The Bears at Kuang Si Falls

Take me back to Laos. I couldn’t get enough of this place; Kuang Si waterfalls are just a short trip, no more than two hours if I remember right, from Luang Prabang (possibly one of my favourite places in the world) and is 100% worth a day of your time in Laos. It’s a bear sanctuary and an amazing waterfall too.

The bear sanctuary bit I was both excited and apprehensive to see – I love animal sanctuaries but it’s like going to a zoo in another country, you’re never sure if they keep animals at the standards you’re used to seeing them, if they treat them how you’d expect and like them to be treated. But I was so happy when I saw the bears, they looked about as chilled out, well cared for and at home as they could, milling around in the cool shelter of the forest. I’d also never seen a moon bear before, and so loved reading about them and seeing their beautiful white crescent markings and delicate faces. We spent what felt like hours photographing the bears while they played; they were so inquisitive and interesting, and every time you went to move off they did something else funny or photograph worthy. There were two little babies there, kept well out of sight of nosey tourists, in their forest home. Eventually we did head to the waterfalls though.

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You start the walk from the lower, quieter pools of the waterfall, where the water sits still and bright turquoise, glimmering in the dappled light. In some pools further up people are swimming, and jumping from a low branch into the almost shockingly cold water. In it, tiny little fish are milling around the shallower patches and like to take a nibble on your feet – people pay for pedicures like that – I hated the sensation however and got straight out over the cold, slippery rocks when they started eating an open cut I had (just a word of light warning!). The water is a total relief at the end of a full walk though, trust me, you’ll be thankful for that cold. We moved up the falls where the flow increases and the views get more stunning; the final ascent is pretty steep (I’d just take your shoes off and scramble for it), one side, however, is a little more hospitable than the other to climb up – and I’m not telling you which*. Guess which we tackled? I imagine there’s more water tumbling down the falls at different times of year here but there was definitely enough to make the whole place beautifully green and vibrant.

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At the top the view is so worth it. A barely moving pool of ankle-deep water greets your feet, with stepping stones and little bridges should you fancy them, and the view is just breathtaking. Steeping jutting hillsides of dense, intense greenery stretching right off into the clouds. It felt like like a film set, other worldly. There is also supposed to be the source of the waterfall some way back from this, but we walked for quite some time until we were dripping in sweat and then decided the source could wait; we reckoned we’d seen the most dramatic part of the falls, white spray and all.

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*As you stand at the bottom of the falls, I feel like the left side was a tad easier to get up!

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