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Beauty, adventure, and spa treatments at the Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos
The Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos, are a majestic 3-tier waterfalls that almost looks like a giant natural staircase (and could be, as you can climb the falls). The falls are surrounded by lush forest and myriad opportunities for hiking where you will come across various cascading pools of water, many of which are fine for swimming, as well as charming bridges and limestone cliffs.
Along with trekking through stunning scenery, visitors can visit the bear sanctuary, have lunch at the picnic site, and, my favorite, swing off a tree into the falls. Right next to the pool that the falls cascade into is a tree with wooden plank stairs leading up to a thick rope. You will crawl on all fours to the edge of a tree branch and will have to reach out without falling to grab the rope (while a bit scary, remember that you'll only be falling into water). Once you grab it, you'll be able to swing like Tarzan through the air and into the pristine waters below. Or, if you're like me, you'll hold on for two seconds and slide right off. Either way, it's a lot of fun.
While the Kuang Si Falls area is a big site for tourists, my local guide told me that the place is considered sacred by locals, and I did see some monks wandering around. For this reason, I would recommend forgoing the bikinis and tiny swim suits and wearing capris and a t-shirt. While it may be a little uncomfortable, at least it's respectful, and there are changing rooms so you can get right out of your wet clothes.
An added bonus is the fact that swimming in the waters below the falls is like a complimentary spa treatment. There are thousands of tiny fish that actually suck on your toes and get the dead skin off. Oddly enough, this is a treatment that some people pay big bucks to get at a spa. While I was a bit uncomfortable with how it felt, I will admit my feet were extra soft when I got out.
From Luang Prabang, getting to the falls will take you a little under an hour. You can take a tuk tuk, taxi, songthaew, motorbike, or, usually the cheapest option, a slow boat. Another possibility is to go with a tour company, although make sure you will get a few hours to spend at the falls as there is a lot to explore. The entry fee to Kuang Si Falls is about $1.