Do you ever have those brilliant ideas while travelling? You know, the ones where you’re like “yeah, I’m totally going to do that” without giving any real thought to it?
I do this all the time (because all my brain cells are also on vacation). Even though I’m an avid hiker, I always seem to try to squeeze in an extra hike or some crazy adventure, in between other major hikes without thinking that my muscles might need 24 hours to rest.
I found myself looking for something to do while in Luang Prabang, Laos, and had the brilliant idea of engaging in what I thought to be a gentle and enjoyable stroll through tribal villages and a national park to reach Kuang Si Waterfall located about 30 km outside of Luang Prabang. (No idea why the word “waterfall” didn’t trigger “having to hike upwards”, I’ll never know. If it flowed flat, it would be called a river).
I was told that it was an easy stroll along “nature walking trails”. I was told wrong. And after climbing 328 steps up Mount Phousi earlier in the day, why not do a four hike up a waterfall on the same day?
I hopped a van for a one hour ride outside the city to start the trek. I can only describe this bus ride as the equivalent of riding a drunk and very angry camel. You are jostled right and left, up and down, as you hit every pot hole and bump along the dirt road. Anyone experiencing motion sickness should definitely be prepared for this ride. I was thankful for my short stature…otherwise I would have needed a helmet to protect my head from hitting the roof of the van.
Laos has several tribes, although the main are Khmu, Hmong and Lao. My trek started on the dusty roads through Ban Longlao Nung (a Khmu village) and shortly thereafter, through Ban Longlao Song (a Hmong village). I also came upon a number of children that were dressed in their traditional dress who were playing a game where there are two rows of children lined up and facing each other and they toss a ball back and forth, while their parents look on.
A Khmu man told me that most girls in these villages marry between the ages of 14 and 18, while men marry between 18 and 24. I refrained from telling him that I am in my early 30s and unmarried – I can only imagine his response…
The Nature Trail
After about half or so, I reached the start of the nature trail that is lined with wild, brightly coloured poinsettia flowers. I hiked through beautiful mountain scenery, rice paddies, vegetable fields, jungle trees and plants, and buffalo grazing along small rivers.
And then it happened.
The terrain quickly, immediately and drastically changed to rocks and mud and lots and lots of upward climbing. Some of the rocks I scrambled over were taller than the legs of my 5’4 stature…which is a hilarious sight everyone should get to see.
After 4 hours of trekking, climbing and rock scrambling…and also profuse sweating in the heat, swearing, and getting covered in mud (always the best part – a hike’s not a hike unless your covered in dirt and sweat!), I finally made it to the top where the water falls over the mountain.
I took my shoes off and waded through the freezing cold but clear blue waters and just enjoyed the sound of rushing water.
And then…there’s the down part. The muddy, slippery, rocky and extremely steep way down. There are two ways down. The one on the right is a slippery scramble while the one on the left is somewhat maintained with a mixture of rocky trail and sections of steps (although several steps are broken/missing).
The view from the bottom is incredible. The rushing water skips over several rock outcroppings and creates several, tiered pools of clear, blue water. Absolutely stunning. And as an added bonus, I didn’t face plant this time.
I waded into the freezing water to help remove some of the mud and let the little fishes nibble at the dead skin on my feet (free spa!) before heading back to catch a ride back to Luang Prabang.
For those not wishing to do the trek, you can hire a van or tuk tuk to bring you to the entry gate and you have an easy, 5 minute walk to the base of the waterfalls.
There are a number of companies in Luang Prabang that offer hiking tours to these waterfalls. It is quiet easy (and much cheaper) to do on your own and I have heard mixed reviews from other travelers.
I met a group of travelers who used White Elephant Adventures tours and heard mixed reviews. Some said they had a great time (to be determined if this was because of the great hike or if the company added extra value) while others said if they had gone without the company, they would not have noticed the difference. (If you’ve used this tour company before, please let me know in the comments what you thought about them.)