Khao Sok National Park
You can find Khao Sok National Park situated in the Surat Thani province in Southern Thailand. This park is home to one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world, limestone mountains, crystal lakes, animal life, caves, and more.
Where we stayed: Our Jungle Camp
When we went: December/January
How we got there: BKK flight to KBV, drove rental car 2.5 hours
Money: Thai Baht. Our resort kept a tally of our costs (tours/food) and we paid in cash at the end. There are a few ATMs in the town area to get cash from as well. During our drive we found that Visa credit card and cash were readily accepted at convenient stores.
Craziest things from this trip: A guide proceeded to tell us that the tarantula was gone because the previous guide ate it. A guide pulled a lizard off of a tree and then proceeded to let it go and it FLEW away. Our bamboo shoot “boat” that sank a little more as each additional person boarded.
There are a few options on getting to Khao Sok. From Bangkok, we recommend flying into Krabi or Surat Thani airport. From there you can take a taxi, shuttle transfer to your hotel, or brave the roads of Thailand by renting a car.
Our trip started in Krabi and we opted to rent a car for the entirety of our trip (international or Thai license required). To make it simple on ourselves, we picked up our car from the airport upon arrival. After our weekend in Krabi, we packed up the car and drove the two and half hours to our resort right on the outskirts of the park. Overall the roads from Krabi to Khao Sok were in great shape; however, we wouldn’t recommend driving in the dark. Arriving in the late afternoon gave us plenty of time to check into our place and get settled before dinner.
Where to stay:
There are a lot of options for staying near or in Khao Sok. Despite having some great options for staying on the Cheow Lan Lake, in the end we stayed outside the park because of the accessibility to convenient stores (i.e. unlimited ice cream). Many of the more affordable lakeside resorts did not have a/c, fans, or mosquito nets. Want a/c on the lake? Be prepared to hand out a pretty penny or two.
For our 4 day adventure we stayed at Our Jungle Camp, a tree house resort. We booked a two story tree house that easily housed our group of 4. The beds were much more comfortable than we expected. It is important to note that Thailand beds are usually quite hard (we have actually slept on a plywood “mattress” here). There was no a/c in the tree house, but we did have electricity. There were fans mounted either above or at the foot of each bed which we kept on whenever we were there. Each bed had also had a mosquito net, which we used constantly. We were comfortable during the day (mind you, this is the “cold” season) and at night we found ourselves reaching for our layers because of the temperature drop. We never lacked hot water, even with 4 people sharing one bathroom since the shower had wall-mounted heater. You will need bug spray and we used the incenses burner provided by the resort when we were out reading on the balcony away from the safety of our netted beds.
The food on the resort was very well priced. You can find Thai food cheaper, but this was accessible, delicious, and still very cheap compared to American prices. We found that in total we spend about $40 a person during our entire stay (3.5 days). We also highly recommend the fresh coffee option with breakfast.
What to do:
Cheow Lan Lake
Cheow Lan Lake (also known as Khao Sok Lake) is a man-made lake that is a must see destination. The water is emerald and is surrounded by limestone cliffs and lush green jungle. The lake is well protected both by its national park status and by the locals.
Although we’ve visited national parks in Thailand on our own, we have learned it’s always a great idea to get some help from the locals. We booked an all day tour at our resort for about $50 a person. This did not include the boat cost (20 baht/person) or foreign nationals entrance fee into the park (300 baht/person). Although some Thai parks allow expats to pay the local fee with proof of Thailand residence, this park clearly states that foreigners with local driver’s licenses still pay foreign national prices.
We were picked up with another couple from our resort at 0800 (private tours are available). We then drove about an hour, picking up another 3 persons and stopping for snacks on the way to the docks. Our tour guide fixed our longboat details out and after climbing down a questionably structured stairway we were on our merry way.
The boat tour was beautiful and the driver would slow down to allow us to take photos. Our tour package included lunch at one of the lake resorts and after a leisurely hour-ish boat ride, we arrived ready to eat. The Thai dishes just kept flowing until we couldn’t eat another bite. One of the dishes is fried (whole) local fish. It was delicious and we ate all of it, once our guide showed us exactly how. After a short swim and kayaking, some of us ventured off to do the Coral Cave hike.
Now, we’ve done some sketchy things (read: OSHA would have a heart attack) in Thailand, but these “boats” were definitely a new one. By “boat” we mean bamboo shoots tied together and that immediately sink a few inches with each boarding person. After some kind of magic in which we didn’t end up with taking a second swim, we were given an approximate 0.25 seconds to allow our racing hearts to calm before we began our climb.
On our climb we got to see tarantulas and pit vipers from a “I feel comfortable taking a picture from here and no I do not want to come any closer to the poisonous snake” distance. After about a 20 minute moderate hike, you find yourself dripping with sweat and at the mouth of a cave. There is a separate entrance fee for the Coral Cave (200 baht). We were given plenty of time to explore the cave (about a 100 m total walk). As people who has been to a lot of Thai caves, we thought the trip to the cave was more of a highlight than the cave itself. After heading back to the water resort, we relaxed for about 20 minutes before we started our return trip to our tree house.
There a many options for your visit to the lake, but we found we were very happy with our decision to do one full day. We found some of the resorts to look like it would be fun and meet our needs (food, activities, western bathrooms), but there isn’t much to do after dark and unless you go out touring during the day, you can only do some much swimming in the lake. If you are looking for a more relaxed tour, 2 days might be up your alley.
Things you’ll need:
Water, camera, sunscreen, towel (resort provided), swim suit, waterproof bag, and a change of clothes if you don’t want to sit in your suit for the boat ride back. We also appreciated snacks for the van ride there and back.
Our second day was spent hiking in Khao Sok. We specifically planned our trip to coincide with the blooming of the Rafflesia Flower. This is a parasitic flower that can grow up to 4 feet. It is also known for smelling like a corpse. The problem we ran into was that they only bloom from January to March and each bloom only lasts for about 5 days. When we arrived at our resort they told us that the only flower that was in bloom had died already. Fortunately for us, when we returned from our adventure at the lake, we were informed that another flower was in bloom.
We had planned to do a half day Rafflesia viewing hike and then a night jungle trek, but our resort recommended we do a full day private jungle hike and just add the Rafflesia viewing to our trek. Due to this bundling, we paid an extra $10 ($60/person). Don’t forget you still have to buy your national park entrance again (300 baht).
We were picked up at 0900 and the guide provided us with 2 bottles of water each. We drove the 90 seconds down the driveway of our resort and to the ranger station to pay the entrance fee and then set off to hike. Although we had voted to climb up the waterfall (read: water + rocks = dangerous) the rangers said that it would be better to come down the waterfall. It’s important to note that the great thing about tours into the Thai jungle is that you can customize your trip to your liking. Our route took us up, and then up some more. We continued to steadily (steeply) climb upwards until we reached the flowers. After getting to see (and smell) the flowers we began to travel toward the waterfall.
The hike down the waterfall was steep and slippery and we took it at a pretty slow pace. The views were beautiful. You come to two great view points. At the second viewpoint is where we had lunch, and our guide fashioned us drinking cups and coffee stirrers from bamboo shoots. This was super exciting for us to watch and then to top it off he made us coffee as we relaxed. You can, but we did not swim in the waterhole because no one wanted to get wet. After eating, we had about a 2 hour hike out. There was a lot of river crossing (and some falling) until we arrived at a ranger station. We were able to relax, bought more water, and caught our breath before walking the hour back to our starting ranger station via fire road. This part of the hike was actually pretty exciting as we made a lot of monkey friends. Word of advice: make sure your items are well hidden from them. Moneys are cute, but they are smart little things that will take whatever they can. About 7 hours after heading out, we found our driver and made the 5 minute drive back to our resort and enjoyed our well earned showers.
What you need:
You are usually provided with 2 water bottles, we suggest at least 2 liters of water/person. This is a very humid and hot environment and the last thing you want is to have to ration your water. Hiking shoes (that perform well on wet rocks) are essential. Bug spray is a life saver and you should just consider bathing in it. If you want to swim, then you have the option of swim suits and quick dry towel. You will want a towel of some sort because the jungle is quite thick and sun drying does not come easy. Our food was provided as part of our package.
Many national parks in Thailand require that you hire a guide upon arrival. We have found that it is normally 500 baht to have a national park ranger be your guide. If you are doing a full service then you are paying for the guide in the price of your tour. It is possible to get to the park by yourself and to find paths to hike. Now, we have done wayward hiking and believe ourselves to be great at navigating a trail, but we 100% do not recommend going off into the Thai jungle without a guide. It is a very cheap cost to have someone be able to tell you there is a pit viper and not to move, not to touch that tree because the sap causes blindness, or to tell you that “Oh no, that’s not the trail, that is just the elephants walking path from yesterday”. Thai guides are some of the best we have come across and they love to share their knowledge. We usually tip our guides depending on the length of the trail. For this excursion we did 100 baht (about $3) a person. This is not mandatory.
Wrapping this up…
All and all we had a fabulous time. We agreed we would stay at the resort again if given the option. Khao Sok is one of the rainiest places in Thailand (bring a rain jacket) and we lucked out that it only rained the day we were leaving. The resort had a lot of options for day trips including an “Ethical Elephant Experience” where you get to hang out with retired/rescued elephants for 3 hours. There is no riding on this experience and we cannot personally vouch for their program as we didn’t research it nor did we try it. We recommend you do your research before you do any elephant excursion in Thailand as there are a lot of ethical questions around elephant treatment.
Other options for our resort were Jungle Yoga, Overnight Jungle Trek, Two-Day Lake trip, Night Safari, Canoe Tours, Hot Springs/Viewpoint tour, River Tubing, and a Rafting, Trek, and Caving Tour. The resort also offered massages and cooking classes. This is a more down to earth experience, but not even close to a “roughing it” trip.
Gluten Free/Celiac Note:
We have a celiac in our pair and would like to take the time to discuss how accessible food was for that person. Let it also be know, our celiac is not the most adventurous eater (i.e. questionable safeness) because the reactions are very severe and affect the ability to function.
For this trip we attempted to bring prepared food from our favorite gluten-free-accessible restaurant in Krabi, Diver’s Inn. Unfortunately for us, we need a new soft cooler and only 2 of the 6 meals made it to the resort in edible conditions. Our room did not have a fridge, but the staff was very nice and allowed us to put the food into their fridge and marked it to ensure no one touched it.
During booking, we informed the resort that one person had a gluten allergy and asked if there were any accommodations or if it would be possible to prepare our own food in the kitchen, where we would still pay for the cost of food. We were informed that they should be able to make accommodations. To be honest, it was not the best experience. We found their information about gluten free eating came from a website that when translated to Thai changed “soy sauce chicken is unsafe” to “soy, sauce, chicken, rice are unsafe”. This made it very difficult the first day because they were afraid to serve plain white rice. After an in-depth conversation in a combination of Thai and English we were able to get rice without someone thinking they may kill us.
We are happy they didn’t like the idea of killing us. We understood they did not quite understand what Celiac’s Disease entails. It was nice that they tried. A big problem is that in the Thai language there is no word for gluten, and when “wheat flour” is translated it usually translates to the words “wheat and rice.” They were very nice and allowed us into the kitchen to ensure the things we did want to try were gluten free.
We always come prepared with some kind of food, but there was plenty of coconut ice cream and fruit to go around. Boiled eggs are also a breakfast favorite. There are definitely options for eating, but they might not be the most satisfying while you watch your friends eat Khao Soi and Drunken Noodles. Both tours provided us with a gluten free options that we picked (white rice and fruit). We were also able to get some snacks from the convenient store. Would we go back? 100%. Would we bring our own food or gluten free sauces (in Thailand, Megachef) to do the cooking class and just prepare safe food for the trip? Yes.