The area around Luangprabang in Laos is filled with a number of popular daytrip opportunities. Two have practically become must-see destinations that they’ve been included as part of any default itinerary of Luangprabang-bound visitors.
Kuang Si Falls
We spent our first evening haggling with the many travel agencies in town for a good deal to take us to two sites – the famous Kuang Si Falls as well as to the much talked-about Pak Ou Caves. Both are near Luangprabang. Both are also within one hour car ride away and are described as “must see” places. The friendly chap who entertained us at the travel agency we settled with gave us a supposedly good deal for both daytrips. He even showed us the other receipts for the day containing supposed suckers who signed up at a higher price. “We are not Europeans!” was my default justification to be charged fairly. So did it work? We were able to bring our price down by only $1 per person – nothing fantastic, but still better than nothing. We shopped around and the prices were pretty much standard across the board.
the turquoise blue pools look really inviting
We went to Kuang Si Falls first. The tour started in the afternoon, and a van picked us up from the travel agency’s place. Joining us was a monk, some Spanish folks and two European backpackers who we can only surmise to have met right then and there. It was about an hour’s ride as we listened to the two exchanging their lame attempts at small talk. Aside from that, the trip was pretty much uneventful.
The Tat Kuang Si are a multi-tiered waterfalls that collect in several turquoise blue pools. Many of these pools are open for swimming. During summer, I reckoned it would be an ideal place to cool off and escape the sweltering Lao heat. The waterfalls are mostly short, except for the topmost one which is about 50m in height. Nevertheless, all are very picturesque.
the topmost tier
We were only to spend around two hours in the site and I found that to be a bit short. There are several layers to be explored and the time provided doesn’t allow swimmers to explore the whole place. That’s a point to note when visiting Kuang Si Falls.
The next day we took a morning trip to Pak Ou Caves. We arrived at the doorstep of the travel agency at around 8am, but in typical Lao fashion, the doors were still shut. We waited for a good 30 minutes until some of the other passengers arrived to wait as well, and then finally, they opened their doors.
We walked to the riverside and boarded the boat to take us to the caves. Of all the rivers I’ve seen, I found the Mekong to be unusually muddy and brown that it actually gave me second thoughts about trying out the river fish which they harp about in the traditional restaurants. Of course it didn’t help that water kept on splattering on my face as the motorized boat ventured upstream.
the view right across the cave
The trip took about two hours and it seemed as if everyone arrived at the cave at the same time. There was barely any space to move inside. Most importantly, the whole place was rather underwhelming. Those taking a backpacking trip across Southeast Asia could very well benefit from this tip: skip Pak Ou Cave and include Pindaya in your itinerary instead if you have plans to visit Myanmar.
Both caves feature thousands of Buddha statues placed beside each other. Pindaya is larger and the cave has more to offer while Pak Ou can be covered in five minutes.