Luang Prabang is already an intriguing city to visit with French colonial architecture, flowing rivers and regal temples, but there's an even bigger draw: the Kuang Si waterfalls. Nestled in the heart of the Asian jungle, layers of naturally formed swimming pools are at your disposal. An entirely landlocked country, the waterfall arena is a little slice of paradise, especially when the weather is hot and humid (which it almost always is in Laos).
Patience Dear Watson
When you arrive, you'll wander along a marked trail up to the first set of pools. While the crisp turquoise waters tempts you to dive right in -- don’t. The best is yet to come. Continue uphill and each set of pools gets larger and more incredible. You’ll spot several small waterfalls cascading over limestone rocks and cliffs covered by jungle foliage overhead, creating the perfect mix of shade and sun. One of the lagoons has a Tarzan rope perfect for making your grand entrance. The water is so brilliant and clear it looks like you could drink it (but we don't recommend it).
Deeper in the Jungle
Don’t be alarmed if you feel small pinches on your feet while swimming — your admission price includes a pedicure of sorts. The falls are filled with tiny fish that love to eat the dead skin off your hands and feet so just go with it.
Once you pass the smaller lagoons, you’ll come up to the largest fall, a stunning set of rocks several meters tall with fresh water cascading down. Those hoping to get a bit of exercise can continue hiking up the uneven, rocky trail (bring sneakers) for about 20 minutes. You'll be privy to small pools and ponds, plus gorgeous treetop views of the Laotian jungle and countryside. Peeking over the edge is strictly prohibited as is any form of jumping or swimming at the top, but you may catch an adventurous backpacker dangling over the edge.
On the way down is when you'll really enjoy the chance to swim. After a sweaty hike up, there’s nothing better than a cool dip in the refreshing waters. The best advice for selecting a swimming spot would be to find one that’s relatively devoid of visitors, letting you enjoy the sights and sounds of this natural paradise.
But Wait, There's More
Before leaving, make sure to check out the the Moon Bear Rescue Sanctuary, which is connected to the falls. Moon Bears are an endangered species typically targeted by hunters for their bile, which supposedly has healing properties.The sanctuary rescues and houses 20 cubs which have been harmed and malnourished to nurse them back to health. The adorable lumbering and whimsical movements will definitely charm you, so don't miss the chance to see Pooh's long-lost relatives.
How to Do It
The falls are approximately 18 miles from Luang Prabang, accessible by renting a car, scooter or hopping in a taxi, minivan or tuk tuk. There's a small entrance fee of $2-3, giving you access to the entire complex plus changing rooms and restrooms. Outside the park there are plenty of food stalls so pickup any snacks you need before entering. Bring plenty of sunblock, mosquito repellent and water shoes or flip flops. It's important to note that locals typically don't wear bikinis and may even swim with clothes on for modesty so be respectful.