Is Khao Sok Thailand’s Jurassic Park?
I have been wanting to visit south Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park for about two years now. Since we are currently based in Krabi, Thailand which is only a two hour drive and we have the use of a nice car for the duration of our stay, I was running out of excuses.
Actually, I could have utilized the regular minivan service from Krabi, Phuket or Surat Thani last winter when we were here. (Note: If you do go by bus or minivan, check schedules carefully. Sometimes the returning buses don’t show up when they are supposed to or don’t stop while passing by the park. Your guesthouse should be able to help you sort that out with a minimum of inconvenience.)
Anna needed to visit the Thai passport office in Surat Thani so we combined that with a mini vacation, packed a few essentials like bug spray, sunscreen, headlamps (for caving), cameras, music, and an extra set of swimwear each. If you have hiking sandals or water shoes then bring those as well. Otherwise old sneakers you don’t mind getting wet will suffice. Boots are not necessary.
An early morning drive to Surat Thani on the best road I have seen in Thailand started things off. Did that speedometer really say 150 kph most of the way up? We were in and out of the passport office in under an hour. Another 90 minutes of driving brought us to Khlong Sok, the village near the western park entrance. The village, where the various guesthouses, bars and restaurants are located, is strung along a 1.5 km road from the highway to the park entrance.
I had done my usual research and had decided to stay at Smiley’s Bungalows. I liked the local family owner feel and a couple of emails to Phaiwan had been promptly answered. It was a good choice as she was bright, bilingual and helpful in the extreme.
Our first night we had booked the treehouse but following her hint, we checked out one of the newer elevated concrete bungalows and changed over. At 500 baht (15 USD) for the night including our two breakfasts this was a killer deal complete with hammock and en suite bathroom.
There are a couple of “upscale,” i.e., more expensive digs around but this was perfect floating above the forest floor. After checking in, we checked out the park’s visitor center and strolled around a bit as it was getting a bit late for a waterfall trek. There are several waterfalls one can trek to from the visitor center. Distances range from 3-12 km return. Following sunset back at our bungalow, we walked around the village before settling on a fish dinner at one of the local restaurants.
Phaiwan booked a two-day tour for us that including a night in one of their floating raft houses, several activities and four meals for 2500 baht/person. Other than a beer or two there was nothing else to spend money on. They will book the raft house only for 1,000 baht pp, but you will need to secure and pay for your transportation. I highly recommend the two-day tour as you get plenty of time to enjoy and appreciate the area and the value is there.
Chiew Lan Lake is arguably Thailand’s most scenic body of fresh water. With a surface area of 165 sq. km. (64 sq. mi.), this enormous artificial lake, created in 1980, continues to provide much of the Kingdom’s hydroelectric power. Limestone karsts of all shapes and sizes protrude from the water. The lake itself is reached by a fairly long drive of 50 km from the park entrance.
Because the park’s terrain is so rugged, mountainous and expansive, the park and its surrounds have remained mostly untouched by people. There are no roads into or within the park’s interior. Khao Sok teems with plants and wildlife. Wild elephants, panthers, a range of monkeys including dusky langurs and gibbons, snakes, and over 180 species of bird inhabit the park and surrounding protected areas. In fact the greater protected zone (over 4,000 square kilometers) looks like a large province on a map of Thailand.
The park service manages four different raft house groups on the lake. However, several private families operate their own which from what I could see were smaller, had better food and were better managed. These raft house communities (ours had a total of 11 floating homes) are spread out in various locations within this enormous lake.
We began our second day by driving to the main boat pier from where we went on a longtail boat tour of some of the beautiful coves arriving at our raft house an hour later. A quick swim jumping out our front door (almost) and it was time for a good Thai lunch.
After lunch we resisted the urge to nap and grabbed one of the kayaks to explore a bit of the lake.
Around dusk we boarded the longtail again for an evening safari. The cooler evenings and early mornings are the best time to spot wildlife along the rugged lakeshore. No, we did not see any wild elephants or panthers nor did we really expect to do so, even though there are local populations. But with 4,000 sq. km of rugged and remote wilderness, why would they come to where the tourists are?
However, we did see toucans, various birds and several gibbons way up high in the trees. The lake itself is so beautiful that the wildlife are nice add-ons but hardly necessary. It is quite cooler than the beaches of Krabi and the frequent cloud cover made for good photographic conditions.
We had two French couples in our little group of six. After dinner, drinks and camaraderie, we retired to our floating house early. I woke up once around 5:00 and sat out on our raft platform to watch the breaking of dawn.
At 7:00 am we took off for another safari by long tail. More monkeys were spotted and we returned by 8:00 for a leisurely breakfast. Then we left for a half day jungle trek. A short boat ride took us to the trail head. We hiked the well marked trail crisscrossing streams along the way.
Hiking sandals and swimwear are the recommended gear as it is hot and you will get wet. We explored the Nam Talu Cave which is about two km long with a river running through it. As you might expect, there were stalactites and stalagmites though nothing to marvel what we saw underground in Viet Nam last year. However, the ceilings were totally covered by resting bats. Whenever a headlamp hit the ceiling, the bats would stir and flutter a bit before settling down once again.
We returned for lunch and a swim. Then we packed up our daypacks and took the boat back to the dock and our waiting car. Before leaving the area we drove across the dam to a beautifully landscaped island featuring lush parks, a Wat (Buddhist Temple) and scenic overlook of the lake. We arrived back in Krabi in the early evening. We could have easily stayed another night on the lake.
If you are in southern Thailand, I would definitely make a side trip to Khao Sok National Park. I plan to return later this season and do some waterfall trekking. If you only visit one national park in Thailand (not including the Maritime National Parks for us SCUBA divers) then this is arguably the one to see.
Do you have questions or concerns about visiting Khao Sok or southern Thailand? Leave a comment or question and I will reply soon.