If You Only Visit One Waterfall In Southeast Asia, Make It This One / by Shane Henderson

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There are few things that make me happier than a waterfall, especially one that you can swim in after a hike. The sweat, dirt, and exhaustion of the trail all instantly washed away by a crystal clear mountain pool or the spray of a towering falls… what could be better than that?  Over the last year we have sought out waterfalls wherever possible, and incidentally, we have seen some pretty great ones.  Multnomah Falls in Portland, Hanakapiai Falls on Kauai, Hyakuhirono Falls in Japan, Bua Tong Falls in Thailand… all have been unique and amazing in different ways.  But in Laos, I think we found a new contender for our favorite falls: Kuang Si.

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About a 45-minute drive outside of Luang Prabang, Kuang Si is made up of a series of incredibly vibrant blue-green waterfalls surrounded by lush jungle. As you walk up the short trail along the river, you pass by smaller falls and pools, which are beautiful in their own right, but the real highlight is the 200ft high towering falls at the end. The color of the water, the sunlight streaming through the trees and reflecting off the spray, the tiny figures perched high above on the top edge of the falls… it looks like something out of a fairytale. Although you can swim in many of the pools below or above the big falls, we recommend heading straight to the “not-so-secret” middle pool. It is technically off-limits, and a little tricky to find, but has nonetheless been popular with backpackers for years. To get there, cross over the walking bridge at the base of the falls and head up the hiking trail on the right side. As you ascend, you will see no entry signs on the left and clear signs of places where people have gone through or around the wooden fence. Just pick one of those spots, and follow the well-worn trail through the woods to reach the middle pool. You see those little people in the photo above who seem to be sitting right on the edge of the falls? That’s because they are! Although it looks scary from below, there is actually a lip on the edge of the falls so it feels almost like an infinity pool! You can swim right up to the edge and lean over with little danger of falling off. How cool is that??

Of course as with many incredible spots in Southeast Asia, Kuang Si is extremely popular and can get swamped with visitors. Don’t let that deter you though! If you visit first thing in the morning, or late in the afternoon it is usually less crowded. Plus, most of the visitors stay near the small lower falls, so once you get up past those, the middle pool and the top of the upper falls can be pretty quiet.  There are countless tour operators in Luang Prabang that offer half day trips to the falls, but we suggest renting a scooter and making your own way there. It is basically just one country road the whole way, and relatively easy even for a beginner rider. The scenery is beautiful and having your own transportation means you can stay as long as you want! Plus, you can stop at the Buffalo Dairy on the way back and get some fresh buffalo milk ice cream!!

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I am excited for the amazing waterfalls that we are sure to see in Europe, but man, Kuang Si is going to be tough to beat!