FEATURE: Laos stunning Kaengkou waterfall awaits visitors

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - This scenic spot is part of the Xedon River, whose waters pass through large flat rocks and gentle scenery. 

Laos has abundant water resources that are among the main tourist attractions. But many of the country’s stunning waterfalls and cascades are unknown to visitors, including Kaengkou waterfall in Vapy district, Saravan province.

This attractive landscape of flat rocks and large pools is one of 43 places that have been officially designated as natural tourism sites in Saravan, but hardly anyone knows about it or visits the area.

This scenic spot is part of the Xedon River, whose waters pass through large flat rocks and gentle scenery. I myself have been there twice and it has become a firm favourite as a place to relax and spend the night, lulled by the calming sounds of the water and chirping insects.  

I have been there in the dry season when the water was low and I could walk across the rocks through shallow water. In contrast, I was also there during the rainy season when the water was higher and coursed faster, producing a much louder sound.

On both occasions I stayed overnight and immersed myself in the natural world. It was refreshingly quiet and a great place to relax while enjoying a holiday away from Vientiane. But few people visit this area, as it is not widely advertised and very little information about it is available to tourists.

The area is currently managed by a local concessionaire, Mr Visouk Thammalongxad, who has been operating a 1.5 hectare site as a tourist attraction for more than 10 years.

 “The waterfall is located in Phousavan village in Vapy district and is 3km from the main road, which is asphalted. We have five rooms in a guesthouse and we are building three more rooms that we expect to finish soon,” Mr Visouk said

“Even though we’re not getting many visitors right now, we hope that one day the waterfall will become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country because it is very beautiful and has a lot of places where people can relax and enjoy a picnic,” he added.

Vapy district is a largely rural area and has no sizeable town so it doesn’t figure on the tourist map, he explained.

Mr Visouk also doesn’t have much capital to promote the site and district authorities don’t have staff who are able to publicise the area.

But the authorities are trying to make the waterfall well known and boost his business as they believe that drawing more tourists would spur economic growth in the district.

Although not many people are visiting the waterfall, Mr Visouk keeps his facilities open 24 hours a day. Most visitors come between December and June, when he can expect about six vehicles to turn up each weekend. But foreign visitors comprise less than 10 percent of his guests.

“We don’t get many people here but we still keep the rooms and restaurant open. We can serve fish and also shrimp, but we need an order for shrimp the day before in the rainy season when the water is high as we can’t always catch shrimp,” he said.

In the dry season when the water is lower, Mr Visouk sets up about 10 thatched shelters on the flat rocks in the middle of the river. Water flows beneath the shelters and they provide a special place to chill out and have a picnic.  

When I was there in the dry season, local fishermen came to the rocks to catch fish and shrimp. I joined them to see how they caught the fish in the shallow water, and it was fascinating to see how people in the area make a living and pass their days.

To reach the waterfall from Savannakhet, go along Road No. 13 South towards the Napong area (“grilled chicken street”) in Khongxedon district. After that turn left to get to Saravan provincial capital and follow this road for about 30km until you reach Vapy district and then you will see a sign to the waterfall on the left. Take this road and drive for another 3km to reach the river.

Saravan province, along with other provinces around the country, is making a great effort to develop its tourism industry, and has 81 officially designated tourist sites so far. Of these, 43 are scenic attractions, 32 are cultural sites and six are of historical interest.

According to the 2015 statistics report from the Tourism Development Department, Saravan doesn’t have any travel agents but has four hotels and 42 guesthouses or resorts. More than 86,400 tourists visited in 2015, putting Saravan seventh from bottom in terms of visitor numbers to all provinces in Laos.