Looking for something resembling a beach near Luang Prabang, Laos? Hop in the back of a tuk tuk or van and ride about 30 kilometers out of town and you’ll hopefully find yourself at the Tad Kuang Si, a collection of waterfalls which are the best option available for swimming, floating or relaxing away an afternoon. Following a short hike in from the parking lot you end up facing a series of limestone pools filled with some of the brightest turquoise water that I’ve ever seen. Swimming in the terraced pools is the main attraction for most visitors to the falls. The water is clear and warm enough; it is the closest thing to a beach in the area, at least one that you’d want to go swimming in.
The many terraced pools are awesome and despite a decent number of people at the site there was still more room for swimmers, meaning a reasonably relaxing experience, if not especially private.
And if a swim and relaxing is all you’re looking for then you’ll do just fine with that. But, should you be looking for a bit more adventure, another option awaits. Just off to the left of the main viewing area, hidden in the brush, is a path leading up the side of the falls. It is steep, slippery and often covered in water running down from the falls. But the reward for making the hike up is tremendous.
There are a few smaller pools at the top, and you get to look down off the top of the falls pretty basically from where they start their descent. It is quite impressive. And very few people make the climb; no crowds at all.
We spent enough time hiking up and down that we didn’t have much to spend enjoying the relaxing part of the falls. That’s mostly based on failure to properly negotiate the trip with our driver than anything else. The hike is easily an hour of time up and back, more if you are averse to the idea of sliding down as a reasonable means of descent.
The site is a great half-day excursion from Luang Prabang, but don’t short yourself on the total time spent at the site. If you want to both hike and swim you’ll likely need more time than the default the drivers in town are willing to offer.