Last Update: November 2019
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In the know destinations – Thailand
I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve visited Thailand. Some visits were just short beach holidays or passing through on my way to other destinations. Several, longer visits involved extensive travel for months on my way to nowhere, just exploring this wonderful country.
Although the list of Thailand’s highlights seems endless, there are still many places like Khao Sok that are not yet overrun by tourists, but certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laidback riverine towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not exactly hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.
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Karst rocks in beautiful formations, some of them over 300m high, randomly popping up from emerald green waters. Regarded as one of the most beautiful and spectacular in Thailand, Khao Sok National Park is often dubbed as “Thai Halong Bay without the tourist frenzy”.
Seeing is believing I always say, and there’s no excuse for you not to visit this wonder of nature. Due to its location in the South of Thailand, Khao Sok is easy to visit while traveling between Bangkok and the Southern Islands.
With 160 million years, the rain forest in Khao Sok National Park out dates the Amazon by far. The 740m2 park is connected with other national parks covering in total more than 5000m2 of forest area. A big chunk of the park is accounted for by the incredibly photogenic Cheow Lan lake, or Ratchaprapha Reservoir or Khao Sok lake, whichever name you prefer.
If you don’t like water, then come for the fauna. The rich wildlife in the park is estimated to contain over five percent of global species and include, among others: Bears, tigers, elephants, banteng, several rare deer species, tapir and gibbons, lot’s of gibbons.
Many opt for a package tour to Khao Sok and why not, it’s convenient. Tour operators in Bangkok, Khao Lak, Phuket and Surat Thani will be happy to arrange it for you and include transport if needed.
If you’re adventurous you can visit the park independently, but there is always the requirement of a licensed guide on most of the trails. However, there is nothing stopping you from going to the park, stay in a village accommodation and arrange your guides/boats with one of the many travel agencies yourself.
How to get to Khao Sok
The airports of Phuket, Krabi and Surat Thani are all within reasonable distance from Khao Sok. Check out the Skyscanner website to search and book flights. Sometimes flying is cheaper than buses and trains. Of course you’ll miss all the nice scenery.
Buses from as far away as Bangkok all have regular departures to Khao Sok. From Bangkok it will take anywhere between 14h-16h or maybe a bit shorter by cramped minivan. Don’t buy your bus ticket on Khaosan road in Bangkok, there are just too many scams going on.
Khlong Sok village – Khao Sok
Whether you’re traveling by air or bus, you’ll have to get to Khlong Sok village first, where the park HQ is located. Transfers from either airport is expensive, so catching a public bus in town to the park might be a cheaper option.
The public bus drop off point is near the village on highway 401 and still a good 2km from the park HQ. You can walk the last bit, or if you’re lucky, there might be a few taxis hanging around the bus stop.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets within in Thailand I always use the 12Go.com transport planning tool to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Note!: If you are staying in one of the floating raft houses on the lake (book ahead) you have to arrange a boat either in the village or at the Ratchaprapha Dam. For the latter, go straight to the dam and skip the village, they are 60km apart.
Getting Around in Khao Sok
For exploring the village, you’re good to walk. If you would like to venture outside of the village, Khlong Sok village travel agencies rent out motorbikes (THB300 p/d), mountain bikes (THB100-200 p/d) and even cars (THB1500-2000 p/d).
Longtail boats for Cheow Lan Lake explorations can be chartered from anywhere between THB2000-5000 p/d. Try to share the boat with other travelers to share the cost.
Things to see/do in Khao Sok
Trekking in Khao Sok
The park has a requirement for trekkers to be accompanied by a guide on most trails, and yes, there are checkpoints. Check the park website. Few trails can be explored without a guide, but the more spectacular waterfalls are on the guided treks. Insist on an English speaking guide that can add context about the area, plants and wildlife. Next to forest treks, it’s also worthwhile to explore the many caves in the area.
Kayaking and bamboo rafting in Khao Sok
Kayaking can be very relaxing on the Sok river and the lake with incredible views of the limestone formations towering over the forest. Or, float away gently down the river Sok on a bamboo raft and try to spot the monkeys in the trees and as many of the 180 bird species as you can.
Boat tour on Cheow Lan lake – Khao Sok
Take the long tail boat for a day of exploring the lake. Start in the morning to see the wild elephants foraging. Sightings of hornbills and monkeys are almost guaranteed. Have lunch at a floating village and go for a swim in the clearest of waters.
Do not forget travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. You are a million miles away from professional health care and you’ll probably participate in some adventurous activities…just saying.
I use World Nomads, they cover a range of adventure sports and activities and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already in the middle of traveling.
Where to stay in Khao Sok
In Khlong Sok village the park HQ offers different accommodation options from a campground to bungalows and a youth lodge. None of them are appealing. Fortunately, Khlong Sok village has a large variety of budget and midrange guesthouses.
I have to admit that the village is really pleasant, with restaurants, bars, travel agents and bungalows alternating the lush foliage. However, for the ultimate Khao Sok experience stay in one of the floating raft houses on Cheow Lan lake.
The raft houses on Cheow Lan lake require you to arrange a boat from either the village or at the Ratchaprapha dam.
Khlong Sok village
Bamboo Family Inn
Mid Range = from THB1000 to THB2500
Lovely family guesthouse in a beautiful location. Good location with bars and restaurants just a minutes walk away. Clean and modern rooms, friendly, helpful owners and breakfast included.
Cheow Lan Lake
Praiwan Raft House
High End = THB6500 and up
Wake up in the morning to the sound of the gibbons and the sun rising through the karst rock formations over the mirror smooth lake. Staying on one of the Khao Sok raft houses is unique and therefore not cheap. However, don’t think twice. Again, it’s a unique experience, especially at Praiwan. There’s just not enough that can be said about this place. Clean, calm, serene, well maintained, beautiful, breathtaking views, great service, wonderful people.
There are more affordable raft house options. Find more information on the Khao Sok Lake website.
To compare prices and read reviews of all Khao Sok accommodations check out Agoda.com. The best prices, regular discounts and off season deals.
Where to eat in Khao Sok
We came to Khao Sok with low expectations of the food. What is it with national parks in South East Asia that food options are so limited and often uninspired? Anyway, most accommodations also run their own little restaurant and there’s a sufficient number of eateries and bars in the village.
As for the raft houses, you don’t really have a choice but to have your meal on the premises. Unless you’re an outstanding swimmer, that is.
Chao Chom Restaurant From the village, backtrack 500m East on road 401 to find this restaurant. How they do it is beyond me, but they manage to prepare the best of Thai dishes from this little place. You know you’re in the South of Thailand once you taste their curries. Most notably, they manage to keep their prices friendly.
Lap Roi-Et (On the village main road cross the small bridge over the Sok river, continue for 200 m to find the restaurant). I have to take back everything I said about not having good restaurants in the national parks. This place proved me wrong big time. They serve all the usual Thai dish suspects, but it’s executed so deliciously. I am still dreaming of the charcoal grilled chicken and the crispy pork belly and the papaya salad and the spicy curries, and the….