The 2019 guide to visiting the Kuang Si Waterfalls in Luang Prabang, Laos.
When in Luang Prabang, it’s almost obligatory to make the daytrip out to Kuang Si Waterfalls. Although touristy, a visit to Kuang Si is still worth the trip out and a definite must-see when in Luang Prabang.
If you’ve not read my full guide to Luang Prabang, you might want to read it here.
There are a few ways of getting to Kuang Si Waterfalls from Luang Prabang city centre. The most popular would be by tuktuk, either private or shared.
We wanted to arrange a private tuktuk with our hotel, but apparently they don’t do this in May because it’s far “too hot”. We arranged for a minivan instead. It’s probably the most expensive option to get there, at USD$40 for half a day, or six hours. A private tuktuk through the hotel would have cost USD$30. We were not too scorned, because our minivan was very comfortable. The ride to Kuang Si was bumpy at times as well so we appreciated being in a bigger, more sturdy vehicle.
Getting there by tuktuk is still a viable option. Along the streets in Luang Prabang, a lot of tuktuk drivers approached us offering trips to Kuang Si. You can get there even more cheaply by shared tuktuk as well, although you would need to sacrifice time flexibility since you would need to agree on a specific time to get back to the city centre.
That said, when we arrived at Kuang Si Waterfalls, I didn’t see any tuktuks there. The carpark only had mini vans, just like ours. Same thing when we left Kuang Si, the carpark was full of minivans.
Entering Kuang Si Waterfalls
We had an early start at Kuang Si at around 9am to avoid the bulk of the tourist crowd. There were market stalls set up along the carpark area and by the entrance of Kuang Si Waterfalls. You’ll find your typical touristy stalls here such as handimart souvenirs, clothes, swimming gear, and places for food and drinks.
Entering Kuang Si waterfalls entailed an entrance fee of: 20,000 Kip.
Tat Kuang Si Bear Centre
After purchasing our tickets, we walked through a small gate. We followed along the marked path until we encountered the Tat Kuang Si Bear Centre. I read that there is a bear rescue centre here, but I didn’t realise it would be directly on the path towards Kuang Si Waterfall. Not that I’m complaining.
The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is a sanctuary for bears. This centre houses and cares for moon bears rescued from terrible bile-harvesting farms. For most of the bears, their bile was horrifically harvested for illegal but unfortunately still sought-after “medicinal” purposes. Captive bears doesn’t sound pretty, but the reality is these bears fare better at the sanctuary than out there in the wild – where poachers are rampant and food and habitat is scarce. Here the bears have room to roam and chill out. The adorable bears were lounging out in the sun. Quite adorable. There’s a stand selling T-shirts and other souvenirs that you can purchase to support their cause. The t-shirts costs USD$18.
The gushing of the waterfalls engulfed the surrounding atmosphere as we took in the azure blue waters. It was peacefully meditative. I was truly taken in by how light blue the waters were.
You really do get the best of nature that Kuang Si has to offer here. There are a few levels to the waterfalls. Even the first level was already breathtaking. You can hike up the few levels up, and each tier was picturesque. We most definitely maximised our photo opportunities here.
Arriving at 9am meant that we had a less crowded time there. We were not the only ones there, but we had a comfortable time navigating photo spots. Although touristy, the area was clean and well-maintained.
For the most part, the hike is gradual and very easy. If you’re up for it you can most definitely hike further up. We started up the stairs actually, but stopped right at the top. The stairs stop to make way for trails that looked steep and might be slippery. We were in our sandals and slippers, so we turned back. If you’re eager to explore further up, wear sensible shoes.
Although there are walking trails, it is a vast area that you can easily spend a whole day exploring if you want to. There are so-called secret waterfalls that might be worth exploring too.
Swimming at Kuang Si
Ready to finally swim, we walked back to one of the lower levels of the falls. Areas that are safe to swim in are clearly marked. There will also be signs informing of deeper areas.
There are toilets and changing rooms available. I had my bathing suit ready underneath, so I just took off my outer layers of clothes. You do need to keep an eye out for your belongings as I didn’t see any lockers around.
There’s a shock to your senses when you first dip your toes in the water – it was freezing against the heat of the jungle! There’ll be little fish nipping at the dead skin off your foot and it’s going to be ticklish. I ventured in gingerly in the cold, and then just dunked my whole body in the water at the count of three to force adjust my body temperatures.
We weren’t wading for a long while before we got out of the cold water. Having had our fun, we made our way out the same entrance we entered, passing through the bear rescue centre once again.
A pitstop at a Hmong Village
Since we had a private van, we thought we could visit a couple more places. We wanted to visit Pak Ou Caves, but it was on the other side of town.
Instead we were recommended a buffalo farm and Hmong village visit, that was along the route to Kuang Si. Another attraction was the Butterfly Park, it was closed on renovation but we wouldn’t want to visit anyway. We’re not into… buffalos, sorry, so we skipped this as well.
The Hmong Village was… I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. We were simply dropped off at a village that was sanctioned as an attraction site by the tourism board seemingly. Our driver told to follow the path to go a round in the village, and he’ll be waiting for us at the exit point. It’s an actual full-functioning village, with real people living in it. We encountered lots of adorable kids. The kids were blasé to our cameras, but I still didn’t feel comfortable pointing mine at them for too long.
Along the path, there were stalls set up by the villagers. The items on sale are handmade goods by the villagers. The adults were not pushy at all, coaxing you over to look at their stalls and very smiley. Some of the stalls were manned by the most adorable little girls… Ooh. They were tough to say no to. They would run up to you, look up at you with big eyes and a pitiful pout, asking you to buy something from their shops.
In about 15 minutes, we were at the exit already. We learnt nothing about Hmong culture, except they have some persuasively adorable children.