One afternoon in Luang Prabang – actually on my first one – I find myself venturing out of the city center and into a popular destination 30 kilometers southwest. The Kuang Si Falls is but one of the many waterfalls surrounding the city but is the most popular.

Getting there is easy – it’s just one hour from Luang Prabang – and touts are everywhere around the city center, charging between 30,000 and 50,000 kip for a round-trip on a minivan or a tuktuk. (Some travel agencies do this trip but stop at questionable “community develop centers” that seem more interested in fleecing tourists their money than doing anything substantial to promote sustainable tourism. Travelers who are really interested in a community trek should contact reputable tour operators like the White Elephant or Tiger Trail.) If time and stamina aren’t issues, biking is also possible. The journey there is a delight in itself, passing through scenic villages and fields, albeit on dusty and hilly roads.

Kuang Si first tumbles out of a jungle above a mountain then flows to three tiers of rocks. It quickly fills with people taking a dip in its really cold menthol-blue waters, or diving from trees and vines. It’s not exactly a place for solitude, and the park itself is well-maintained so there’s a touristy sense here. But it’s well worth the effort to visit, if only to enjoy the idyllic views, and a chance to have fun with locals and fellow travelers alike.

Near the park entrance, before reaching the falls, visitors are first greeted with a large enclosure for sun bears who were rescued from poachers. A simple exhibit nearby explains the situations of bears around the world.

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