Kuang Si or Kouang Si Waterfall is one of the highlights – if not THE highlight – of Luang Prabang. A single large cascade tumbles from the jungle feeding a series of falls and pools that make perfect swimming holes. Laos may be a landlocked nation without beaches but Kuang Si’s cool turquoise waters make up for it. Don’t dismiss it as “just another waterfall.” I’ve never met a visitor disappointed by it.
(Post up to date as of November 2017)
Distance to Kuang Si: It’s 23 km from town and takes approximately 45 minutes by tuk-tuk. Here are all the ways you can get to Kuang Si.
How to get to Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang
Shared tuk tuk to Kuang Si Waterfall
“Tuk tuk” is the generic term for any auto rickshaw in Southeast Asia. The tuk tuk that can make the journey to Kuang Si is specifically called a songtaew, good for transporting up to nine passengers. Tuk tuk drivers will try to round up as many people to join and split the cost, which will start at 200,000 kip. It will cost you around 50,000 kip per person and the driver will leave when the tuk tuk has 4-5 people. You’ll see touts, who have developed a reputation as being pushy and formed a sort of mafia, organising these shared trips at the big intersection in front of the post office, Joma Bakery Cafe and fruit shake/baguette stands.
Pro: This can be one of the cheapest ways to get to Kuang Si.
Con: You can wait a very long time for the touts/drivers to find people to join and he is the one who ultimately decides when you leave town. You also have to agree as a group on a set departure time from the falls.
Private tuk tuk to Kuang Si Waterfall
A roundtrip tuk tuk ride should cost around 180,000 – 200,000 kip or US$22-25 (the driver will wait for you at the falls to bring you back to town). Pay the driver when you return to town. If it sounds like a lot for a tuk tuk, remember that petrol in Laos is relatively expensive, the driver has to pay one of those special government fees for the privilege to take you there and he will wait as long as you like, this trip is likely his fare for the day.
I suggest you avoid the mafia at the main intersection (near post office, Joma Bakery Cafe), who can be a bit pushy. Try for a lone one peacefully hanging out down a side street or in front of a hotel — remember you need to find a songtaew, the large four-wheel trucks, not the three wheel skylabs. Or ask your hotel, they usually have the telephone number of a few reliable drivers they work with.
Pro: The most straightforward and easiest ways to go. You can go and return whenever you want to.
Con: Though the road to Kuang Si is nicely paved, you do feel ever bump in a tuk-tuk. Also not so comfortable for tall people or those prone to car sickness — passengers face inward (cannot see out the front of vehicle unless you ride in the front seat) and will smell the exhaust.
Shared minivan to Kuang Si Waterfall
Travel agents can sell you a spot on a public minivan shuttle. The quality of minivan varies but if you’re lucky it will be air-conditioned. There are set departure and return times. At the time of writing this, cost is 60,000 kip and departure times are 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.
Pro: The cheapest way to get to Kuang Si.
Con: The minivan picks up passengers at everyone’s individual hotels and this process can be slow. Return times are also set. You only get a few hours at the falls.
Boat to Kuang Si Waterfall
This is the method I recommend as this combines two must-do experiences in Luang Prabang – the waterfalls and a boat ride on the Mekong. The Banana Boat BB01 trip will take you one hour downriver through gorgeous mountain scenery. You can’t get all the way to Kuang Si via the Mekong so you’ll stop as close to it as possible, then catch a fun ride in a pickup truck for a few kilometers. Best of all, you’ll come back on the Mekong in the beautiful late afternoon light, the best time of day to see life on the river.
Pro: Combining two key experiences in Laos, it’s fantastic to get out onto the river, scenery.
Con: If you spent two days on a slow boat to Luang Prabang, a boat trip probably won’t be so exciting for you.
Riding a motorbike to Kuang Si Waterfall
It’s a fun way to get to Kuang Si, but there are many caveats – please carefully consider the risks.
The road is paved, you can drink in the fresh air and the scenery is rather pretty. Renting a motorbike in Luang Prabang will cost around US$20/day and the cost of petrol. But if you’ve never driven a motorbike before, on holiday in Luang Prabang is not the place to learn. People often ask me, “Is it safe to ride a motorbike Luang Prabang? The traffic doesn’t seem so bad.”
Traffic isn’t the main issue, nor is it the speed. The issue is driving skills. Throw your assumptions of “rules of the road” out the window, driving in Laos is different and foreigners will not be accustomed to it. The amount of vehicles (especially large trucks) have ballooned over the past two years. There are 12-year old kids street racing, dogs darting out onto the road, potholes, broken bridges. Tourist motorbike accidents are common along the road to Kuang Si; I witnessed a particularly nasty wipeout on one of the bridges. It seems that at least once a week, I hear of a tourist getting in a motorbike accident. Remember, the closest hospital of international standard is in Bangkok, a 1.5 hour flight away. Many travel insurance policies don’t cover motorbike riding without a license, read your policy.
If you do choose to rent a motorbike in Luang Prabang, here’s a few important tips. Motorbike theft is common: park in highly visible areas, lock the bike, use the additional wheel lock the rental company provides and use the pay parking lot at Kuang Si. Secure any bags in the motorbike’s hold or use a backpack rather than a purse or bag slung over a shoulder. Wear a helmet and proper clothes/footwear.
I often get asked where to rent a motorbike and while I will try to dissuade people (see reasons above), if they insist then I suggest KPTD Motorbike Rentals on Kitsalat Rd, across from Dara Market, behind Chittanh grocery store. A passport is required as a deposit. Note that if you rent from your guesthouse, often they don’t own the motorbike and are in fact calling an informal rental company who drops off the bike. One scam we have heard about is the person you rent from having an extra set of keys for the bike and lock. Once they find out where you are heading, they will steal their own bike and you are forced to pay a hefty sum to replace it. Go with a reputable company, not the cheapest.
Pro: Independence, get to see the scenery.
Con: If you get into an accident, you’ll discover just how poor medical facilities are in Laos.
Cycling to Kuang Si Waterfall
It’s 23 km one way and it’s hilly. You’ll want a good bike with gears and if it’s a hot time of year, set out very early. Beware it will be dusty and smoky during hot-dry season (February-April). One option is to cycle one way and catch a tuk-tuk back or vice-versa. The journey to the falls is the uphill battle, though fairly straightforward to navigate. Here’s the Hobo Area Map of the route.
Pro: Slow down to see villages and the views
Con: Don’t count on being able to hitch a ride if you want to quit mid-way
Car to Kuang Si Waterfall
Hiring a private vehicle will mean an air-conditioned minivan and a driver. It costs 250,000 kip (US$30) flat-rate so this method is very economical for a group. Those prone to car sickness, it is far more comfortable than a songtaew.
Pro: The most comfortable way to go. Inexpensive for a group. The flexibility to leave Kuang Si when you want to.
Con: Expensive for 1 or 2 people.
Get there instantly. The most convenient way for wizards and witches since flying on broomsticks is illegal in Laos.
Pro: The fastest way to get to Kuang Si.
Con: As always, you must have a License to Apparate from the Department of Magical Transportation and there is always risk of splinching.
Just the facts
- Tad Kuang Si / Kuang Si Waterfall flows year round. Less water from March to May. There’s high water volume around June to October.
- Entrance fee is 20,000 kip, open daily 08:30-17:30.
- There are changing huts and vendors selling snacks and drinks. Don’t be a jerk and litter.
- Some of the pools are considered sacred. Obey the signs and swim only where permitted.
- Buy a Free the Bears t-shirt at the Bear Sanctuary inside Kuang Si park. The organisation does not receive any funds from the park admission and relies on donations. Read the feature I wrote about Free the Bears Laos on Travelfish.
- Trails are not paved but hard-packed and fairly even. Can be very slippery when wet. Only 15-minutes of walking from the bottom to the big falls.
- Lao culture is conservative. While it’s now common to see bikini clad tourists swimming at the falls, women who wear bikinis may attract an audience of curious spectators.