I spent four days of my vacation in the World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang on my last trip to Laos earlier this year (February-March). It was my first time there and I didn’t map out a plan down to the specifics on what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to visit Pak Ou Caves and see Tad Kuang Si (Kuang Si Waterfalls) and Tad Sae if possible. What was important to me was just to get a glimpse of Luang Prabang and then explore more on the second visit.
The cab driver offered to take me to Kuang Si Falls and Tad Sae for a private tour for 400,000 KIPS, a discount price for both places. Kuang Si Falls would only be 300,000 KIPS alone. I’ve read numerous forums about the prices of getting to Kuang Si Falls for about 40,000 or cheaper depending on your negotiation skills. I didn’t want to make a fuss and took on his offer. When I got to the guest house and told the manger and personnels about my plan they told me I paid too much and should cancel the arrangement since they can find me a better deal. I told them I made the arrangement and don’t want to hurt his feeling and it’s not that much money in the end and I see it as supporting the local economy.
The driver picked me up before 10:00 AM even though he said he would come get me at 9:00 AM but since this is Laos, the time table is not that strict and I didn’t mind enjoying my breakfast longer by Nam Khan River. My driver had attended a wedding the night before and was really tired from what I can tell. He then said there is no water at Tad Sae so we could only go to Kuang Si Falls. I didn’t make a big deal out of it and just happy to see the famous waterfalls.
When we got to the entrance area, the driver asked me if he can get some sleep and I can go alone. I told him that it was fine and went to buy my ticket. It was kind of funny when I went to the counter and asked for one ticket. There were three men handling the ticket counter and they all looked at each other and asked each other “how much?” and then one of them asked me if I was Khon Lao. I asked if I am not Khon Lao then what would I be and the man sitting in the middle of the group (Tai Pakse) said to me that he thought I am Khon Farang. By this time I was smiling with amusement and said if I can read the sign posted above them in Lao would that be good enough? After I read a few sentences they gave me a ticket for a price of a Lao person and not a tourist price.
After that it was all smooth sailing or more like walking and taking my time to examine everything like the trees, the bushes, the Bear Rescue Center, and then the waterfalls, level by level.
It was a little treacherous to hike up to the top of the Kuang Si Waterfalls and I was hesitant to take a risk at first. But since I heard there is a swimming pool/pond up there and the view is gorgeous (to die for) I had to test myself. I was exhausted half way up th trail since I only had 3 hours of sleep for the past three days that I’ve been in Laos. A group of people were coming down and they were complaining about their hardship of climbing to the top only to see just a pond of water and not even worth a trip.
I took a rest and was figuring out how to navigate my way up without breaking my legs or yet fall to my death. By this time I was the only one climbing to the top and I could see in the distance a German man who I saw earlier a few times as I was checking out the smaller falls. I was a bit relief since there would be a witness to my fall or worse my death.
By the time I got to the top I was very disappointed. I saw a small pond with a fence along the edge of the cliff. I also noticed two Farangs (tourists) making their way along the fence to the other side of Lord knows what. The girl was behind trying to make her way across the pond while the guy was urging her on. She was holding on to the wooden fence and any mistake would meant a big dive into the waterfall below. I thought they went to check out something and will come back. I never saw them return and by this time the German man finally made his way to the top and started to take pictures of this little pond.
He looked like a professional photographer and had all the right hiking gears on him. I asked him if this was the top or is there more and told him of the couple that I saw trekking on water to the other side of the pond. He said this is it and the end of the line. I took his words for it and didn’t want to take anymore risk by trying to cross to the other side just to get the right photos.
This is it folks at the top. Well, at least I made it up to the top and back in one piece if that is really the top and not one more level up there somewhere.
On my way down was even more scary so I took off my shoes and went down slowly with my socks to get a better grip of the track. Not even a few meters down I was attacked by a group of butterflies. That’s what I called it when they kept circling me and followed me everywhere. A few of them landed on my arms and hands and refused to let go of me. For a moment there I thought some spirits are trying to get my attention. After a few minutes of being circled by butterflies I just stood there and let them play with me. Two of them were like biting my hands and I fought one off but then let the other kept chewing on me or whatever he or she was doing to me.
By then the German man was climbing down the trail and said to me those butterflies are harmless and that they like me. He said he doesn’t think they are poisonous and then was having a good time taking photos of the butterflies on my arms and hands. When the photo session was over I had a private moment with the butterflies and to the spirits of the land and went my way. I was happy to made it back down in one piece without a scratch on my body.
When I came back to the entrance I asked the men at the ticket counter if where I was is the top since I didn’t see the beautiful pool/pond at all. They asked me if I took the steps all the way up, like three levels or something to the left. I said I went to the right after the Bear Rescue Center. They asked me if I saw the main waterfall and I told them that I did and told them of the treacherous hike to the top. I then told them I will try a different path the next time around.