Laos Waterfall Trekking
My foot sank deeper into the mud, I could feel it oozing through the small holes in the mesh of my running shoe. The same synthetic material used for breathability was ironically choking itself in the soft earth below. There were a small group of us, two other hikers and our two guides so there was no problem for the group to wait as I wriggled myself free. I twisted my ankle out slowly as to not completely loose my shoe in the muck, like a suction cup with a pop I released my imprisoned extremity and quickly moved to more terra firma. It had been raining the last few days which made for a sloppy trail on the ground, but from eye level it seemed we had found the best place for Laos waterfall trekking.
The Trek and the Tribes
The day started out early, I arrived with my breakfast in a little plastic bag and having only grabbed a spoon, I scooped my eggs quickly into my mouth while waiting for the rest of the group. We climbed into the back of a covered truck bed and headed away from Luang Prabang, the breeze blowing through the sides of the sides as we bounced along a small dirt road towards the Hmong and Khmu villages in the Ban Long Lao countryside behind the falls. At times we were the only ones on the long stretch of road, curving around farmland and making our way further and further from town towards the mountains. The dirt began to change shape, originally a wide road, it quickly transformed in to a more narrow pathway. We were dropped off on the side of the road in what felt like the middle of nowhere, picked up later in the afternoon at the base of the other side of the falls.
Hmong and Khmu villagers are the indigenous people of the region, living in small clusters of wooden huts at the base of the mountain. Mainly farming communities, these villages are set up near rice fields and rubber tree farms. It is truly a community environment, family huts built in close proximity to one another, cooking stations and laundry lines meld from one house into the next. There are about 500 Hmong villagers and 350 Khmu in the area and since it is a small faction of the population living off the land, without modern conveniences, I had expected to see a dwindling community. I was surprised to see a school within the village bursting with children all playing outside for an afternoon break. It was nice to see a thriving group maintaining local customs and traditions and passing them down to future generations.
We continued on into the jungle for our afternoon trek. Under the heat of the sun the path was dusty and dry, but once we entered the shade from the trees the path quickly changed to a swampy mess. This region of Laos experiences rainy season from July to October and although we were in “shoulder season“, they had just experienced some heavy rainfall shortly before I had arrived. The first part of the hike was mostly uphill, making our way towards the summit of Kuang Si Falls through a what turned out to be mostly a slippery, muddy and often rocky trail.
Leeches in Laos
Aside from the unexpected mud puddles, leeches were the next addition to the list. Trudging through the mud we soon began to encounter shiny little leeches sticking to our shoes. These slimy little interlopers will climb into your socks and latch on and we waged war on them throughout most of the middle of our hike. I grabbed a large stick to use in my leech combat, swiping them from my ankles to keep them from slinking into my socks and latching on. It ended up coming in handy later when we had some steep or muddy parts of the trek and it quickly became our honorary member of our trip.
After our lunch break the path flattened out considerably and by late afternoon we had reached the top of Kuang Si Falls. The view before us had made the strenuous hike worth all of the time. It was a lagoon oasis with small pools, murky water and a slow current pulling off towards the massive waterfall at the water’s edge. You could walk right up to the precipice, rest your arms along the makeshift wooden railing and lean over the side watching the water rush and fall to the jungle floor below.
We wading around at the top of the falls for awhile, balancing on roots and a series of boards set up to walk more freely across the creek. In the more rainy season, this area can be totally washed over, with a strong rush of water coming through and over the ledge. When we finally made our way over, I assessed my mud covered shoes and decided they wouldn’t be much use going down to the base of the falls. The mud was caked on the treads, and now they were soaking wet leaving me with a slippery surface to slide down the side of the huge hill we had to descend. I opted to keep my trusty walking stick and ditch the shoes. One of our guides was on his first day and once cleaned I knew they would be back to good condition so I happily handed them over to him to use for his new job.
After some calculated maneuvering, sliding sometime feet first, sometimes bum scrapping the ground, I awkwardly made it down to the base of Kuang Si Falls and had the chance to see the power of the falls from the bottom up! The mist slaps you across the face as you cross over the bridge from the trail to the viewing platforms. There are smaller swimming pools and sections to wade in at the bottom if you don’t feel like taking the hike to the summit but in my opinion it was worth it.
I spent the day with White Elephant Adventures and the experience however wonderful, the opinions are still all my own.