This is another post from our very own Greg Wright. If there is a falang that knows more about Luang Prabang; I don’t know them!
Even in a town like Luang Prabang, between the hustle and bustle you may be looking for those moments of quiet and escape. Sure, you can sit on the banks of the Mekong, or ponder life in the grounds of a Buddhist temple, but sometimes you may want something even outside of that. Well, have I got the place for you.
Virtually everyone who visits Luang Prabang ends up at the Kuang Si waterfalls, it’s the thing to do here, along with the Buddha caves at Pak Ou. Every tuk-tuk driver will have “waterfall – caves” written on the side of their vehicle and will know exactly how to get there. They may even suggest the trip to you as you walk around town. If you do take the trip to Kuang Si then make sure that you take the time to stop at the Butterfly Park on the way.
A fairly new attraction in a town that doesn’t really have a lot of “must visit” places, the Butterfly Park may not be something you would visit on its own but it should be an integral part of a day trip including to the waterfalls.
Set just a few minutes before Kuang Si, even if your tuk-tuk driver doesn’t know the Butterfly Park, you won’t miss it on your way there. Keep an eye out for the signs and the parking area on the right hand side of the road as you head out. It’s about a 40 to 50 minute drive (depending on traffic and the condition of your tuk-tuk) with Kuang Si just a few minutes further on. I would recommend stopping at the Butterfly Park on the way out rather than on the way back. Coming back you are likely to be tired, wet and muddy, not the best of conditions to appreciate the beauty of the butterflies.
Entry to the Park is down a path and over a small bridge. All of the water that flows through here is coming from the waterfall as the Park is part of the Kuang Si national area. The blue colour of the water, due to the minerals dissolved in it, is a great introduction to what you will see when you get to the waterfall, and the path quickly takes you away from the road and into the jungle so that the sound of rushing water and birds in the trees is all you hear. The colour of the water reminded me strongly of glacial and Himalayan rivers, a strong contrast to the usual brown Asian rivers.
There is a small entry desk where you will pay your 30,000 kip entry fee and be given a laminated, multi page guide to the Park and to the butterfly species you will most likely see. From here you simply follow the path as it wends through a cactus section (not native to Laos but found growing here during construction) and an orchid section. Orchids in Laos are amazing and abundant, take your time here. The path also takes you past small waterfalls and cascades and opens up on occasion to show a vista of the hills in the foreground and mountains in the back.
Eventually you are lead to the butterfly enclosure. This is a large area enclosed in a fine mesh and full of trees, flowers and, unsurprisingly, butterflies. Take your time, wander around and make use of the guide you were given. When you first enter it may seem a little empty but then you will spot a butterfly, then another, then more… and then you will realise just how many there are.
There are staff and volunteers on hand to answer any questions and they speak like people who have a genuine love of their subject. They will be able to show you things that you would never notice on your own, a chrysalis hidden under a leaf, eggs that you would never have seen if they weren’t pointed out and a stick insect hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to look around, say “wow, lots of butterflies” and walk out but taking the time to talk and listen to an expert will mean getting so much more out of your visit.
There is even a small natural pool with a seat where a school of fish eagerly await any bare feet plunged into the water.
After you have reluctantly left the butterfly enclosure it is just a small walk back to the exit, passing through the coffee shop. While the coffee shop may not be one that you would make a special trip to visit in its own right, it is in a lovely, sheltered position, set on a small pond, and is an ideal place to sit, relax and review all your butterfly photos.
At the moment the Park has a newness to it, it’s still possible to see the marks of the construction in the landscape, but it will quickly be smoothed out by the fast growing Laos jungle. The Park has been carefully designed to fit into its environment by people who both know and care about what they are doing. As time goes on I’m sure that “butterflies” will join the list of attractions painted onto the side of the local tuk-tuks, along with caves and waterfall.
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