Just outside the city of Luang Prabang, Laos, beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall meanders down the mountainside in a series of falls and travertine pools. While the dramatic main waterfall is gorgeous, the stepped falls below may be even more lovely.
For the best view, walk upstream
While there is a more direct path to the main waterfall, the falls is best experienced by slowly following the river upstream.
Near the bottom of the falls the aqua pools are (relatively) still and deep.
As we move up the side of the mountain, the waterfalls feeding the pools get a bit bigger (and the trees get more interesting).
It seems like a good spot to wade in for a closer look.
Still farther up the mountainside the pools glow under the overhanging trees.
The waterfalls are getting larger too.
But the largest waterfall remains out of sight until we reach the end of the trail.
Can waterfalls be any prettier?
Plan a trip to Kuang Si
Kuang Si Waterfall (Kuang Xi or Tat Kuang Si) is an easy day trip from Luang Prabang, Laos.
Kuang Si is in the mountains about 20 miles south of charming Luang Prabang. It’s a popular spot for both tourists and local families, so you’ll find a full range of services (food stalls, a market, very basic restrooms with squat toilets, and a place to change into your bathing suit) and well-maintained trails, walkways, and bridges. Since it’s so popular, it’s easy to hire a tuk tuk or minivan to get there. (And, apparently, the horrible road we took in 2015 is now paved, making scooters a more reasonable option. But if you want to take a bicycle, it’s still a long uphill climb.) Inexpensive tours are also readily available, but you’ll have a better experience going on your own and enjoying the falls at your own pace.
Good to know
Allow an hour to travel from Luang Prabang to Kuang Si. The road been paved since I visited, but it still passes through a number of small villages.
There is a small fee charged to enter the waterfall area. It’s only a few dollars and the money goes into building trails, pathways, and bridges to provide access to the pools and waterfalls without destroying them.
For the best landscape photography, go very early in the morning, both for the best light and to avoid crowds. On warm days, the pools start to fill with people by mid-morning.
Swimming is not allowed in all pools. Some pools are sacred and some are dangerous, so obey the posted signs and only swim in designated areas.
Laotian visitors swim fully clothed. Women wearing skimpy western swimwear will attract the wrong kind of attention. A nice compromise would be a modest swimsuit with a light dress or wrap over it. Or just wear your tee-shirt and shorts.
There is plenty of good, cheap food is available from vendors at the entrance to site. But you can also bring your own picnic lunch, as there is a large picnic area.
Yes, those are bears
An unexpected benefit of visiting Kuang Si Falls is the chance to walk along a portion of the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. Walkways and signage provide information on the Asiatic moon bears that live in the sanctuary and the plight of Asian bears generally. And you are very likely to see a few bears!
Tours of the bear sanctuary are available through Bear Care Laos. I didn’t take a tour when I visited, but they sound interesting and support a good program. Tours teach visitors about the illegal market for bears, how rescued bears are cared for at the sanctuary, and what’s being done to protect bears in the wild. Of course, visitors also get to meet the bears and help prepare meals and treats for them.