Kuang Si Waterfalls is a beautiful location for photographers looking for some gorgeous Luang Prabang photography.
We went for the turquoise waters of the falls that we’d heard a lot about. It’s probably on every list of the top things to see in Luang Prabang. But we had no idea that the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue is located inside and is such a cool spot.
Luang Prabang Photography
Most photographers go to the daily almsgiving, known as Tak Bat, to take photos in Luang Prabang. It’s supposed to be a rather overcrowded and somewhat intrusive process so I opted to pass.
Instead I decided to head to Kuang Si Falls, which are a set of cascading falls about 40 minutes out of town.
To get there check with the hostels and most of them will have a suggestion for a minivan ride day trip to the falls. The ride was quite affordable.
When you enter the falls, the first thing you see is the bear rescue center. To be honest, if you came with a group, maybe don’t stop right then, because you’ll be jostling with everyone else for photos.
Head over to the falls right away because they get crowded and you need patience to get good shots without the crowds of other people.
Terraced Levels of Falls
There are several levels of falls so if one is too crowded, just mosey over to another as they are all quite beautiful.
The lowest level has the most crowds since it’s the best swimming spot, so I headed right up to the next level.
To get good shots of the falls, slow your shutter speed down a little. The one above is 1/13s which means you can handhold a sharp shot but still smooth the water out a bit. You can see how pretty the water looks.
Try to get some plants in the foreground, which really adds to the scene. And also try to find pools that bring out the gorgeous color of the water.
As you can see, they’re rather graceful falls so you don’t have to worry too much about waterproof cameras or getting spray on your gear. Just don’t fall into any pools and you should be good.
Top of the Falls
At the top you get a pretty view of the cascading falls. This one could be quite gorgeous if you go for a really long shutter speed.
I didn’t have a tripod but if you do, give this one a long exposure to smooth out all the cascading water.
Kuang Si Turquoise Waters
One of the coolest things about Kuang Si is the beautiful color of the water. It’s like a milky aqua green that’s created by minerals in the water and the light reflecting off the milky bowls of calcium carbonate.
People have said the falls are not so pretty after rains, but we went one day after a lot of rain and it was still gorgeous.
Look at that beautiful color!
The Swimming Hole
At the lowest level, it might be almost impossible to get a shot without people. Instead focus on getting shot where the other tourists are in spots that are easy to clone out.
Like in the middle of the central pool rather than against the rocks.
Then you can just remove them without having to recreate any rocks or plants.
As you can see in this one, I didn’t smooth the water out. It was taken at 1/320s.
I kinda wish I had as I don’t love the jiggly effect of the water when captured at this shutter speed. Something to learn for next time. 1/13s looked a lot nicer.
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center
Before you leave, don’t forget to save some time for the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center. They have a number of Asian black bears playing around to look at.
I’m sure you’re wondering what bears could possibly be rescued from. Well, the chinese believe the bile from these bears is medicinal so bears are often held in tiny cages and milked for their bile. That sounds awful enough that I don’t want to know how.
So these bears have been rescued from that painful fate to play in this center and recover.
I was happy to learn this as I wasn’t sure if they were trapped here from the wild or something, just for tourists.
They do seem to have a good time lounging about, playing with each other and the various structures and hammocks that were constructed for them.
When shooting the bears you need a good zoom lens. My 14-150mm gave me some good range which was perfect for these bear shots.
If you find that your photos are too bright, it’s because when you focus on the bear the camera thinks you are focusing on something that has too little light (rather than something that is actually black).
Underexpose the shot a bit to let the camera know it’s okay, you are shooting a dark subject.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
After a lot of time spent enjoying the falls and watching the bears, we were done with the park.
We headed out to the little market outside and got some of the little coconut cakes. They are crazy delicious!
I hope you get a chance to visit the falls!