5 must-see waterfalls in Southeast Asia
Waterfalls are a way of life for some travelers. Most backpackers actively try to find the most remote and peaceful waterfalls and Southeast Asia has a bunch of those. There is something about the thunderous crash of the water and the peaceful burbling of the rivers below and above that make chilling by waterfalls one of the loveliest days out possible. Depending on the time of year, waterfalls in southeast Asia can be roaring with the sound of white water or merely a trickle during dry season. As with any activity during travelling, ask the locals what the conditions are like on the day in order to maximise the fun you can have there. So whether you prefer placid aqua coloured falls perfect for swimming or thundering ones that cannot be approached for fear of injury and death, check out our list for some of the most beautiful and scariest waterfalls in Southeast Asia.
Luang Prabang, Laos – Kuang Si waterfalls
The Kuang Si Falls, also known as Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls, is a three-tier waterfall about 29 kilometers south of Luang Prabang. These waterfalls are an absolute must-see for tourists in the area. Plan a whole day to chill and check out the falls. The falls begin in shallow pools atop a steep hillside accessible via a small trail. The water then cascades down the main 60-meter fall before collecting in numerous turquoise blue pools as it flows downstream, a perfect example of travertine falls. The locals charge a small admission fee to visit the site, but it is well maintained with walkways and bridges to guide the visitor, there is also a small Tourist centre with a couple of bears and other animals to look at. Most of the pools are open to swimming with one even boasting a rope swing and some diving spots. However, one of the pools is closed due to its sacred nature. Tuk-tuks should be around $15 return with 4-5 hours at the falls.
Si Phan Don, Laos – Khone and Pha Pheng falls
The Khone Pha Pheng falls are situated in the riverine archipelago of Si Phan Don otherwise known as the four thousand islands. This is where the Mekong widens and turns into a series of islands, some temporarily submerged during monsoon characterised by the huge series of rapids/waterfalls called Khone Pha Pheng. This waterfall is the main reason that the Mekong is impassable by boat from the delta to the source and remains the largest obstacle for any vehicle attempting to follow the Mekong’s course. The falls are spread out and ferocious, the highest falls reach to 21 metres. The rapids stretch 9.7 km of the river’s length. The cataract has ridiculous amounts of water flowing through it so don’t fall in. These falls are home to the Mekong giant Catfish, a species that can reach 3m in length and weigh up to 300 kilos. Come here while visiting Don Det or Don Khong on a daytrip and be awed by the power of the Mekong as it surges above the rocks. Get here by cycling on a rented bike from Don Det or Don Khong. The way is signposted pretty well. These are the largest falls by volume in Southeast Asia.
Kanchanaburi, Thailand – Erawan Falls
These extremely popular falls are named after the three-headed elephant- Erawan of Hindu mythology due to their semblance. Erawan Falls has a seven-tiered cascade and is located in a national park in the Tenasserim Hills. Visitors to this waterfall can swim not only in the pools at the base of the cascade but also in pools higher up. Get here early to beat the crowds and snap a few pictures before they midday coaches come in full of tourists. Maybe stay the night in one of the National Park’s bungalows to ensure a headstart. Get there by bus from Kanchanapuri, which can be a rip-off, especially if you do a tour. Instead, I recommend you to rent a scooter for cheap and explore the local area as well as the park.
Cao Bang Province, Vietnam – Ban Gioc falls
Straddling the border between China and Vietnam these falls have been a popular sight for a century or more, with French colonists recounting the lovely days spent fishing and wandering around the falls. Over thousands of years, the waterfall has eroded its crest and slowly moved upstream. It currently appears to be two waterfalls most of the time but when the river is swollen due to summer rains it can form one fall again. 272Km north of Hanoi these falls can be visited as part of a longer trip to the minority villages of the Northern border regions. Prices for these tours and the availability of buses should be checked in Hanoi at a local travel agent’s desk.
Tak, Thailand – Umphang Thee Lor Sue Waterfall
This waterfall near the border with Myanmar, is 250 meters tall, the highest in Thailand. It is also almost twice as broad as it is tall, bursting forth from the jungle and making its way down to the bottom of the hill. Located in the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary this place is the perfect area to observe Thailand’s beautiful flora and fauna in its pristine environment. A trip to the Sanctuary can be combined with a refreshing dip in the pool at the bottom. There are rafting trips available, hiking around the falls, natural springs, and tribal villages. As these should all be seen in one trip, it may be best to arrange a tour from Bangkok or Chiang Mai, prices for these vary, check once in location.
Be sure to plan carefully and surely, using motorbikes where you can and using a guide and taxi where you cannot. Doing this you can ensure peaceful times in the morning at the busiest falls during which you can take the best pictures and videos. Arriving on a bus with 50 tourists just isn’t quite the same. Please enjoy your time at these magnificent places and use our blog to help you get some insider knowledge on the best spots.