Kuang Si Falls, Laos
The Kuang Si falls, around 30 km from Luang Prabang are definitely worth a visit if you are staying a few nights. We booked a day trip through Hotel de la Paix and arrived at the falls quite early, long before any coach parties turned up - it's definitely worth doing this, especially if you want to swim in the crystal clear water. Although we travelled by private car with our guide, the falls are said to be a gorgeous treat at the end of a (fairly arduous) bicycle ride from Luang Prabang town or there are local buses/tuk tuks available for those wanting more of an adventure - a guide is not necessary.
Walking up to the falls from the entrance is an easy stroll, mostly on formed roads so even if your mobility is slightly impaired, you should be fine. At the end of the formed path is a large pool filled by a 60 m cascade. If you have longer, there is a trek to the top of the falls - unfortunately we didn't have time to do this, but plan to return one day to see the view. If you fancy a swim, there are plenty of changing rooms discreetly placed among the trees so just bring a towel and costume. Toilets and snack bars are available in the car park at the bottom of the falls.
The second attraction at Kuang Si is the bear sanctuary, which is free to visit once you have paid the nominal fee to enter the waterfalls. As such, we would recommend buying a souvenir from the table near the entrance or donating a little cash to help support the bears - you can also sponsor a bear online.
Home to 23 Asiatic black bears, the sanctuary provides a safe place for animals that have been rescued by the Lao government, often from bile farms or in transit after being poached. In the park, you can watch the bears from a safe distance and take as many photos as you like. The bears are housed in large enclosures with plenty of room to spread out or play with the simple tyre toys dotted around.
Also worth a visit is the butterfly centre, which opened in 2014. Run by an expat Dutch couple, who support education for local children with proceeds from the butterfly farm, the netted gardens provide a tranquil escape and opportunity to learn about these beautiful insects. The cafe gets glowing reviews, so is the ideal place to relax after a cool swim in the falls. Alternatively, you can swim in the naturally blue pools in the butterfly farm - a wonderful treat in the hot summers of Laos.