Of Mountains, Rivers, and Rainforests: A Guide To Khao Sok National Park
We all need a break from time to time; to leave the party scene, buckets and charming ladyboys behind to replenish our energy level. A great way that never fails is to go “back to Nature” as famous explorer Thor Heyerdahl once strongly advocated. Fortunately, Thailand is the keeper of 127 treasure chests filled with the most beautiful gems. We, of course, are talking about National Parks; in this particular case, the Khao Sok National Park.
We mentioned this park in our post about the best national parks in Krabi. In it, we wrote, “that we barely scratched the surface” since there is so much to explore. We are talking about miles and miles of rainforests and mountains; a lush green scenery as far as the eye can see; an area of 739 km² (285 mi²) with waterfalls, caves, gorges, and a vibrant fauna and flora. It’s the kind of adventure that quickens the beat of every explorer’s heart.
So, today, we will go beneath this surface and tell you where the park exactly is, how to get there, where to stay and what to do. Without further ado, go forth and explore! Breathe in the fresh air and exercise your body! Once you come back, you can tell us all the tales of your adventures over a beer. Okay, multiple ones. #AdventureHardPartyHarder
Where is Khao Sok National Park & How to Get There
Khao Sok is part of the Surat Thani province and situated right between Phuket, Krabi and Koh Phangan. In other words, the perfect location when you come from any of the Slumber Party hostels in Southern Thailand. Due to the park’s popularity, it is easy to get to and we can book the transportation for you from all three locations. The pickup is always included in the price, so no need to rush to any bus station.
The prices are:
- Krabi/Ao Nang: ~ 450 Baht (Duration: 2.5 – 3 hours)
- Phuket:~ 250 Baht (Duration: 3.5 – 4 hours)
- Koh Phangan:~ 2,400 Baht (including the ferry to Don Sak Pier; Duration: 6 – 6.5 hours).
The drop off is at the main junction near the headquarters. This is where you find most of the hostels and guest houses if you intend on staying outside the national park. We recommend looking for a hostel that is close to the entrance so that you only have to walk 25 – 30 minutes. If you are, indeed, a little further away, then you can always have your hostel arrange a pickup.
Where to stay
Hostels & Guest Houses
As we mentioned above, the hostels and guesthouses are scattered outside the park. You have the best of both worlds by staying here. You can see the highlights of the park with all the comforts and amenities of modern civilization. The prices for a night’s stay range from 300 – 1,400 Baht. These lodgings also offer a variety of activities like rafting, canoeing and guided tours through the park.
Right in the heart of Khao Sok is the imposing lake of Cheow Lan with the famous floating bungalows. They come in all shapes and styles, from simple bamboo huts to the more luxurious raft houses. A regular bamboo bungalow costs between 700 – 900 Baht (depending on the season). In our opinion, it is a worthy investment for at least one night. The view over Cheow Lan lake with numerous small rivers branching off in every direction is an unbeatable one.
The only difficulty lies in getting there since the lake is 65 km (~ 40 miles) away from the headquarters. In order to get to your destination, you need a public transportation heading to Ban Ta Khun village. From here it is “only” 12 km (~ 7.5 miles) to the pier, which brings you to the area of the lake where the floating bungalows are. However, once you finally you made it you then have access to all the caves, viewpoints, trails and tributaries. When you book your bungalow, which you should do a few days in advance, you can include boat rides around the lake, kayaking or hiking trips amongst other options.
Camping (Bear Grylls-style)
Now, let’s discuss the more exciting ways of getting some shut-eye! The campsites are located around the headquarters and it’s the cheapest way of staying at Khao Sok. At the visitor center, you can rent all the necessary gear unless you hauled everything with you from home.
The prices per night are:
- Tents: 250 Baht (for 2 people); 300 Baht (4 people)
- Pillow: 10 Baht
- Blanket: 10 Baht
- Sleeping Bag: 30 Baht
- Sheet: 20 Baht
Around the HQ and outside the park are all the restaurants, shops, and facilities that you need to keep your energy (and hygiene) level up. You can also cook your own food around a campfire to really get into the spirit of adventure. Don’t forget to sing some camp songs and to light a Jeffrey.
Activities Around Khao Sok
For the sake of brevity, we will focus on the popular waterfalls, treks, caves, and viewpoints. With an area that is more than twice the size of Malta, you can understand that we have to draw the line somewhere. Speaking of drawing a line, you are only allowed to hike alone up until a 3 km mark, because beyond that point the trails become unclear and dangerous for the inexperienced hiker. The only two trails you are allowed to tackle solo are short ones encircling the headquarters. There are ranger stations all around the park who make sure that this regulation is being upheld. If you wish to proceed past these marks you can only do so with the assistance of a local guide. They can be hired at the HQ and cost 600 Baht for a half day or 1,200 Baht for a full day. It makes sense to have this safety precaution, but it does dampen the spirit of an adventurer a little bit. However, there are individuals who managed to sneak their way around said rangers and survived to tell their tales…
Of Lakes, Waterfalls, and Caves
If you first start out we recommend sticking to the following paths: Wing Hin waterfall (2.8 km from HQ), Wang Yao pool (3 km from HQ), Bang Liap Nam waterfall (4.5 km from HQ) and Than Sawan waterfall (6 km from HQ). They are fun to do and still challenging, especially when the rain turns the trails into either a slip & slide fest or a shallow swamp. The Ton Klao waterfall trail, however, is by far the most popular one. It’s a 7 km hike that follows the Sok river and passes by several smaller waterfalls before ending at the main attraction. We recommend combining your hike along Sok river with a canoeing or rafting excursion. That way you get the chance to see the dense forests, steep limestone mountains as well as different kinds of bird and fish species from all perspectives. Perfect for a couple of Instagram snaps.
One of the more exciting and equally dangerous hikes starts at the Bang Man village, located 35 km away from the HQ. It is a largely unknown trail that leads through a cave, which is why many guides won’t go there. You see, Khao Sok sees a lot of rainfall, even during the high season, and caves are therefore easily flooded. A more accessible one is the Bat Cave (Tham Khang Khao) located 21 km from the headquarters. Still not enough underground action for you? In that case, have your guide bring you to the Diamond cave, Khang Cow cave and/or Nam Talu cave. Our personal favorite is the Diamond cave, not because of its rich name, but because of its cathedral-esque structure and towering stalactites and stalagmites.
Tips, Tricks & Miscellaneous
- Khao Sok is infested with leeches. Before you freak out, though, they are not that bad and it’s not painful at all. If you don’t see them you won’t even notice that they are on your skin. The proper way to remove those suckers is to either put salt on them or to kill ‘em with fire. Famous mountaineer and explorer Heinrich Harrer of ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ fame once used some sort of saltwater/ointment to prevent the leeches from latching on in the first place. Other than that, do as the leeches do and just suck it up. #toughasfuck
- Waterproof clothing is mandatory. As we mentioned in the ‘Activity’ section, there is rainfall even in the high season. This is because Khao Sok lies in the middle of the Thai canal (known as Kra Isthmus), which means that the park experiences the monsoon from both the Andaman Sea in the West and Gulf of Thailand in the East. This doesn’t mean that it’s always going to rain. During the warmer months, it maybe does for an hour or two before the sun dominates the sky for the rest of the day.
- The entrance fee is 300 Baht
- The park is open from 8 am – 6 pm. For an extra 600 Baht, you can hire a guide for some late night hiking.
- For more information about the national park, you can check out the official website or Thai National Parks guide.
This is it from our end! We absolutely love Khao Sok National Park and we will always come back for more. You can use our condensed post as a rough guideline for your own excursion. By all means, we would love to hear your stories, where you have been and what obstacles you had to overcome. So, let us know in the comments or drop by at the hostel for a couple of beers.