Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kuang Si Waterfall

The main cascade is a good 50m high!
Walk to the outskirts of downtown Luang Prabang and you might find a little shop that rents motorbikes. Be sure to get one with a basket, though, it's much easier for carrying your picnic supplies (or camera gear). Next, get directions to Kuang Si waterfall ... or just "the waterfall," everyone knows which one you want to see.

Kuang Si is nearly thirty kilometers south of the city. It's not that hard to find as there are helpful signs along the way. If you're not sure of your directions, it's easy enough to follow one of the many tuk-tuks or little tour buses heading that way. Any vehicle packed with young Caucasians is heading to Kuang Si waterfall.

At the end of the road there is a large parking lot and many kiosks selling souvenirs and snacks. Walk up the hill and pay about a dollar for entrance to the site. A mud path leads through the underbrush beneath the huge trees. You'll walk over a few streams on your way to the first pool. It looks inviting, but keeping going up river.

You will pass half a dozen inviting cascades flowing into murky turquoise pools. The formations are the result of a high limestone content in the water. The mushy looking surface is actually hard rock. It's safe to walk through the water. In fact, the pools are terrific for swimming. Wear sandals though, because the riverbed has numerous rough rocks beneath the surface.
One of the beautiful cascades downstream from the main falls.

The travertine rocks make the falls look so gentle.
When you arrive at the main cascade, you'll recognize it immediately. It flows fifty meters down the hillside, in a series of falls, short and tall. On a breezy day, the wind kicks up a fine mist and blows it everywhere. At the bottom of the falls there are a number of vantage points to admire the cascade. The locals have provided short bridges and even picnic benches on which to relax and admire the view. My favorite view is to climb to the top.

The principle falls with tourists for scale.
The toughest route to the top is on the north-west (right hand) side. The path is not maintained and can be very slick from mist. Good footwear and steady footing is required to climb the steep path. The top is most rewarding, however. There are many shallow pools that converge to pour over the side of the cliff. The top is also a nice to place to explore if you want to wander through some untouched Laos jungle.

After walking through the pools on top of the cliff, going down the south-east side of the falls is a breeze. The locals have maintained the path with steps and even a couple of benches for resting. You can access some of the pools right on the cliff face, as well. Although signs strenuously advice against it, you can occasionally find daring Europeans going for a thrill swim near the precipice.

After exploring up and down the falls, I went for a swim at the bottom-most pool. Here, a tree extends out over a large, and reasonably deep, pool. It makes for an excellent diving platform. Someone took the trouble to tie a rope to one of the upper branches making a rope swing. This is where most of the tourists swim. It's a great spot to catch up on the news of the world with other backpackers ... or just take in the sights.

A rope swing adds incentive to go for a swim.

Swimming is not permitted in the sacred pool.
See more photos of the falls here.

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