recommended only in the dry season.

The bear sanctuary at Kuang Si was started in 2003.

Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre

This sanctuary is run by Free The Bears, a charity formed in Australia to rescue Asiatic Black bears, Moon bears and other bears from bear bile farms or from being butchered for bear paw soup and other cruelties in Laos and other countries.

Two bears resting atop a platform built for them in the midst of the jungle.

The sanctuary at Kuang Si was started in 2003 and has since been expanded into a Forest & Wildlife Discovery Trail to help educate the public on the need to value bears as part of the natural environment.

Through their advocacy efforts the Luang Prabang bear bile farm was ordered closed in 2011.

Free The Bears merchandise to support the charity’s good work is also on sale.

Here you can see the bears at play and at rest (mostly sleeping) and you can buy T-shirts and other Free The Bears merchandise to support the charity’s good work.

Kuang Si Waterfall:
Opening hours: 8am-5.30pm
Admission fee for tourists: Kip 20,000 (RM9.80).

Food stalls serve grilled fish, meats and sausages to hungry visitors.

Facilities

There are toilets, changing rooms and several picnic areas. There is also a restaurant near the falls that serves cooked food, and BBQ supplies should you prefer to cook your own meal.

Outside the entrance to the park, where all the cars and tuk-tuks are parked, are a number of food stalls specialising in charcoal grilled fish, meats and sausages.

How to get to Kuang Si Waterfall

Here is the exact location on the map:

Organised tours with a guide and transport from Luang Prabang can cost upwards from RM200 per person, though there are definitely cheaper alternatives around.

You could hire a mini-van and driver for under RM100 for the round trip, including his waiting time, while you explore the falls. Tuk-tuks can probably be negotiated for a lower price.

If you’re the athletic kind, you could cycle as many others do – the scenery is beautiful and the traffic, light. Sounds great but it is a 50 km round trip with lots of slopes to contend with. Plenty of water and sun protection would be needed. A motorbike may be the more sensible choice of transport.

There is a Butterfly Park around 300 m from the entrance if you want to combine this nature spot with your trip.

This article first appeared in malaysia-traveller.com