secret Kuang Si: every tip + trick travel blogs don't tell first-time visitors

Let’s be honest: a large majority of travel blogs are written by first-time or one-time visitors to a place, and heaps of that information is gathered in a limited amount of time {we’re all guilty of this}— a major reason why slow, diligent travel {post coming soon about this} gets a big “thumbs up” from me, as someone who doesn’t like to get rushed. It gets a bit boring to see the same posts about what to do in Luang Prabang being written time and time again— night market, the Bowling Alley, Utopia, Mount Phousi, and Kuang Si.

While these definitely count as things to do in Luang Prabang {though the Bowling Alley is absolute trash}, they aren’t the only things and they aren’t really the best things. Even more to the point, local tips and tricks sometimes get missed. That’s why today, I’m sharing all the information you need before a visit to Kuang Si Waterfalls, including tips for what to bring, when to visit, and where to find the best photo spots.


KEEP READING FOR ALL THE INSIDER INFORMATION ON KUANG SI FALLS


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GETTING TO KUANG SI

Kuang Si Waterfalls is located 30 kilometers from the city center of Luang Prabang. There are a few different ways to get to the waterfalls. The way that’s right for you depends entirely on your own budget and travel style.

SHARED TUK-TUK //

For solo and budget travelers, I suggest getting a shared tuk-tuk. It’s likely that you will meet people at your hostel or guesthouse, so it makes the tuk-tuk ride more affordable if you coordinate with them and go to the waterfalls together.

PROS: It will be more affordable and you’ll have company on the 40-minute ride.

CONS: You’ll need to negotiate how long the driver will stay to wait for you at the waterfalls so that you can get back to town.

RENT A MOTORBIKE //

For experienced adventurers, I suggest renting a motorbike. The road to the waterfalls is paved, though filled with bumps and potholes. It’s also a little windy and hilly.

PROS: A motorbike gives you more freedom so that you can arrive and leave as you please. You can also stop along the way for photos and to visit the Laos Buffalo Dairy Cafe {more on this below}.

CONS: I don’t normally suggest hiring motorbikes, because tourists getting into accidents is very common all across Southeast Asia.

PRIVATE TUK-TUK //

If you’re traveling alone and fancy a day trip to bask in your solitude {gotta love your own company}, then you can get in a tuk-tuk by yourself and pay for it. However, it’s important to note that some tuk-tuk drivers won’t go to the falls until they fill their tuk-tuks. If you’re bound and determined.

PROS: Not having to wait for anyone else {like a group of people you’ve shared a ride with}, means you have no baby-sitting to do when it’s time to meet your driver and head back to Luang Prabang city.

CONS: Negotiating on price can be tricky, since you are essentially asking a driver to take you 40 minutes in and out of the town alone, leaving you to spend a bit more than you might have liked.

HIRE A VAN + DRIVER //

If you’d like the luxury of air-conditioning, a smoother ride, and perhaps a driver that’s been given the “thumbs up” by your accommodation, then hiring a van and driver might be the right option for you. I’ve done this with a group of friends before, because the driver was a friend and the price was only al little more than if we had shared a tuk-tuk.

PROS: Air-conditioning is the ultimate pro if you’re visiting in the dry season {especially April} when the heat is absolutely viscous.

CONS: A van can be more expensive, and while hotels and hostels can often arrange this, they usually up-charge to make a commission profit.

INSIDER TIP: I’d make sure you have at least 2 hours at the waterfalls so that you have time to visit the bears, hike to the top, swim in the pools, and eat a bit of lunch while you are there.

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WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU + WHEN TO VISIT

There are places to buy snacks or a more hearty meal at the entrance of the waterfalls, but I suggest packing a lunch and bringing it with you. You’ll save yourself a few dollars and there is more variety {especially for vegetarians} in town. It’s smart to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect you from those powerful UV rays. For the sake of cultural preservation, please, please, please, please consider bringing a one piece swimsuit. There are heaps of hottie one pieces available all over the place these days. I’ve grabbed some from Forever21, EcoPeace, and ASOS that I always pack when I’m in Asia. Entrance to the park can be paid only by cash, so make sure you have Lao Kip on hand.

Visiting the falls during the dry season is the best time to see the turquoise coloured pools. If you visit during the rainy season, the crowds won’t be there, but neither will the serene blue water. Rainy season often brings with it storms and mudslides and bridges being broken by storms.

A PHOTO BREAKDOWN OF THE FALLS

ENTRANCE + ADMISSION //

When you first approach the waterfalls, you’ll enter a village where there are signs for where to park tuk-tuks and motorbikes. If you have decided to rent a motorbike, there is a 2,000 kip {USD $0.25} fee to park your bike. You’ll also see shops selling snacks, beverages, and trinkets.

INSIDER TIP: You could easily find a low-cost Lao-style lunch at one of cafes down this road, but i’d bring a picnic and eat at one of the benches near the waterfalls.

At the top of the road, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to enter. There may or may not be a man sitting at the gate to collects the tickets, but purchasing one is necessary and you will be stopped by the ladies at the booth if you try to sneak in. Admission costs 20,000 kip per person {for foreigners, roughly USD $2.50}.

Immediately, you’ll see a path to the right and signs asking visitors to cover up. I go further into this later on, but having a one piece while you’re traveling around Southeast Asia is very handy and more culturally appropriate for conservative countries {like Laos}.

VIEW FROM THE ENTRANCE OF THE VILLAGE TO KUANG SI

VIEW FROM THE ENTRANCE OF THE VILLAGE TO KUANG SI

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ENTRANCE TICKET TO KUANG SI

ENTRANCE TICKET TO KUANG SI

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FREE THE BEARS SANCTUARY //

Walking down the path, you’ll be greeted by cut-out bears letting you know you’re entering the Free the Bears area of the waterfalls. Free the Bears is an organization that helps rescue bears from bile farms and works to end poaching. Bear bile in Asia is used for medicines and hangover remedies, particularly in Northern Thailand and China. Bears are trapped in snares and caged by poachers. On your way walking to the waterfalls, you can stop and see the bears, learn about their rescue, and size yourself up against other endangered and vulnerable bears.

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LOWER POOLS //

Passed the bear sanctuary lies the first pool. You’re free to swim here and there are changing room facilities {wooden stalls} nearby, however, these pools are pretty shallow and you can’t actually see the falls in all their glory. Continuing on the path, you’ll find three more pool areas. As your walk progresses the closer to the main waterfalls you get, the more people you’ll find swimming. Most crowds are concentrated at the lower pools nearest to the main waterfall and at the main waterfall itself.

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POOL NUMBER 1

POOL NUMBER 1

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THE main attraction //

If you continue up to the path from the lower pools, passed the lower pools and the little cafe/restaurant, you’ll come up to the big kahuna— the main waterfall. It’s impossible to miss and has an almost ethereal beauty about it. A wooden bridge spans the width of the waterfall so that you can take pictures and marvel at it from either side. This area of the waterfall is not a swimming area. The force of Kuang Si and its undercurrent are too strong.

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SNEAKING TO THE TOP //

Many tourists stop at either the main waterfall or the lower pools for swimming not even realizing that there is a hike through the jungle leading to secrete pools and the very top of the waterfall. At the wooden bridge, facing the main waterfall, you have the choice to sneak off on the hike towards the right of the falls or head left. The right side hike is not for the faint-hearted. It’s muddy, slick, and extremely steep. The ground is uneven and there are tree roots and vines that make tripping common. I wouldn’t recommend taking this route to the top, especially if you’ve come in flip-flops or sandals.

INSIDER TIP: Head to the top of the waterfalls using the path on the left side. It’s less of a challenge and more accessible for those who visit in sandals. They also have stairs on some parts of the path and handrails!

While the pools at the top aren’t as teal as the pools below, there aren’t the hoards of people at the top. You can enjoy both the top and the bottom pools of water, but the top feel especially magical since it tends to be quieter.

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STAIRS TO THE TOP OF THE WATERFALLS

STAIRS TO THE TOP OF THE WATERFALLS

The Secret Pool //

Should you choose to take the path on the right side, you can go straight to the top of the falls {mind your footing}, or. near the half way point, you can turn towards the bamboo fence. In order to go to the secret pool, you’ll need to ignore the warning signs and continue on the fenced off path. I do not personally recommend this, since it’s a bit like trespassing. If you do decide to head to the secret pool, you can read Nomadic Matts blog post on his time there.

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INSTAGRAM MYTHS ABOUT THE WATERFALLS

ETERNAL TEAL: Contrary to popular Instagram grids, the serene turquoise pools of water at Kuang Si don’t exist all year long. During the dry season, the waterfalls run over the limestone rock beneath reflecting the teal colour they’re famous for.

SITTING + STARING WITH EASE: Mother Nature is a powerful force— something everyone posing for pictures should remember. The tree I’m sitting on in the picture below is a perfect example. It might look like I’m sitting and staring without a care in the world, but the tree itself is outrageously slippery and the under current of the pools below me are dangerously strong {sorry Mom}. A lot of the pools contain rocks that are pretty to sit on, but they are slick and it would be easy to slip and fall.

BIKINIS AREN’T “ALLOWED”: There is clear signage at the entrance to the waterfalls that asks for visitors to be covered. It explicitly says, “No bikini tops”. I like to believe that most people who wear two pieces at Kuang Si either don’t read the sign or don’t think to keep an old t-shirt on over the top of their swim suit, but the truth is that most people just wanna look cute for pictures. It’s not culturally sensitive, especially given that some of the waterfalls are cherished by locals as nearly sacred. As someone who has spent a lot of time living, working, and volunteering in Laos, it is really frustrating to see tourists who aren’t informed or who don’t make an effort. If you visit during peak season, you will probably see Lao families swimming in the pools in jeans! Covering up is the thing here, so throw on a one-piece or make sure you have a shirt.

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PRIME PHOTO SPOTS

The best photos spots for pictures of people at Kuang Si are at the top of the falls. There are usually fewer people, making it easy to avoid being photobombed. Up top you’ll find a bamboo swing, a small rock pool, and wooden bridges that make for pretty scenery and are fun to play on. Honestly, this area can sometimes be the most peaceful part of the waterfalls if you’re visiting during peak tourist season at peak visiting times.

Near the bottom pools, there is a branch from a tree that people, like myself, used to jump off of, but it’s since been torn to shreds by wet season storms. Still, the sturdy part of the tree still is there, reminding us all that no matter the weather we can endure, and she makes for a very nice place to sit over the teal pools of water and contemplate life, pose for a photo, or do both simultaneously.

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Kuang Si Waterfalls is one of the bucket list items that puts Laos on the radar of most people. It’s absolutely worth a visit and I hope everyone who stops by Luang Prabang makes the trip and takes the time to see the waterfalls with the detail they deserve.

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