💦 Kuang Si Falls (Laos): Ultimate 2024 Guide + Secret Pools

The lower tiers of Kuang Si Falls resembles the Garden of Eden in morning light.
Arriving at Kuang Si Falls feels like entering the garden of Eden.

Few experiences compare to that breathless moment when you first encounter the staggering beauty of Kuang Si Falls in Laos.  Despite having visited hundreds of waterfalls as photographers, Kuang Si Falls is hands down the most photogenic.

This guide has been created to help you plan and make the most of your visit. You will discover the best times to visit Kuang Si Falls, how to get there, and everything there is to see along the way, including information about the once popular Secret Pools that are now closed off.

Before you begin, you should also click our Northern Laos Itinerary & Travel Guide to open it in a new tab. This guide will describe and showcase all of the other amazing things to see and do in the region.

📸 Photographing Kuang Si Falls

Vibrant colours fill the scene at a small section of the lower Kuang Si Falls.
Mother Nature used all of her colour palette when she made this place!

Kuang Si Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, but there are a few things to consider when photographing this spectacular waterfall. 

As with all nature and landscape photography destinations, the lighting and conditions for our shots are determined by what nature provides.

We can’t force the weather or light to cooperate, but there are some considerations to keep in mind that will better your chances at having favourable conditions during your visit.  

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☀️ Natural lighting at Kuang Si Falls

Gorgeous lighting create a mystical and sacred feeling to the turquoise waters of the falls.
The morning natural light is perfect for creating peaceful captures.

Due to the foliage that surrounds the falls, getting good natural light can be tough. Most of the day, the scene will be scorched in dappled, spotted light. This can look nice if there is a bit of cloud to defuse the sun, but the dotted textures created by sunlight being shredded as it passes through foliage tends to create distracting foregrounds.

Luckily, the best lighting coincides with the quietest time of day; the morning! By arriving at 6am as recommended, you will ensure even, balanced light. You will also ensure no one is disturbing the waters, allowing for longer exposures to create that nice soft water.

Even lighting is especially important for those Instagram shots that include you as a human subject. Shooting later in the day with the sun overhead will create harsh shadows on your face and result in paler skin tones.

There is also a case to be made for shooting in the late afternoon as the sun is setting. This can create some lovely angular light,  but you are more likely to be battling with other tourists.  Additionally, you will be shooting more into the sun during the afternoon, which can be challenging (but beautiful if executed well!)

💦 Water level of the falls

The one thing you will have the least control over is the water level. Ironically, the wet season is probably the worst time of year to visit Kuang Si Falls, as the famously exotic waters lose their colour and vibrancy following heavy rains.

If possible, try to avoid July and August in particular as heavy rains are almost guaranteed. During other times of the year, check Instagram stories and recent posts from the Kuang Si Falls hashtag to see recent photos, and try to visit when the water level and colours look good!

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🌿 Landscape and Instagram photo compositions

Alright, you’ve arrived at the gates of one of the best waterfalls in Laos. It’s 6am and you’re really hoping this was all worth it. Park your car or bike in the lot just outside the gate and walk through the front gates. It will take between 5-10 minutes to arrive at the first pool of Kuang Si. On the way, you may notice some adorable moon bears just waking up as well; skip spending too much time with them for now as we’ll visit them on the way back.

First pools of Kuang Si Falls

Even light on first pools of Kuang Si Falls, while the surrounding foliage bathes in the warm light of morning.
The first view of the stunning pools of Kuang Si Falls.

This first glimpse of what’s to come was enough to take my breath away. As you arrive at this first set of pools, you’ll notice a bridge that cuts across the water and leads to a rough trail. By all means, explore the area, but we will be sticking to the trail on the left. The rough trail across the bridge leads to mostly obstructed views and once lead to the Secret Pools, but those have been shut down with fresh barbed wire (more to come on that, below).

This first glimpse of what’s to come was enough to take my breath away. As you arrive at this first set of pools, you’ll notice a bridge that cuts across the water and leads to a rough trail. By all means, explore the area, but we will be sticking to the trail on the left. The rough trail across the bridge leads to mostly obstructed views and once lead to the Secret Pools, but those have been shut down with fresh barbed wire (more to come on that, below).

Some people like to include the bridge in the foreground of their photo, but you’ll be getting wet for that shot and standing far enough away that the falls will feel small and unimpressive. My favourite Instagram photo compositions for this first set of pools focused more on the landscape and did not include a person.

You will have plenty of better opportunities to put yourself into the photos later on, but if you would like to get the ball rolling here, I suggest being mostly submerged in the water and swimming closer to the falls to give them some scale. If you are standing up or even sitting out of the water, you will look massive in comparison to the small waterfalls.

A beautiful landscape photograph of the first pools of Kuang Si Falls.
Though small, these first tumbles tease at what’s to come…

Second pools of Kuang Si Falls

A few steps along the trail and you will reach the second set of pools. In my opinion, this is the most Instragrammable location of all the Kuang Si waterfalls for the inclusion of the human element (ie, YOU!).

Later on in the day, these pools will be swarmed with people, so I suggest getting the shots you want early. This is why you arrived at 6am!  There are endless compositions here to explore, causing me to spend about an hour at this location alone!

When I began culling the photos from the day, there were three compositions from this set of pools that I considered to be the prettiest:

Travels of Sophie wades through the stunning turquoise waters of Kuang Si Falls.
Taking a refreshing dip at the second pool

This first composition (seen above) used two trees standing in the water as a natural frame to capture the unique colours and scenery.

The second composition, seen below, has the subject sitting or standing on the protruding branch of the tree that reaches over the water from the bank. Standing is a lot more grabbing, but for safety reasons, I recommend sitting.

Travels of Sophie sits perched in a tree above the lower Kuang Si Falls.
Sitting perched atop a broken tree branch above the lower Kuang Si Falls.

This third composition, below, required swimming right up to the falls while the photographer stood up along the bank (near the tree we used for our second composition). I felt this third option made the falls themselves look a bit more impressive.

Third pools of Kuang Si Falls

Just another minute or less up to the trail and you will arrive at the third set of pools. This is the last one you are allowed to swim at, so take advantage now before the crowds arrive!

There were two compositions I liked for Instagram in this third section, and both involve going for a swim. Just to warn you, there are some small fish that will come nibble at you! They are not dangerous, but they may be a bit startling.

The first composition is a bit uncomfortable but was my preferred of the two. It involves having the subject sit on the falls in the centre, while the photographer stands back and at the side shooting across the waterfall (as seen above).  I loved the range of colours and flowing water that was prevalent in the scene.

The second composition requires you to swim across the pool to the far end, where another small waterfall is crashing in.  There are some rocks to sit on that place you perfectly in front of the falls.  The photographer will need to be back on land near the place we took the first shot, but crouched down to water level and zoomed in tight.  While this may not showcase all of the incredible colours of Kuang Si Falls, it does create a “jungle paradise” kind of vibe!

Enjoying the refreshing waters of Kuang Si Falls

Fourth pools of Kuang Si Falls

On my first visit to Kuang Si Falls in 2013, this fourth section of tiered pools was my favourite place for photos. I absolutely loved the way each tier cascaded from one to the next, the colours in the water and limestone, and how the whole scene came together.  On my return visit in 2019, however, I discovered that they have fenced off this section of pools and put up a small sign that says not to enter.

Visiting Kuang Si Falls in 2013
Visiting Kuang Si Falls in 2013

This section is technically accessible without hopping the fence by simply swimming up from the previous pool. Whether or not you decide to enter that way to include yourself in your photo will have to be left to your ethical stance on the matter.

To that end, many travel blogs say that you should not swim here because it is a sacred site. As I mentioned, this was not the case in 2013 so I strongly suspect that it has not become sacred in the past 6 years.  I suspect that these pools have been fenced off purely for safety concerns, but there is almost no risk of significant injury in such shallow water.

All that said, I do my best not to condone or condemn the actions of my readers, but only to inform.  I do have black and white areas when it comes to responsible tourism, but this spot falls into a very grey area for me.

Cascading layers of rock create a staircase of natural beauty at the fourth tier of Kuang Si Falls.
Cascading tiers of rock form a staircase of natural beauty.

The Wooden Mill

As we move past the fourth pools, you will get your first glimpse of the ultimate prize; the Kuang Si Waterfall. Before rushing off, take a second and appreciate the beauty of the landscape that the water’s descent down limestone rock creates. While you cannot enter the pools here, I loved the feeling in this scene and felt the wooden mill added a sort of charm to the photo.

A small wooden mill adds a charming subject to this beautiful scene in Kuang Si Falls.
The small wooden mill adds a charming subject to this fairytale scene.

THE Kuang Si Waterfall

I will never forget my first time seeing this world wonder, nor my second. Kuang Si Waterfall is a legitimate miracle of nature and is one of the prettiest individual sites I have seen in all my travels.

The obvious shot will be of the falls, taken from the bridge. Many of the access points that were once available to get nearer to the falls have been shut down since my first visit. However, I prefer the 2019 set up as it doesn’t allow for hoards of people to be fighting for their shot in front of the waterfall. Pick a place on the bridge where things feel centred and balanced, and fire away!  If you brought your tripod and there is no other traffic on the bridge, this is a great opportunity for a long exposure.

My absolute favorite waterfall in the world; the Kuang Si Waterfall is a genuine miracle of nature!
The Kuang Si Waterfall is a genuine miracle of nature!

You could try a portrait or selfie style photo from the bridge itself, but you will struggle to capture all of the details that make Kuang Si Waterfall so impressive by limiting yourself to such a small space.

If you would like to include yourself in the photo, you can do so by positioning yourself on the bridge and sending the photographer down the wooden trail to capture a composition like the one below. The bridge does block some of the falls, but I still feel that it makes for a nice photo.

Travels of Sophie standing on the bridge at the final waterfall of Kuang Si
THE Kuang Si Waterfall!

One other angle that I really liked was from further back by the picnic table. In this shot, we zoomed in tight on the falls, using the gorgeous, colourful foliage to frame the falls.

Kuang Si Falls framed by bright red blossoms and green foliage
Kuang Si Falls framed by bright red blossoms and green foliage

Bonus Shot: The Wooden Trail

While it’s hard to turn your back on the grandeur of Kuang Si Waterfall, there was one last composition that I only discovered my partner had captured upon returning home.  Having seen this photo, I wished I had thought to include myself for an Instagram post!  This photo was taken from the bank of the river, looking down onto the wooden path at Kuang Si Waterfall.

The wooden pathway at Kuang Si Falls adds a pop of colors, textures, and leading lines.
Next time, I’ll be here with my dress ready!

The leading lines of the wooden trail guide our eyes to a small tumble in the famously turquoise water.  I loved how this composition included the many shades of green, as well as the textures in the wood, and feel it would have been easy to include a person walking along the path.

By this point, it is likely that the crowds are starting to file in.  After putting the cameras away and enjoying the scenery without a lens, we followed our rumbling tummies back to the car.  On the way out, however, we were met with one last, undeniable photo opportunity…

🐻 Moon Bears at the Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary

The adorable, endangered moon bears of Laos were now awake and active, getting up to all sorts of silly antics at the Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary.  I loved being able to snap off some photos of them without having to shoot through a fence, and with a decent zoom, you can really get some great pictures.

The story of the moon bears in Laos and other parts of Asia is a tragic one, but the sanctuary is a cause worth supporting if your finances allow.  For more information on the tragic but hopeful story of the sanctuary, click here.

A moon bear relaxing poolside at the Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary.
These moon bears are such funny and lovable creatures!

☀️ When to visit Kuang Si Falls

A girl walks through Kuang Si Waterfall, Laos

Many topics have been discussed in this photography guide, but the single-most-important consideration is the time of day you begin! As with most places in the world, the best way to avoid crowds is to be the first one on scene.

Being here early is extremely important if you want to get those perfect Instagram-worthy shots. By setting your alarm for 5am and procuring your own car, bike, or tuk tuk ahead of time, you can avoid having other tourists in your shots for about 3 full hours.

The first round of buses will not arrive from Luang Prabang until 9-10am. This mean you will have the place basically to yourself until then.

Officially, the falls do not open until 8am. However, the gate is left open and there is nothing preventing you from entering early.  We left Luang Prabang around 5:15am and walked right in at 6am.

🚗 How to get to Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls is located 23km from the city of Luang Prabang where most visitors will be staying. From town, it takes about 45 minutes to arrive at the entrance.

There are numerous options for transport, but we recommend simply renting a car. Driving in Laos is safe, easy, and affordable, and having one allows you to be at the most popular places outside of peak tourist times.

Below is a list of the options available for getting to Kuang Si Falls:

Rental Car

Even budget travelers should consider this option. Car rental in Northern Laos is easy and affordable, and the roads are well maintained. The standard price for car rentals in Luang Prabang is about $50 USD per day, but they can get as low as $30.

Public Minivan

There are a fleet of minivans that provide daily shuttle service to and from town to the waterfalls each day that are a popular choice for tight budgets. As of 2021, they cost 60,000 kip for roundtrip rides, which is the equivalent of about $6 USD.

While you will save money and effort by booking a shared ride to the falls, this also means you will be arriving at the same time as everyone else. It also means your hours will be severely limited as you will have to abide by the drivers’ schedule or arrange your own way home.

Private Minivan

Those traveling with a group (or good at making friends!) should consider hiring private transport. The starting price is typically 250,000 kip (about $25 USD) which means you almost break even with even 4 passengers compared to taking a public minivan. What’s more, you will have more flexibility with your schedule and be making far fewer pick-ups and drop offs.

This option is also good for photographers who want to arrive early, before the crowds, but who are not comfortable driving.

Motorbike or Scooter Rental

If you are comfortable on two wheels and are traveling solo or as a couple, renting a scooter or motorbike is worth considering. It costs about 20,000 kip ($20 USD) which is cheaper than hiring a private van or renting a car, and gives you the freedom to come and go as you like.

With that said, we always encourage extreme consideration and caution when renting motorbikes in Southeast Asia. Many travel insurance policies do not cover scooter accidents and injuries, and a lot of the service providers are simply untrustworthy.

Songtaew (aka Tuk Tuk)

A songtaew is the local name for a public shuttle, which is usually just a truck that has been crudely customized with bench seating. These are the most popular option for most travelers, but not the one we typically recommend.

The starting price for a songtaew is 200,000 kip but they can fit 6+ people, bringing the cost per person closer to 35,000 kip ($3.50 USD). These are the most economic option if you can get a group together but also require the effort and negotiation. Generally speaking, hiring a private minivan is a better option.


While it is not recommended for any casual traveler, you always have the option to to rent a bike for about 25,000 kip ($2.50 USD) in town and ride out to the Kuang Si Waterfalls! The road is long and rough, and mostly uphill as well, but the falls feels that much better as a result upon arrival.


Most do not realize that you can actually travel from Luang Prabang to Kuang Si Waterfalls by boat! It is a slightly slower voyage but a far more memorable and scenic one.

⛔️ What NOT to do at Kuang Si Falls

The Trail to the Top

From the Kuang Si Waterfall, you will see a trail that leads to the top, as well as one across the bridge that goes both directions.  I walked all the way to the top using the trail on the left, then all the way down from the top using the trail on the right.  During an exhausting climb both ways, I did not stop for a single photo! There were no good, unobstructed views of the falls, and the hike was quite strenuous.  There is a pool at the top with a swing, but it’s really not very photogenic with the water definitely being closer to brown than the gorgeous blue of below.

I won’t be so bold as to tell anyone not to bother, but I will say that I would not do it again.

The Secret Pools of Kuang Si Falls

Secret Pools you say?  Well, kind of.  They are not a well-kept secret anymore, but the primary reason I did not include any photos or guidance to these pools is that they were COMPLETELY shut down and locked up tight with fresh, shiny barbed wire.  Eventually, someone will come and cut the wire again allowing people to sneak in, but I draw a much harder line in the ethics debate here.  I am told these pools are sacred, which is more believable at this location than the fourth pools we discussed earlier.

It is uncertain exactly why these pools have been shut down, but I suspect it has to do with safety, religion, preservation, or all of the above.  While I cannot stop you from seeking them out, I would urge you not to bother.  “Best” case scenario, you find them and are able to access them at the risk of upsetting and offending the local people.  Worser case scenarios are abundant, from injury to fines and even potentially death.  No Instagram photo is worth that!

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Sophie's passion for travel and photography are outweighed only by her love for animals! Originally from London and now living in the Pacific Northwest, Sophie has traveled to over 30 countries across all seven continents, many of which as a solo female traveller.

10 thoughts on “💦 Kuang Si Falls (Laos): Ultimate 2024 Guide + Secret Pools”

  1. Hi Sophie,
    Really loving your blog and photographs. They are inspiring! My husband and I are planning a trip to Laos next month and will definitely be using some of the tips we found on your website. We live in Thailand and are going to be traveling all over SE Asia over the next year.
    Thanks for all you’re doing!

    • Thank you so much. I’m glad you found it useful 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful time in Southeast Asia, it’s such a beautiful part of the world. Good luck with your blog, it’s looking great! xx

  2. This is a great post! So interesting to hear how things have changed over the years. I love your photography tips and side by side comparison photos. Great job! Keep it up 🙂

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog posts and found them incredibly insightful. I’ve taken extensive notes and am hopeful that our upcoming trip will be just as enjoyable. Your photography is particularly impressive, and I was wondering if you could share some details about your camera settings, such as exposure and whether you used an ND filter. If you’re contemplating whether it’s worth the effort, I’d say including these details as secondary picture footnotes would be greatly appreciated.

    Personally, I’ve always struggled with capturing these shots in a single frame. My workaround involves using a tripod to combine a long exposure picture of the waterfall with a regular shot featuring a person. However, it does come with the hassle of removing the ND filter in between shots – a small price to pay for the perfect capture! 😄

    Looking forward to more of your inspiring content!

    • Sorry for the late reply Aleera! Personally, I use a CPL for almost all of my landscape shots, especially when there is water as it is essential for cutting glare and enhancing scenery color. This also allows me to slow the shutter speed down by enough to get a “long enough” exposure for soft water. If I really want it to drag but dont want to deal with multiple filters (which is normally the case), I go down to ISO 50 and F22, which usually allows a 0.5″ shutter even in daylight and that is slow enough to get the soft water effect 🙂

  4. Hi, I am Darllon also a travel photographer and I did find in your post all the information I was looking for: so thank you so much for the time and efforts that you put in sharing this content with us. I will be heading to the falls in less than a month. I traveled to more than 50 countries and like you I am very concerned about ethics, safety and respecting the local culture. Like you I am very concerned with finding the best light. I just worry a bit if I enter at 6:00am and I can’t pay for my ticket. You think I won’t get into troubles? Also I asked my local contact and he said that I could use my drone at the falls. What time of the day do you think is the best for a drone shot. From what I have seen on PhotoPills app the main fall is in shadows in the morning. So do you think I should wait for the begging of the afternoon for the drone pictures? Many Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Sorry for the very late reply Richard! Hopefully the trip went well and you came home with some memorable shots!! In case anyone else is curious about these topics: 1) You can always go back and pay for your ticket when you go to leave, but you will not get in trouble for already being in the park. 2) Indeed you want overhead light to avoid shadows on the main falls, so I would do all my droning after I had done everything else to allow the sun to get as high and far around as possible.


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