Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
After 90 minutes of climbing up the increasingly powerful waterfalls, we reached the top of the trail. Ahead was a 20m high waterfall well beyond our climbing ability; below us the thick jungle canopy out of which we had just climbed. As we enjoyed the mist that sprayed off the thundering falls, our guide got to work cutting down banana leaves, laying them out as tablecloths and unpacking a splendid meal of cooked aubergine, fresh salad and omelettes.
Walking back to the village after lunch, the route followed a dry and pleasant jungle trail away from the waterfall. The path initially skirted the top of the canopy, offering extensive views of the Nam Ou valley below, before once again dropping into the shade of the jungle, providing welcome relief from the intense midday heat. For a little over an hour we followed the trail as it wound through the trees, crossing the occasional stream before arriving back in Don Khoun where our boat was waiting for the return journey to Nong Khiaw.
The 100 Waterfall Trek is not physically demanding, although the heat and humidity do add to the challenge. But the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of this little-known part of rural Laos should not be missed – especially as its long-term future is far from certain.
Bookings for the 100 Waterfalls Trail can be made at the Tiger Trails office next to the bus stop in Nong Khiaw or at their office in Luang Prabang, and the price per person depends on how many trekkers are going. Since the 100 Waterfall Trek starts in the morning, many visitors stay overnight in Nong Khiaw and walk to the Pat Hok caves, 3km out of town along the main road to the east. It was here that local villages were forced to find shelter during the Vietnam War, as American planes bombed the region heavily in an attempt to destroy communist sympathisers. An unstable ladder still leads to a cramped cave that served as the Bank of Luang Prabang between 1968 and 1974. Visitors are warned to stick to marked paths at all times as unexploded bombs are frequently discovered across much of northern Laos, often with tragic consequences.