Our decision to head to Laos after Thailand was made only days before leaving. Our Thai visas expired at the beginning of December and we had three weeks before we needed to be in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to meet my family for Christmas. Faced with the decision to go west to Myanmar or east to Laos, we chose Laos – honestly only because it was cheaper and somewhat clearer on how to get there. This explains why we arrived in Luang Prabang with literally no clue what we could do with our time.
Enter a meet-up with our blogger friends Amy and Andrew from Our Big Fat Travel Adventure. They have made their love for Laos well known on their blog and we were happy to get some advice on what we must see in Luang Prabang. We had done some research on TripAdvisor and seen many recommendations on a day trip to Kuang Si Falls, about 30 km outside of the town. Amy and Andrew gave such an enthusiastic endorsement for the trip, we decided we should fast track it.
Since we are not motorbike-inclined, we opted to hire a tuk tuk for the afternoon. It cost us 150,000 kip (almost $19 USD) round trip, including a three-hour stop at the falls. We were strangely transferred to another tuk tuk after negotiating this price and the new driver was not too happy to find out how much we had agreed upon with the other driver.
Beautiful drive, not for those with weak stomachs
The ride up to the waterfalls is a little bumpy, to say the least. The first half of the ride was interesting because we were finally able to get a glimpse of life outside of Luang Prabang. It is a cute town, but in our humble opinions, it felt a little too touristy to us. The drive was incredibly beautiful…and the roads winding. Shawn mentioned briefly in his account of our bus ride to Luang Prabang how it felt as if we were taking the same turn over and over. We finally got to see why – every road seemed to twist and turn every couple hundred meters. Little did we know what was ahead of us on our Laos travels, but I digress…
As we entered the park, I was feeling a bit woozy. We opted to eat lunch before heading into the park knowing that we were going to miss the 12:30 bear feeding at the sanctuary, located just inside the park. Sitting at lunch Shawn told me about the bear sanctuary, saying that the bears get really close. Anyone who knows me knows that this idea scares the bejeesus out of me. Bears? Near me?? Nuh uh.
Just stay where you are bears
I was a little anxious going in, but he (slightly) reassured me that they’d be far enough away. We got there and I was relieved to see fencing up (although it wasn’t very high) and a viewing platform where we could watch the bears from a theoretically safe distance. We had missed the feeding, but were lucky enough that they were still working on getting the food out. Below is a short video of their attempts. Warning: it is unbelievably cute.
I’ll admit. I fell for the bears. The bears in this sanctuary are Asiatic Black Bears, or Moon Bears. Adults are slightly smaller than the American black bear and on average are 47-77 inches long (120-195 cm) and weigh 220-440 lbs (100-200 kg). The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center was established in Laos in 2003 after local authorities confiscated three bear cubs and asked Free the Bears for assistance to help look after them. There are now 23 bears in the sanctuary.
This is what happens when you feed the bears
It was hard to leave the bears behind, but crowds were forming and we decided it was best to move on – we could come back on our way out. As if the day couldn’t get any better.
We’re lucky to live in an area of the world where waterfalls are abundant. I’ve seen my share of beautiful waterfalls in Washington and Oregon…but this was in a new category. I don’t think I’ve ever seen waterfalls this beautiful. The water is an especially gorgeous color thanks to the limestone surrounding them.
None of these photos have been altered other than adjusting the light a bit – they really are that gorgeous
We love to hike and decided to take our chances climbing to the top to get the view from the highest of the five levels of waterfalls. The climb is steep and occasionally very slippery. We only had our Columbia sandals on, so it was a little tricky at times, but after much huffing and puffing up the trail, we made it to the top. Only problem – there were no signs which way to go to get to the waterfall. We heard water, so we knew we were close, but couldn’t find the way.
The muddy steep trail and yes, we did need that vine to help us up
Wrong way, go back
Eventually, we started down a trail from which we saw people coming. A couple of Spanish women followed along and unfortunately, especially for the one wearing white sneakers, we came to a very muddy dead end. We never saw the top of the waterfall and really, I’m not that disappointed. We later found out that yes, the other muddy trail, over the creek and under vines and branches would have led us to the top of the falls. Oh, duh.
We made our way back down and had our photo taken in front of the waterfall we just tried to see from the top. Then we did what you’re never allowed to do in the States – we climbed up the rocks on the side of the waterfall, washed our feet off in some of the pools of the waterfall and enjoyed the cool spray all around us.
View from the side of the falls
By the time we got back to the pools where swimming is allowed, it was swarming with people taking turns on the rope swing and wading in the aquamarine waters. We were happy with getting our feet wet, so we watched those flying off the rope swing for a bit before heading back to say goodbye to the bears.
Looked fun, but cold
KNOW WHEN YOU GO
- A tuk tuk will cost you 150,000-200,000, so be prepared to bargain and be sure you are agreeing for the round trip price. Recommended visit time is 3-4 hours, which we thought was reasonable.
- Entrance is 20,000 kip per person.
- Bear feeding is at 12:30 pm. The sanctuary is free, but I recommend bringing a little extra cash (US dollars accepted) to support them and grab yourself a cute new souvenir. Donations are also accepted on the Free the Bears website.
- If you choose to swim, be sure to have your swimsuit on already as there didn’t appear to be any changing areas near the waterfalls. The bathrooms leave something to be desired, so I wouldn’t want to change in there.
- There are food and smoothie stalls near the entrance and are reasonably priced.
To see all of our photos from Laos, check out our Facebook page.