Chasing Waterfalls in Laos: Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Waterfall

Walking slowly through the dense woods, birds chirping overhead, you turn a corner and stop suddenly. In front of you is a clearing of multi-tiered waterfalls with water cascading over into the clearest turquoise pools. Having chased many waterfalls over the years, the Kuang Si Waterfall Park blew me away. I stood there, completely stunned over the natural beauty of these turquoise waterfalls. When visiting Luang Prabang, make sure to visit Kuang Si Falls for an epic waterfall adventure. Here is everything you need to know to make that happen.

Kuang Si Waterfall
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How to Get to Kuang Si Falls

Entrance to Kuang Si Waterfall Park

Kuang Si Waterfall Park is 29km (18miles), about 45 minutes from downtown Luang Prabang. If you are staying at a guesthouse, check to see if they have a shuttle option to the waterfalls. Our guesthouse offered us a free shuttle ride to the falls and back, which we took; however, the catch is that the return ride is at 3 p.m. My travel partner didn’t want to leave that early, so he assured me that we could get a tuk-tuk back. More on that later. Besides the guesthouse free shuttles, there are several other options to reach the waterfalls from downtown Luang Prabang.

Transport options for Kuang Si Falls vary depending on how much you want to pay. A Tuk-tuk (or Songtaew) is a shared taxi of sorts that fits 5-7 people. The ride to Kuang Si Falls costs 200,000 kip (~$17.60), but you can divide it up by filling your Songtaew with a group. Make sure to check the return time as it might be earlier than the park closes. If you want to be on your own schedule, your best option might be to hire a private tuk-tuk. You can negotiate a day rate between 150,000 to 200,000 kip for the driver to wait until the park closes or you are ready to return.

Another transportation to get to Kuang Si Falls is by public minivan. There are plenty of these minivan shuttles available to take you to the falls and back from the city center for 60,000 kip. However, if you choose this route, you have to abide by the driver’s set schedule to get to the falls at the same time as everyone else and leave early. Consider renting a private minivan if you have a group of friends you met on the slow-boat ride up the Mekong River. If you have 4-5 friends, you can visit the falls on your own schedule for 250,000 kip ($22). This is the perfect option to arrive early before the crowds to capture some amazing photographs.

There are other transport options to Kuang Si Waterfall Park for the more adventurous types. You could rent a bicycle for 20,000 kip to ride to Kuang Si Falls. You will have to be in shape as the ride is mostly uphill to the falls, but the Laos landscape is beautiful. Or, you could rent a motorbike/scooter for the day. Scooters will cost around 100,000 kip, and you will need to leave your passport with them as collateral. Remember that riding on rural roads and with local traffic has risks that need to be considered. And always make sure to wear a helmet.

If you are looking for a unique way to see the Kuang Si Falls, consider taking a boat to the falls. Yep, you can reach the falls by boat. It is a more leisurely way to reach the waterfalls, where you can enjoy the one-hour ride winding through the mountains and jungles before hopping on a minivan to take you the rest of the way to the falls. Tiger Trail offers this day trip for $87. I will love to try this if I return to visit Luang Prabang.

Kuang Si Falls Information

Kuang Si Waterfall

The Kuang Si Waterfall Park’s open hours are from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you arrive early and the gate is open, it is alright to go in. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip, including access to the falls and the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. It only takes 5-10 minutes to reach the first pools of Kuang Si Falls, but you have to go past the Asian Black Bears first. I would suggest skipping the bears until later in the day to go directly to the waterfalls before the crowds show up.

When is the best time to visit Kuang Si Falls

The best time to visit Kuang Si Falls is during April and May. Why is that? Because the water flows over the limestone rocks slowly, collecting traces of limestone as it moves, which gives it that magnificent clear turquoise color. Although, this coincides with peak tourist season as well. If you happen to visit during the summer, a.k.a. rainy/Monsoon season, you’ll have fewer people to tend with, but you’ll also see the water rushing over the falls, turning up mud in the process leaving the pools a brownish color. And with the water moving so quickly, it isn’t as safe to swim in the pools from July through October.

What to bring to Kuang Si Falls

If you are backpacking through Asia, you won’t have much with you. However, there are a few things you might need to bring with you for your day trip to Kuang Si Falls to be comfortable. Here is what I recommend, although you can adjust for your liking:

  • Swimsuit – There are changing rooms by the picnic areas by the first and second swimming pools.
  • Comfortable Shoes – I love my KEEN Sport Sandal. They are great for hiking and in the water.
  • Towel – My go-to travel towel is the microfiber travel towel which is quick drying after the dip in the pools.
  • Dry bag – A dry bag is great to keep your stuff with you while you are swimming.
  • Water Bottle – Having water on hand is a necessary thing to pack. Try a collapsible water bottle on your next travels.
  • Sunscreen – Gotta have sunscreen, especially when you are going to be swimming.
  • Bug Spray – part of the hike takes you through wooded areas, so having mosquito repellent spray handy will be helpful.
  • Snacks – Pack a few snacks to munch on after swimming and hiking to keep your energy up.

Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center

Two Asian Black Bears in the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center

Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is run by Free the Bears and is the first activity to see when you enter the Kuang Si Waterfall Park. Free the Bears is a charity group working to protect the Asian black bears in several Asian countries. They are determined to save them from the bear bile farms where they are milked for bear bile, which traditional Chinese medicine treats liver and gall bladder conditions. The goal is to have all of the bile farms closed in 2022. I wish them all the luck to do this.

Asian Black Bear roaming around at Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center

Walking through this area, you will learn how the Asiatic Black Bears are threatened to become endangered. Poaching, deforestation, and human development have caused a significant decrease in wild bear numbers all over Asia. The bears are being poached for the use of their paws, claws, and gallbladder in traditional medicine. Today, Moon bears have a protected status which means international trade in live bears or their body parts is illegal and punishable by law.

Asian Black Bear sitting on a tree platform at Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center

It might be hard for some to see these bears behind fences, but they are very happy in their new home roaming the large enclosure. They have plenty of space to move around, trees to climb, swings, and tires to play on. They even had a baby cub born at the bear rescue and is in the nursery with four other rescued cubs. If you are interested in learning more, check out the Free the Bears website.

Black Asian Bear sitting on a log at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center

Swimming at Kuang Si Falls

Heather doing her Esther Williams impression

Can you swim at Kuang Si Falls? Yes, you can. There are pools at the bottom of several waterfalls perfect for swimming and cooling off. However, please pay attention to the signs as there is one pool where swimming is prohibited due to it being sacred. The best swimming pools are at the lowest level and perfect to practice your Esther Williams skills as I did.

First Pools of Kuang Si Falls

First Pools of Kuang Si Falls

A short walk through the woods will have you showing up to the first set of pools at Kuang Si Falls. A wooden bridge crosses the falls, where you can capture your selfies with the clear turquoise waterfalls behind you. You can swim in these pools, but there are a lot of tree branches that have fallen into the pools. The next set of pools is better for swimming.

Second Pools of Kuang Si Falls

Second pools of Kuang Si Falls with girl sitting on tree branch

A quick walk on the path will have you arriving at the second set of swimming pools at Kuang Si Falls. If you come early enough, you will be able to get photos of the falls without the crowds of people arriving throughout the day. This is the most instagrammable set of falls where there are a few spots for the perfect photo. The first place to take a photo is when entering the water with the falls in the background and the jungle in the foreground. The second spot (In the photo above) is having your subject sit on the tree branch that extends over the water. The third is swimming up to the falls and having someone take your photo with the water cascading over you. I have always been more comfortable being behind the camera, but I was starting to embrace being more confident in my own skin on this trip.

Heather posing in one of the waterfalls at Kuang Si Falls

Third Pools of Kuang Si Falls

Waterfall pool at Kuang Si Falls

I don’t have a great photo of the third set of pools, but it is only a minute’s walk from the second set of pools. These are the last pools that you can swim in. This pool has more of a jungle feel than the others.

Fishes swimming in the Kuang Si Falls Pools

Fourth Pools of Kuang Si Falls

Fourth Pools of Kuang Si Falls

The fourth set of pools at Kuang Si Falls is absolutely beautiful. The turquoise waters cascading over the multi-tiered shallow falls make this an amazing photo and one of the hardest to take as it is restricted. These pools are considered sacred, and you can no longer enter them as they are fenced off. Some wooded areas lead into the pools, where you could get a great photo if you are adventurous. I had to lean over quite a bit to capture this low view of the falls.

Low view of the Fourth Pools of Kuang Si Falls

The Wooden Mill

The Wooden Mill at Kuang Si Falls

As you continue down the path, you come into another clearing begging you to photograph it. Right before you reach the main Kuang Si waterfall, take some time to appreciate the beauty of the landscape surrounding the wooden mill. This area gives off a magical feeling like fairies should be flitting about.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall with Slow Shutter Speed

Seeing Kuang Si Falls is an unbelievable experience and is probably one of the most picturesque waterfalls I have ever seen. You can get close enough to feel the mist on your skin by crossing the wooden bridge in front of Kuang Si Falls to get stunning and unobstructed views of the waterfall. I would set up your tripod toward the side to avoid the mist, or if you don’t have one, you can rest your camera on the wooden bridge’s railing.

Secret Falls

Secret Falls of Kuang Si Falls

There is a hidden waterfall to find when you cross the bridge in front of the Kuang Si waterfall. Toward the right of the falls is a steep path that you can hike to the top of the waterfall. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the top, but partway to the top, there is an opening that gives you access to see the hidden waterfall of Kuang Si Falls. There isn’t much room to move around with the trees and standing puddles, but you might be able to get a glimpse of something amazing before you head up to the top.

Secret Waterfall of Kuang Si Falls

Top of Kuang Si Falls

Swimming pool at the top of Kuang Si Falls

A hidden gem at Kuang Si Falls is the swimming pool at the top of the waterfall. Most people don’t even know that this is here. The entire round trip up and down will take an hour, so this probably won’t fit into it if you are on a tight schedule. However, if you have some time, you have to check out this cool swimming pool with the rope swing. The view from the top of the waterfall is incredible; you get a glimpse of the rushing water below and the turquoise pools surrounded by the green jungle in all directions.

Looking down from the top of Kuang Si Falls

After checking out the views and the swimming hole, there is more to see at the top of Kuang Si Falls. If you follow the dirt path for approximately 3km, you will be able to explore the cave and eat lunch at the restaurant that happens to be by more swimming pools. However, the cave and restaurant road were all churned up when we walked on it. It felt like a long hike, but it felt worth the effort once you got to the end. And along the way, I was treated to some nice photo opportunities for wildflowers and butterflies.

The path from the waterfalls to the cave
Road leading to the cave and restaurant at the top of Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls Restaurant

Restaurant Huts at Kuang Si Falls

A restaurant has popped up at the top of Kuang Si Falls, closer to the cave than the waterfall. If you do make it over here, this is a great spot for a rest. The restaurant has a bunch of huts that you can sit under and relax by the river. We had a fabulous lunch while we got to watch one of the local boys walk across the log over the water. Okay, more like walking really fast while making us laugh hysterically at his antics. He said you get a free beer if you made it across the log without falling. I didn’t try, but others did—so much laughter watching them try and fall into the water.

Pools at the top of Kuang Si Falls

Phalesi Cave of Spring

Phalesi Cave of Spring Entrance at Kuang Si Falls

There is a small fee to enter the cave, and they have offerings that you can buy as well, along with flashlights to rent. We didn’t do that as we had our phone flashlights with us. There is a short steep walk up to the cave entrance that is being guarded by a couple of Buddha statues.

I consider myself an adventurer, always up for trying something new. And exploring a dark cave in the middle of a third-world country is right up my alley. I wasn’t particularly nervous about how dark it was; however, I was a bit apprehensive about getting lost and not finding my way out. But, I didn’t have to worry about anything as the cave wasn’t very deep, and it was fairly easy to navigate. After crawling around in the dark, it was nice to be in the sunshine and have a bit of fun on the rope swing outside the cave.

Heather swing on a tree swing at Kuang Si Falls

Hiking Back Down

Wooded path heading down to the bottom of Kuang Si Falls

To get back down to the swimming pools, there is a path on the left side of the falls for you to hike down. It is steep, but there are stairs partway down. The only problem is that sometimes there is water flowing down the stairs, so you need to tread carefully. Since there are paths on both sides of the main Kuang Si Falls, you can decide which way to go up and down. The entire route should take you around 40-60 minutes.

Heather walking down the watery steps at Kuang Si Falls

Photography Tips – Capturing Waterfalls

Lady splashing water at Kuang Si Falls

If you are interested in photographing the Kuang Si Falls with your camera, here are some tips on what to bring and the camera setup. To be prepared to capture these amazing waterfalls, you will need to bring with you a sturdy tripod for the slow shutter speeds needed to create that blurred flowing look.

Kuang Si waterfall capture with slow shutter speed

Other things you might want to bring:

  • water-resistant bag if you get close to the falls
  • telephoto lens in the 200mm range to shoot the waterfalls from a distance
  • polarizing filter to reduce the reflection of the water
  • wide angle lens in the 35mm range or greater to give you some great foreground interest with the flowing waterfall in the background
Photographing the side of a waterfall at Kuang Si Falls

Adjust your camera settings to have your ISO at 100-200 for the best images. To make the running water freeze, use shutter priority mode and start with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second and adjust up if needed. To make the water blurry, with your camera on shutter priority mode, use a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second and adjust down if necessary. To make your photos more interesting, make sure to include an interesting foreground like rocks or trees. I would try to capture the waterfall from different angles to be unique. And most of all, have fun and enjoy your time in this fabulous place.

Side view of a waterfall captured with slow shutter speed at Kuang Si Falls
The backside of a waterfall at Kuang Si Falls

Feet and Fishes

Fishes in the Kuang Si Falls Pools

There is one magical experience that you must have when you are in Asia, visit a Fish Spa. If you haven’t had the luxury, you can get a similar experience right here at Kuang Si Falls for free. In most swimming pools, you will notice little fishes swimming below the clear water. When you step into the pools, it is a bit unsettling to have the fish swimming by your feet and legs. But, after a while, you do get used to them.

Fish swimming around feet at Kuang Si Falls

My new friends and I, after lunch and hiking, relaxed by dipping our tootsies into the first set of pools. It was a bit unnerving at first to have the fishes nibble on your feet. The fish reduce callouses, smooth skin on the feet, and exfoliate dry skin and rough patches. It is almost like getting a pedicure but in a unique way. And after hiking most of the afternoon, it was the perfect way to end the day.

Getting Back to Luang Prabang City Center

Farming in Laos

Okay, here is where my day took a turn. I mentioned earlier that my travel partner was adamant about getting us back without the guesthouse shuttle. We walked out of the Kuang Si Waterfall Park and realized no tuk-tuks. There weren’t many vehicles left in the parking lot at all. The place becomes deserted way before the park’s closing time. So, we were two foreigners with no way to get back to the city center and nobody to ask for help. His bright idea was to walk a bit, even though it was over 18 miles back, and then hitchhike back. I have never hitchhiked in my life and wasn’t too thrilled with this prospect, but we didn’t have any other options. And of course, with limited traffic going by, it didn’t look promising that this would work.

Traveling on a wooden bridge in Laos

With a little prayer from me, we watched the one vehicle that went past us go by and miraculously turn back around. The car was filled with four Japanese tourists, and with a bit of rearranging, sitting on top of each other, we found ourselves in the back seat heading back to Luang Prabang’s city center. I was completely grateful for the generosity of these strangers, although I wasn’t thrilled to be put in the position to have to do this in the first place. Would I do this again? I certainly hope not. It is much better to have a plan than to rely on luck. Although it was nice to view the Laos landscape as we drove back.

Laos countryside


Second Pools of Kuang Si Falls

Exploring and photographing the Kuang Si waterfalls was an amazing experience. The blue-green color of the clear water surrounded by the deep jungle greenery made my artistic side come out in full force, and I was ecstatic that I was able to capture it with my camera. Although, I don’t think I did it justice. Being there in person having the mist of the waterfall glisten your skin while the fishes nibble on your feet is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you happen to be traveling through Laos, make a stop in Luang Prabang to see these magnificent waterfalls in person.

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Further Reading

If you are exploring Laos, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

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