Ultimate guide to Khao Sok National ParkFriday, December 02, 2016 by admin
Khao Sok is easily one of Thailand’s most beautiful tropical rainforests and one of the oldest in the world. Do not skip Khao Sok from your Thailand itinerary. Far removed from the hustle and bustle, this evergreen reserve hosts an array of elements that create an untouched wonderland waiting to be explored. This is a place that could easily be described authentically as heaven on earth. A place that allows you to breathe in the crisp fresh air and connect with the many elements of nature.
The park is situated in the south of Thailand in Surat Thani province covering an area of 739 square kilometres. Think thick evergreen jungle, ferny limestone cliffs jutting out from an impressive emerald lake, waterfalls, cool rivers, caves loaded with stalactites and stalagmites, exceptional wild and plant life – the possibilities for adventure (and everlasting memories) are endlessly rewarding!
History of Khao Sok National Park
Officially established as Thailand’s 22nd national park in 1980 – Khao Sok is one of Thailand’s oldest parks. It boasts a history as rich as its contents and travellers often compare it to the diversity of the Amazon. Starting way back 300 million years ago, when sea levels lifted, Khao Sok formed part of a colossal coral reef that stretched from China to Borneo. Geological activity forced the area skyward, which created the famous towering limestone karsts the park is famous for.
Activity was plenty in the park from the 1960s up to the 1980s. The highway completed in 1961 allowed for the mining of tin, logs and rubber plantations. That in turn, led to protests from members of the city and communist rebels from the countryside. At the same time, the massive landscape covered in wild jungle, mountains and caves became an ideal hideaway for communist insurgents. Which prevented many of the loggers from working in the park – allowing it to thrive. You can still see some of the benches and tables that remain from a school in a park cave.
Khao Sok National Park was originally established by royal decree in 1980. Forestry official named Thani Pamorniyom helped create the park. Thani stopped a proposed system of aerial logging as he saw the future benefits of leaving the park alone. And thank goodness for that!
In 1982, the Pasaeng river was closed off by Ratchapraba Dam. It created a 165 sqm freshwater lake inside the boundaries of the National Park – built to provide a constant source of electricity – now known as the incredible Cheow Lan Lake.
Khao Sok Climate
The hottest months in this tropical region are between March and April – ranging from maximum temperatures of 29 to 33 degrees and minimum temperatures of 20 to 23 degrees. Khao Sok has the highest level of rain in Thailand, around 3,500 mm a year – with the hardest rainfall between May and November. December and April is the drier period but it is not uncommon to still experience a moderate amount of rainfall. The decent amount of rainfall means that even through severe dry periods in other parts of Thailand, the rainforest is able to sustain itself and its wildlife.
Things to do in Khao Sok National Park
Pack a pair of binoculars because you’re in for a treat! From sunrise to sunset and even in the evening when a blanket of stars covers the ebony night sky – there is always an opportunity to see or hear something amazing. The lack of people and trails makes you feel like you’re exploring a hidden gem, a Columbus of sorts, somewhere long forgotten or newly discovered. Many parts of the park have not seen a human, remain untouched and unexplored and this thriving tropic is home to a wonderful display of biodiversity and unique ecological features.
Cheow Lan Lake
Spectacular limestone cliffs jut out from the beautiful emerald waters of Cheow Lan Lake. These karsts once began their journey as sea coral lifted with the Earth’s crust to form the peaks that can be seen today in various shapes and sizes. They are also home to prevalent species of plant-life such as the pralahoo, fern and langkow palms. The enticing waters of Cheow lan lake stretch several watery passages known as klongs out to land. Here you can find wildlife sanctuaries like nowhere else.
Flora in Khao Sok
There are 200 different floral species per hectare in Khao Sok. Inhale the unpolluted air while searching for two spectacular sights – a large beautiful black flower known as bat’s whiskers and the famous, big and bright red petals of the Rafflesia, Thailand’s largest flower reaching a diameter of 75 cm in bloom.
Keep your eyes open for unusual mushrooms species, varieties of bamboo and climbing vines – some strong enough to hold a large man. Another plant found in the park is used to make cane furniture, known as rattan. Rattan can reach a height of 100 feet and produces a red fruit that serves as welcoming refreshment in the prickly heat of the jungle.
Watch out for any hollows that may have been created by the strangler fig – a type of vine that offers fig-like fruit, popular with wild animals and birds in the forest. Once seeds are emitted and land on a tree, after eating the fruit, fast-growing roots gravitate to the ground and after many years these roots strangle the host tree and it rots away, leaving a hole.
Fauna in Khao Sok
There is a fantastic collection of wildlife in Khao Sok. The most common sightings are of mischievously friendly monkeys. There are four species of monkey here. Long-tailed, stump-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and the adorable grey-black langur, also known as a leaf monkey. Other possible primates you may encounter are the cheeky white-handed gibbon swinging between the trees or the exceptionally cute lemur-like slow loris.
Drifting along the tranquil water of the park’s Cheow Lan Lake, you have the perfect opportunity of seeing otters, eagles, Malay sun bears (the world’s smallest bear) and the beautiful hornbill. While trekking through the lush jungle it is very likely you may come across a majestic wild elephant, the guar bison with its thick-curved horns, the pig-like tapir or even a sambar deer.
Twitchers will be blown away in Khao Sok. There are nine species of hornbill found in the reserve. Listen out for the swooshing sound of the Great Hornbill’s powerful wings or the sharper sound of the Oriental Pied hornbill. Peregrine falcons glide through the air and there are 12 types of kingfisher – many in vivid colours; feasting along the river or resting on a branch. Popular insects include dazzling butterflies and the unmistakable love hums of the cicada. There truly is a discovery to be made in every square meter.
Getting to Khao Sok
Depending on where you’re heading from, there are a number of options to get to Khao Sok National Park. Once you arrive at the drop off point to the entrance of the reserve, you can either grab one of the local taxis or if you need to stretch your legs, the entrance is within walking distance. You may have a prearranged tour or book something on arrival but see below for our guide to getting to and exploring the park independently.
If you’re flying from Bangkok, the closest airport is Surat Thani. Phuket airport has a bigger selection of flights. Although Krabi airport is the same distance to the park, getting there via public transport is a little more complicated.
A one-way economy flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani costs about
฿1500 – ฿3000 (depending on season and time of flight).
Bangkok to Surat Thai, there are several trains every night but the 19:00 train arrives in Surat Thani at 6:00 (but please note these trains are often delayed) for approximately ฿700.
Getting to Khao Sok from Surat Thani is simple; there are also regular bus services from Phuket that stop in Khao Lak and Takua Pa.
Bangkok Southern terminal (Thonburi district) – Bus leaves at 18:40 and arrives 4:30. Cost ฿520. The bus stops in Ban Ta Khun, 10 minutes’ walk from the Khao Sok office but because it arrives early, you will have a lengthy wait for it to open.
Takua Pa – Bus leaves every hour between 6:00 and 18:00 and the journey takes 1 hour. Cost is ฿40 – ฿60 depending on the class of bus.
Surat Thani – Bus leaves every hour between 6:00 and 18:00 and the journey takes 2 hours. You will be dropped at the access road to Khao Sok along Route 401 and will have to walk to the entrance. Cost is ฿120.
Phuket – Bus leaves every hour from 6:00 am until 16:00 and the journey take 4 hours and includes stops in Khao Lak and Takua Pa. Cost is ฿160 – ฿180 depending on the class of bus.
The Khao Sak National Park gate is 1.6 km from where you’re dropped off on Route 401. To catch the bus back to Surat Thani or Takua Pa, simply head back to the bus stop on Route 401.
From Takua Po it is possible to transfer to buses to Bangkok, Khuraburi, Khao Lak and Phuket.
A minibus is better known in Thailand as a van. They are easy to book from where you’re staying or at your closest minibus terminal.
Bangkok – Leaves 15.00, the journey takes 11 hours. Cost is ฿700.
Ko Lanta – Leaves 8:30, the journey takes 5 hours. Cost is ฿700 including boat fare from the island.
Ko Pha Ngan – Leaves 7:30 and 13:30, the journey takes 8-9 hours. Cost is ฿650 including boat fare from the island.
Ko Phi Phi – Leaves 8:00, the journey takes 7 hours. Cost is ฿750 including boat fare from the island.
Ko Samui – Leaves 7:30 and 13:30, the journey takes 6-7 hours. Cost is ฿550 including boat fare from the island.
Krabi Town / Ao Nang – Leaves at 8:30 / 14:30 and 16:30, the journey takes 3-5 hours. Cost is ฿450.
Surat Thani – Leaves at 6:30 / 7:00 / and then every hour until 16:00, the journey takes 1.5 hours. Cost is ฿250. If you’re heading to Surat Thani airport, the cost is ฿300.
Private taxis heading from the South mainland are easy to book. A standard motorcar can fit around 4 passengers while a bigger car can fit about 6 passengers with a spacious trunk (also depends on luggage).
Approximate cost per car: Takua Pa (฿1500), Khao Lak (฿1700), Surat Thani Airport (฿1700), Krabi Town (฿2500), Ao Nang (฿2800), Phuket Airport (฿3000).
You can hire a car from Surat Thani airport with a standard economy vehicle costing about ฿700 a day. Most vehicles have GPS and the entrance to Khao Sok National Park is easy to find. GPS coordinates 8°56′12″N 98°31′49″E.
Tours and Activities in Khao Sok National Park
There is no shortage of exciting activities to choose from in Khao Sok.
Jungle trekking in Khao Sok
Go trekking on foot with a tour or hire a local guide – there are varying degrees of difficulty when selecting from the network of trails. Tread through the thick tropical jungle on the barely-explored trail while on the look out for ever-present wildlife. Many specialised tours are available in the park, such as a bird hike for twitchers or the park’s flowers adventure. An unforgettable experience is an elephant trek; get up close and personal with these fantastic beasts, hopefully with a playful calf by its side.
Khao Sok Caving
Khao Sok cave tours are another favourite with 3 main caves being popular. Coral Cave is over 10 000 years old and boasts interesting rock formations. Nam Talu Cave is also known as the “water cave” as you trek through a wet and dark nirvana – home to numerous nocturnal species. Diamond Cave offers mesmerising stalactite formations and a giant cave entrance that is the ideal spot for a yummy picnic lunch!
Canoeing and Kayaking in Khao Sok
Grab a canoe, kayak, tube or bamboo raft and glide down the Sok River with its peaceful slow-moving streams. Most tours come with someone who paddles for you, allowing you the freedom to absorb the magical surroundings of towering trees, leafy cliffs and all its wildlife. If you’d like to explore on your own, Cheow Lan Lake is the best choice.
Cheow Lan Lake tours
The fresh water of Cheow Lan Lake is undeniably one of the most captivating areas in Khao Sok National Park. Cruise on a boat as the limestone karsts create impressive shadows on the inviting water. Spend a day marvelling the stunning beauty or book a night in one of the floating bungalows and wake up to a gorgeous sunrise and gibbon songs from the misty outcrops. Devote a day to looking for Guilin viewpoint – one of the lake’s scenic spots boasting three impressive limestone karsts. Venture off to explore waterfalls during rainy season or swing through the trees of Khao Sok on a zipline sky adventure.
Scuba diving in Khao Sok National Park
Keen to explore an underwater world? Scuba diving is possible in the fresh waters of Cheow Lan Lake. If you are certified, you may experience a dive taking you through submerged trees, inhabited by catfish, jellyfish, barramundi and freshwater eels. Many of these dives are ‘cliff dives’. Not because you jump off the cliff but because you dive along the sunken cliffs. With some tours, it is also possible to explore underwater Khao Sok caves – an incredible thrill!
Khao Sok Fishing trips
In Khao Sok National park you can spend a day fishing in the gorgeous lake. It’s an adrenaline pumping sport you shouldn’t miss on your trip to the park. The underwater trees create a thriving habitat for the fish population. Jungle perch, catfish, mahseer and snakehead fish will test your angling skills. Absorb unrivalled views and the sounds of nature, while waiting to catch the big one!
Khao Sok rock climbing
Fit and experienced adventurers can go rock climbing in Khao Sok. Think steep boulders, hidden creeks, waterfalls and virgin jungle. After a day of exciting activity why not visit a Nam Ron Hot Springs. Choose from two large, clear pools formed by the simmering hot spring and soak in the relaxation and view of a tumbling waterfall and the green hills of Khao Sok valley.
If you’d like to see how the locals live, you can visit a rural home, enjoy an authentic Thai cooking lesson or support the local community market in the small town of Khao Sok.
The accommodation selection in Khao Sok is superb. Therefore no matter where you’re staying, you are sure to be enveloped by nature. Levels of comfort depend on budget and types of accommodation range from camping, floating bungalows to riverside cottages. Many of the places offer Thai or oil massage, simple bars and authentic Thai restaurants.
Camping in Khao Sok
When you camp in Khao Sok National Park, you get to experience a deeper connection with one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Many tour companies offer camping and it is safe and convenient (they provide the tent!).
Floating bungalows on the beautiful waters of Cheow Lan Lake are definitely a winner in Khao Sok. Expect incredible views and a tranquil atmosphere. There are various levels of luxury to choose from when selecting a floating bungalow.
Tree houses or tree jungle bungalows nestled in the rainforest are popular in Khao Sok. Some of them have either river, jungle or cliff views. The best and the original Khao Sok resort with tree houses is called Our Jungle House.
If you’d prefer a resort, there are many lodges and resorts on the bank of Sok River and in the jungles of Khao Sok National Park.
How to independently visit Khao Sok National Park
There are no direct roads entering Khao Sok. The park is only directly accessible from two places so it may seem overwhelming to do on your own. However, it is completely possible. If you’re up for a wild adventure, then getting to Khao Sok National Park and Cheow Lan Lake by yourself may be exactly what you’re looking for, and we have all the info you need.
Khao Sok Park Entrance
The main visitor area at the park entrance is the first and easiest point of access to a web of hiking trails. The park entrance is in the far west section, near Khlong Sok village. This is also walking distance from Route 401 where the buses and minibuses from Surat Thani to Takua Pa (or visa verse) will drop you.
Ratchaprapa Dam next to Cheow Lan Lake
The second access point is the water section of Cheow Lan Lake near Ratchaprapa Dam – and Baan Ta Khun town on the far eastern side of the park. This is way less touristy and there aren’t many booking options if you enter the park from this side. Albeit not as simple – it is possible to navigate this area alone.
You can take the local Surat Thani bus (฿120) and request it to stop in Baan Ta Khun before hitching 13 km to the pier. You could also rent a motorcycle off Route 401 along the Khao Sok access road in Khlong Sok. From here you’d head east on 401 towards Surat Thani – but beware there is only one gas station on the way so fill up!
The first town you will spot is Ban Ta Khun. Once in the middle of town, you will see road signs pointing left to Ratchaprapa Dam. After only 10 km along this road, you take a left and soon after you will reach an official park checkpoint. After the checkpoint, take a right and follow the narrow road that eventually leads to the back end of Ratchaprapa Dam. Follow a few more curves as the road heads down to the Cheow Lan pier. Here you will find a fantastic Thai restaurant if you need to fill your tummy.
Park your motorcycle and then it becomes easier. At the park booth, you will pay an entrance fee of ฿200. Select from the many longtail boats available to get you on the tranquil lake water. A private boat costs about ฿1500 for a 3-hour trip and carries one to six people. Enjoy the mesmerising Cheow Lan Lake as you glide across the emerald water. Past the famous limestone karsts and look forward to your next adventure – whether on the lake or on land.
Other useful tips
• Use this guide to learn more about the park’s caves, waterfalls and trails. Negotiate a price with the boat driver beforehand or he will increase the price of your longtail boat trip.
• There is only one ATM and one gas station in Khao Sok town.
• Get ready to experience leeches when you trek through the virgin jungle. Some of the little rivers can be full of them.
• There are a few chilled bars and pubs for unwinding, in the town.
• Most places only take cash, so make sure you have enough money.
• There are few full-service pharmacies, so be sure to pack any prescribed or personal medicine.
• Internet is available but the connection may be weak the deeper you stay within the park.