It was thanks to White Elephant Adventures that we discovered Northern Laos through an amazing one-day trek to Kuang Si waterfall. From the moment we met owner Alex in their Luang Prabang main street office, planning our tour was easy and straight forward. Why of all companies did I chose White Elephant Adventures? Well, mainly because of their values and their ethical way of conducting a sustainable business that also contributes and gives back to the local communities. This was a real plus for me.
On the day of the tour, we arrived at their office at 8am and met Song, a guide with an incredible smile, hailing from a village around Luang Prabang. Song briefed us on the tour before boarding a pick up truck that took us along a dirt road through Luang Prabang outskirts. The scenic 1 hour ride was dusty and bumpy. We passed several Hmong and Khmu hill-tribe villages along the way, as well as farm land, deep green valleys, teak plantations, banana and pineapple plantations, high slopes and a great variety of vegetation which benefits from the fertile red earth of this area.
The Tad Kuang Si park is nestled in the middle of limestone peaks. The truck climbed up the mountain to an altitude of 900 mt, letting us enjoy a never-tiring scenery of farm lands at the base of limestone mountains. The heat was terrible and we were sweating copiously; under these conditions it was hard to believe Song’s story: two months earlier, temperatures here dropped so low that a total of 600 cows, 400 buffaloes and 200 hens died because of the cold. Needless to say, once we reached the end of the paved road and the ride was over, we were covered in dust.
It is claimed that there are 160 ethnicities in Laos, split between 49 tribal groups giving rise to 82 distinct languages – it is the most culturally diverse country in the world per capita. The tour of the neighbouring tribal Khmu and Hmong villages showed us their differences: both are dedicated to agriculture, with wild pigs roaming around a multitude of kids, but while Khmu people are more developed and nowadays make use of modern material for home building, Hmong are usually more isolated as they live the farthest up the mountain, hence they still make wide use of traditional wood and bamboo thatched huts. We were amazed to learn that they still rely on their shaman – they have one in each village – to supply them traditional herbal medicines when they get sick. We meandered around the villages watching the daily activities, a man cleaning rice, an old woman skinning a squirrel, a boy sorting his fishing catch, while experienced Song shared lots of cultural and historical information about the local tribes, which we appreciated.
As we started the trek, we left the villages for higher, jungle grounds. Even there, Song proved to be a wealth of information about nature and survival in the jungle. He told us of the utility of the Sa tree, which bark is used to make paper, he distinguished a few medicinal plants, he made us try wild berries, nuts and fruits and we drank sweet water out of a flower. He was raised in a village close to the jungle, and you can definitely tell.
The 3-hour hike took us mainly along a natural path and through some of the most lush, rich and varied jungle; the uphill portion was exhausting as the sun was right overhead, but we drank lots of water and endured, since all we saw was worth the effort and the sweat. A myriad of birds filled up the tree tops and accompanied our hike with the most original and mesmerising concert in nature. We were happy to be there.
Eventually we reached a natural spring deep in the jungle which is the source of Kuang Si waterfall. To be noted that this spring gets unnoticed during rainy season due to the high volume of rainwater, but it is thanks to this spring that the waterfall runs all year round, even in dry season.
The jungle area that enveloped us was fresh and leafy, and in a word, alive. We stopped to eat the packed lunch that Song had carried on one of the wooden benches under a nice resting area, we had a short rest and then embarked on a further 30 minutes walk that took us to the top layer of Kuang Si waterfall.
From there we enjoyed a fantastic view of the surrounding valley and of the lower area. There are numerous refreshing pools fed by a flow of clean, turquoise and green water slightly opaque from the quantity of minerals enriching it. The water from the pools eventually converges and plunge to the lower tiers, making a rumbling noise. We took a nice swim in one of the pools, observing a group of young monks in orange robes who also swam or walked along wooden suspended trails that cross small rivers and lagoons. There were a few people around, most of whom had hiked up from the lower tier of Kuang Si waterfall, but even so we still managed to evade to a quiet corner where we had enough space to quietly take in the superb surroundings.
It was now time to trek down for a further 1 hour to reach the lower tier of Kuang Si waterfall. We hiked along a trail of wooden stairs and grooved natural stairs that were partly submerged in falling water, and soon reached the bottom where there was an incredible amount of rock pools and small cascades. There were lots of people in and around the pools, bathing and entertaining themselves with the soothing sounds of rushing water. Kuang Si waterfall is indeed one of visitors’ most favourite spots around Luang Prabang. The truck was waiting for us at the parking lot for the trip back to town, which we reached at 4,30 – tired but satisfied and feeling rewarded.
The trek itself was fantastic and highly recommended, a delightful step back into nature. You get to see wildlife and local tribal villages, and to swim in mineral-rich waters. Luang Prabang is a great town to explore, but it is worth getting out of town and into the hills even if just for one day in order to get a unique experience. For me, it was the best way to get to know the Laos culture and nature. I may even go so far to say that it was one of the highlights of my stay in this wonderful area of Laos.
I cannot rave enough about Song the guide, who made the whole difference in the experience: very knowledgeable about the area and the villages, funny and full of great stories, and speaking perfect English – great for those long conversations on-route! We could have surely planned this trip cheaper by trekking alone, but I can’t highlight enough how the guide was an absolute breath of fresh air who allowed us to get closer to Laos nature and people.
I was more than happy with White Elephant Adventures services, definitely up to standard: you can trust them every step of the way as they are the leaders in exclusive treks of 1 to 5 days. I would use them again without hesitation, also knowing they always look for ways to support the local communities, they are deeply committed to reducing the consequences of poverty in Laos and to improving Laos’ children education. Read about their efforts on http://www.communitylearninginternational.org
White Elephant Adventures arrange unique treks as well as biking and kayaking activities, constantly surveying new areas in the Luang Prabang surroundings. They are one of the longest running and most experienced tour operators in Laos.
CHECK THEIR WEBSITE ON www.white-elephant-adventures-laos.com
READ THEIR COMPANY PROFILE ON http://asianitinerary.com/white-elephant-adventures/
Their Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/WhiteElephantAdventures/
THIS IS THEIR WEB PAGE OF THE TREK http://www.white-elephant-adventures-laos.com/day-tours-waterfalls-laos/
Asian Itinerary was kindly accommodated by Le Vang Bua Villa during their whole stay in Luang Prabang.