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.
lakwatsera de primera says
The falls really look inviting, I really like your snap shots 🙂 I’ve been planning to backpack around Laos and Cambodia, I will make sure to add these places on my itinerary.
Awwww! We missed this! We went to Tad Sae Waterfalls instead! How long did it take u to get there? One hour to Kuang Si?
the wanderer says
yeap, it’s about an hour’s drive to get there! aw… sayang! maybe next time!
Gail Crawford says
The very best thing about going to the Falls is the Bear Sanctuary at the very beginning of the site, not far from the car park and toilets. A Perth woman is behind saving bears from horrid lives in China and the sanctary is commendable. When we were there (for hours, it was so interesting) it was food time. The food had been cleverly hidden so that the bears had to ‘forage’ for it as they would in the wild. Apparently it keeps them entertIned for hours. This trip was 2012.
the wanderer says
Thanks for the tip! I wasn’t even aware that there was a bears sanctuary nearby.
Jizzele Tan Chua says
Hello! I’m planning a trip to Laos next year. I’ve read your review of Luang Prabang. I’m just interested to know the name of the local travel agency you used when you were there kasi hindi mo namention. Thank You 🙂
Gail Crawford says
Sorry I cannot remember the name of the driver – we didn’t use an agency. We had a tuk-tuk and the very kind manager of Chitdara II Guesthouse simply went on to the street and did the deal for us. There are dozens of drivers looking for work, on the street by the river. It is important to say how many people, where you want to go, and how long you expect to be away. For this trip you might want 4 – 6 hours because you could spend a lot of time observing the bears, and then there is the walk and the various falls, and my partner went swimming. On the way to the falls we stopped at a wonderful temple overlooking Luang Prabang – my partner had been there before – I cannot remember the name but it is the temple you can see from LP and must be known by drivers. You could point it out beforehand. It is quite a climb for a tuk-tuk, from the main road – it was closed on the way out but we tried again on the way back and it was open. The beautiful balcony affords a terrific view of all of LP and young monks engaged us in English.
You could even ask your driver to suggest anything else you ought to see along the way. We also stopped at a ‘market’ – not at all worth it and I did not believe that any serious weaving went on there – it was just for tourists but it was interesting to see mega-stock and the women mainly sleeping on piles of it!
Our man was very obliging and we would have tipped him well. Talking to a few drivers will give you an idea of a reasonable price. In a tuk-tuk you don’t get air-conditioning but the air is moving and it is a better experience I think. Also one less of those big cars on the road. Take lots of water for you and your driver. And don’t worry about organising this with a travel agency. In LP you are likely to get talking to other people who want to do the same thing, or you can ask your accommodation provider to assist. By the way I highly recommend Chitdara II – it was about US$50 a night but spotlessly clean, with excellent breakfasts and our host invited us daily to the nearby procession of monks and alms giving at about 5.30am.
Time is slow in Laos and you could really organise it all when you get there. The Vientianne bus station is huge and there are regular buses going to all destinations regularly, and so cheap. Enjoy your trip!