First published June 2023 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and worked in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 countries (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, whenever he has the opportunity to make a trip, he rarely looks beyond Vietnam’s borders and his trusty motorbike, Stavros. Read more about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.
Plunging through the thick jungles of Pù Mát National Park and cascading over a vertical rockface, Khe Kèm Waterfall is one of the prettiest natural sights in Nghệ An Province, in north-central Vietnam. Located near the Lao border amongst beautiful, lush scenery, Khe Kèm Waterfall, despite being quite remote, is easy to reach for independent travellers on two wheels. There’s something thrilling about this corner of Vietnam, and Khe Kèm is a good introduction to the region for anyone who wants to explore Nghệ An Province more broadly, particularly on the Mường Lống Loop. In addition to the waterfall, local food is excellent and there are several homestays nearby.
KHE KEM WATERFALL
A Silver Cascade in the Jungles near the Lao Border
Khe Kèm Waterfall (Thác Khe Kèm) is a beautiful sight, and getting there is half the fun. Below, I’ve written a guide to visiting the falls, including a map and information about what to eat, where to stay and how to get there:
Khe Kèm Waterfall | Con Cuông District, Nghệ An Province
Crashing down from a great height over moss-covered sheer rock, Khe Kèm Waterfall cuts a silver streak in the otherwise lush, green jungle covering the steep slopes of Pù Mát National Park, near the border with Laos. Indeed, the local Thái ethnic minority name for the falls apparently translates as ‘white silk strip’, which is an apt and poetic description. Khe Kèm is located in Con Cuông District, about halfway between the coast and the Lao border crossing, in Nghệ An, the largest province in Vietnam. The falls have been popular with locals for decades, but it’s only in the last few years that Khe Kèm has started to attract domestic tourists from further afield. I first visited in 2009 and, although there has been some significant development at the site, the natural setting of the falls remains just as beautiful as it was back then. However, at the time of my last visit (2023), there were signs of road works and construction.
Accessed via a paved lane (entrance: 30,000vnd), visitors can choose to walk or take an electric buggy (20,000vnd) up to the falls. A short circuit leads around the waterfall, including viewing platforms from above and below, a raised walkway beneath the cascade, and a footbridge across the stream. It’s very pretty, pleasant, and tastefully laid out. There’s a bathroom and changing rooms, and life jackets if you want to bathe in the pool at the bottom of the falls. In one of the rock pools is a sign for ‘fish foot massage’, where you can dip your feet into the water as tiny fish nibble at them. Even though the waterfall has become quite popular with local tourists in recent years, trash is kept under control. Trash cans are provided and there are many notices about littering. The falls can get busy and noisy during weekends and public holidays, but if you visit during the middle of the day on a weekday, it should be fairly empty. Any time of year is good, but I prefer the warmer, greener spring and summer months: April-August. Khe Kèm Waterfall is best visited as part of the Mường Lống Loop road trip.
FOOD & DRINK:
There are a few very good rustic-style eateries near the entrance to Khe Kem Waterfall. These serve classic mountain dishes, such as thịt nướng (grilled meats) with cơm lam (sticky rice cooked inside a length of bamboo) and cá suối (freshwater fish from the streams). Seating is on long wooden benches or mats on the floor beneath a thatched-roof on the banks of the river. It’s very atmospheric. My favourite place was Nhà Hàng Hòang Hà, which is located on the road a couple of kilometres before reaching Khe Kèm Waterfall. There are snack kiosks and drinks shacks by the entrance, too.
Alternatively, you could buy a picnic from Con Cuông town to take with you to the waterfall, perhaps stopping by the river on the road to eat it. Con Cuông has a local market and supermarket to buy supplies. There are also several good restaurants in Con Cuông, including the riverside Châu Liên 2, and an excellent grilled chicken (gà nướng) restaurant at nearby Khe Nước Mọc. Con Cuông has street food in the evenings near the market and a few local rice eateries (quán cơm). The food is excellent at all of the above.
WHERE TO STAY:
Although there’s no accommodation in the immediate vicinity of Khe Kèm Waterfall, there are a few options scattered around the general area. Con Cuông town has several nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) along the main street and the incongruous, high-rise Mường Thanh Hotel, which offers mid-range rooms, a swimming pool and excellent views of the surrounding landscape, even though it has very little character.
However, the most atmospheric places to stay are in the homestays outside the town. There are homestay clusters in Khe Rạn village, just across the bridge from Con Cuông town, Yên Khe village, and Môn Sơn village. My favourites were Hanh Chiến homestay and Qúy Thỏa Ecolodge. If you’re planning to sleep at any of these homestays, don’t just show up in the evening: get there in advance, because otherwise you may find they are not open or not accepting guest at short notice.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Khe Kèm Waterfall is 20km due south of Con Cuông town via pretty, paved lanes passing through ethnic minority hamlets, jungle, bamboo forests, rice paddies and bamboo waterwheels. The best way to get to the falls in by motorbike or bicycle. Ideally, a visit to Khe Kèm Waterfall should be part of a wider independent road trip, especially the Mường Lống Loop. However, the falls are also a fairly easy detour west of the Ho Chi Minh Road (55km) or from Highway QL1A near Vinh (130km). You can also get a bus from Vinh to Con Cuông, but you still have to travel the last 20km to Khe Kèm Waterfall by hired motorbike or taxi. The roads are all in reasonably good condition and the scenery is very attractive.
*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this waterfall and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page