Tat Kuang Si, a multi-tiered waterfall to the south of Luang Prabang, is hugely popular with tourists due to its unbelievably bright turquoise blue water. Even the local monks go there to cool down and have some good food. To get there we had the choice of renting a motorbike or tuk tuk, or – if we were feeling adventurous – taking a 6 hour hike. We loved the idea of hiking but had to go for the cheaper option. That’s how we ended up part of an overbooked tour, squished in the back of a minivan for the hour-long ride.
The van pulled up in the carpark and gave us only 3 hours to explore. The carpark itself was full of vendors barbecuing fish on bamboo skewers, serving bags of fresh fruit juice with a straw, or selling traditional, woven clothes and bags.
The Bear Sanctuary
Very aware of the time, we payed the entrance fee of 30,000 Kip (£2.5) that gave us access to Tat Kuang Si and the bear sanctuary beneath. Inside, there were two paths, one that led directly to the falls, and the other through the sancutary. There was an introduction to the bears – all of whom have been rescued – and tips on how to help those in the wild. There were also explanations of all the plants and animals on the way and their importance in creating the rainforest ecosystem.
The Amazing Colour
The first sight of the shallow, jade pools through the trees was a forest oasis, so bright and inviting. The water tumbled over limestone rocks – the source of its colour; the light reflected off the high levels of calcium carbonate to give the bright yet opaque, chalky colour.
We followed a trail up the smaller tiers to a bridge beneath the largest, 50m fall where the sun glinted off the spray in the air. The pool directly beneath was the only one closed to swimmers for their safety.
Alongside the fall was a mud bank, worn away by use, to create steps. It was steep and muddy, and flip-flops were not the best choice. It was hot and it was humid; by the time we reached the top I was the hottest I’d ever felt. However, the pools there were even more serene than those below. They weren’t as blue but they were more secluded in the low-hanging trees.
A simple wooden path wound through the fast-running water – that did its best to drag our feet away just before it tumbled over the edge – and back down steps where we couldn’t help but get splashed.
A Free Foot Spa
Finally ready to cool off, we stepped into the water and it was freezing. I should have expected it as it was a mountain spring but the constant sunshine had confused me.
Sam dived straight in, loving it, but I could feel something nibbling my feet. Not being able to see anything through the water, I panicked, and shrieked. It was embarrassing. I hung on Sam’s neck as he carried me around the pool.
However, I did dare to climb up the limestone rocks to sit beneath some of the smaller falls. The pressure was intense as it beat down on my back.
We got changed in the useful yet dark and dingy changing rooms and headed back to our lift. Everything had been a bit of a rush and I’d have loved to have stayed longer. We didn’t need to hurry though as our driver wasn’t back yet. Nearby drivers tried to convince us he’d already left so we’d pay them for the return journey. Turned out he was just finishing off a game of pool with some of the locals.