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Introducing Tat Kuang Si

Bikinis, bears and beautiful mature trees make curious bedfellows in this appealing if busy jungle park 30km southwest of town. The park is centred on a many-tiered waterfall that is one of Laos' most impressive, especially in the dry season. A five-minute forest walk from the restaurant-ringed carpark brings you to the first of several cascades. These tumble into azure-blue pools that are popular for swimming or rope-swings and there are even a few changing booths (bring togs and towels). Five minutes further is the main waterfall, a powerful beauty whose longest leap is around 25m. The best views are from the footbridge at its base but you can climb to the top via steep footpaths on either side (around 15 minutes up). The one to the right is a slippery scramble while the one on the left is better maintained with sections of steps. Unless water is very high you can easily wade through the top pools to link the two routes.

Upon entering the park, one of the first attractions is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. The residents here have been confiscated from poachers and are kept here in preference to releasing them to the same certain fate. Souvenirs are sold to fund their feeding, including t-shirts and water bottles. It is possible to see the bears being fed daily.

Many cheap eateries line the entrance car park at the top end of the Khamu village of Ban Thapene.

Tuk-tuks from Luang Prabang typically charge 200,000K for one person, from 300,000K for several. Some folks manage to cobble together an impromptu group by meeting fellow travellers beside the baguette sellers' area near the tourist office. Or pay 50,000K per person and let an agency organise a shared vehicle.

Visiting Kuang Si by hired motorcycle is very pleasant now that the road is decently paved and allows stops in villages along the way. By bicycle, be prepared for two long, steady hills to climb.

An appealing alternative is to charter a boat down the Mekong to Ban Ou (one hour downstream), from which the remaining 5km to the falls should be easy to hitch: Rte 2501 to the falls turns 90 degrees away from the river directly behind Ban Ou's wat. Some boatmen, however, have been known to drop passengers at different villages from which there's no choice but to charter a 'friend's' tuk-tuk.