When visiting Luang Prabang, most people think of strolling the quiet streets and laneways of the World Heritage town, visiting a wat or two and sipping a coffee as the world passes by. But activities outside of town are worth a look, including visiting the two main waterfalls surrounding the town.
The most popular of the waterfalls is Kuang Si which is located about 30 kilometres to the southwest of town. The first glimpse you get of these falls is of the lower sections, where the bright turquoise water gently tumbles over small limestone ledges. Impressive yes, but better is to come. As you move further up the falls, you come across people swimming in a large lagoon and swinging from a tarzan vine. Walking further up the hill past more and more impressive falls shaded from the intense sunshine you come to an opening where the main waterfall comes into view.
This high waterfall tumbles out of the jungle above with incredible force. At this point it’s possible to get up close to the waterfall for a better look and many choose to have their photo taken in front of it.
Picnic areas, change rooms and public toilets are available at Kuang Si, making it a good spot to spend half a day or so. The Asiatic Black Bear Rescue Centre near the front gates is an added bonus. Entrance is 20,000 kip and tuk tuk drivers tout for passengers to Kuang Si throughout the day — they will find you. It should be around 40,000 kip for the return journey including waiting time.
The other worthwhile waterfall in the Luang Prabang area is Tad Sae about 16 kilometres from town. This waterfall is favoured by Lao people over Kuang Si and you’ll often see large groups of locals picnicking right by the water’s edge. What makes this waterfall different is that it requires a boat to access it. Boats are available for 10,000 kip per person for the short journey across the river from the parking area.
As with Kuang Si, stunning turquoise water gently tumbles over limestone rocks, but at Tad Sae the waterfall is more integrated with the forest, giving the impression that it is flooded. Locals and tourists alike bathe in one of the larger lagoons with more adventurous people jumping off some of the limestone ledges. The whole area is well-shaded and it’s an ideal spot for spending a little bit of time, perhaps with a picnic or just a few Beerlao. Making things easy are change rooms, public toilets and a restaurant, which can serve up simple meals and drinks.
The best way to get to Tad Sae is to grab a tuk tuk on the street. The going rate is 50,000 kip per person, but an entire tuk tuk can be hired for about 150,000 kip for the return journey including an hour or two waiting. So if you have a group of four or more, the per person rate will certainly be lower than normal.
These two waterfalls are excellent ways to enjoy Luang Prabang outside of the colonial charm of the town itself. Grab a tuk tuk and come and relax for a couple of hours under the shade of the jungle or in the waterfall itself.
By Adam Poskitt
Last updated on 30th January, 2015.