Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Khao Sok: Cliffs and Adventure in Southern Thailand

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I had never heard of Khao Sok National Park on my first visit to Thailand three years ago — and now that I’ve been there, I am singing its praises to everyone I know.

Khao Sok is home to some of the most visually spectacular jungle I’ve ever seen. Limestone karsts rise out of everywhere — and I’m a girl who loves her limestone karsts. The park is capped by a gargantuan man-made lake, edged with brightly colored floating houses that seem poised to fall apart at any second — but staying in such lodgings would be part of the adventure, of course.

Sok River

Khao Sok is located in Suratthani Province in southern Thailand, right in the triangle between Suratthani, Phuket and Krabi.

In other words, when you’re starting to get beached out, THIS is where you go next. Go here for a jungle palate cleanser in between Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan. Go here to get your body back in shape after a week of lying on the beach.

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Canoeing the Sok River

I initially wanted to go tubing down the Sok River, but it was the beginning of the dry season and the river was running too low, so I chose canoeing instead.

Khao Sok is located in one of the rainiest parts of Thailand, and the scene was gray and ethereal, the limestone cliffs shooting upward from the thick jungle. My guide and I were the only two. I sat back and he paddled, occasionally pointing to birds and saying, “Kingfisher.”

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At one point he pointed to a snake in a tree.

“What kind of snake is that?” I asked him.

“No English,” my guide replied.

“Oh.” I grabbed my neck with my hand, pretending it was a snake. “GRAH! GRAH! UGGGGGH.” I threw myself down and pantomimed dying, adding some foot convulsions for effect.

“Not poisonous,” my guide said in perfect English.

Ah.

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The Lake Trip

Khao Sok National Park is home to Cheow Lan Lake, an enormous man-made creation topped with lake houses. I decided to go with the one-day trip, which took in a journey to the lake houses, time to swim and hang out, lunch, and a jungle trek with some cave exploration.

The scenery on the lake is FANTASTIC — yet so difficult to photograph! We traveled an hour and twenty minutes each way, and since it’s a longtail boat at top speed, the water sprayed us constantly and standing up was impossible. Most of my pictures were covered with sprays of water and unfortunately had to be discarded.

Khao Sok

After our lengthy journey, we arrived at the lake houses and hopped into the water.

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They looked…less than secure. Like they would fall into the lake any minute. (And in case you’re wondering, there are real bathroom facilities — on land, not in the bungalows. I don’t think people would be swimming if that weren’t the case!)

Khao Sok Lake Fun

It felt like we were on our own private island. Phone signal had disappeared minutes after leaving the dock. I dove into the green water and floated on my back, taking in the scenery.

Soon, there was lunch.

Khao Sok Fish

And then came the jungle trek. As far as the trekking went, I hated every minute of it.

Apparently I am a slow hiker. No idea why — put me in a city and I’m like Speedy Gonzales. Move me from concrete to dirt and it all changes. All I know is that in Australia and now in Thailand, my peers were hiking far faster than me. I could keep up with them — if I practically ran and never took my eyes off my feet, and didn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of a hike?

Hunger games. I’m in the f*cking hunger games,” I muttered to myself as my tour mates hiked-ran up rocks and across streams, leaving me in the dust. This, of course, is why I have no photos from the actual hike.

But then we got to a cave — a cave more than a kilometer long. A cave filled with water. A cave with hundreds of bats hanging from the ceiling.

We were going to hike that cave. I donned my head lamp, tied up my belongings in my dry bag, and gulped as we were soon engulfed in darkness.

“Batman,” one of the guides said while pointing upward at the sleeping winged creatures, making us all laugh. Then, a moment later: “Spiderman.” The arachnid was the size of my hand.

The water was ankle-deep or knee-deep in places — until we got to rushing rapids. We swam through narrow crevices. We hiked over a flimsy-looking wooden ladder to avoid getting stuck in the rapids running between boulders underwater.

This cave hike was everything that I should have hated. I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

Kate at Khao Sok

Again, I have no idea why. Maybe I’m just more comfortable in water. That’s the face of a girl who survived bats, giant spiders, churning rapids, and swimming through a cave in her favorite purple dress!

After the trek, we spent a bit more time hanging out by the lake houses. I made a vain effort to squeeze water out of my soaked dress — yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

Soon we climbed back into the longtail boat for a ride back to civilization. The sun began shining brightly as we made out way back, illuminating the karsts beautifully.

Khao Sok

Several people were staying on the lake for a few days. For me, a day trip was perfect.

The Takeaway

I loved my time in Khao Sok. It’s easy to get sick of Thailand’s beaches, as lovely as they are, and Khao Sok is the perfect antidote that will distract you until you leap back into the beaches once more. Southern Thailand may be seen as a beach-only destination, but that’s certainly not the case.

But beyond that, it’s an incredibly beautiful national park and one that I highly recommend.

Essential Info: Khao Sok is a short bus journey from Suratthani, Krabi, or Phuket. We got there from Ranong and though we had to change buses, it wasn’t complicated.

I stayed at Khao Sok Paradise, a comfortable guesthouse that I highly recommend, where double rooms started at 1300 baht ($40) per night. Their food is excellent and their pastas are shockingly good.

I booked both the canoe trip and the one-day lake trip through Khao Sok Paradise. Most if not all guesthouses will be able to do this for you. The canoe trip cost 800 baht ($24); the one-day lake trip cost 1500 baht ($46). Overnight and multi-day lake trips are available as well, as are a variety of jungle treks.

Have you been trekking in the jungle before? What did you think?

Comments

55 Responses to “Khao Sok: Cliffs and Adventure in Southern Thailand”
  1. Naomi says:

    The cave trek reminds me one you can do in Semuc Champey, it was absolutely amazing (although we did it with candles so it was a bit tricky wading through the water) The scenery looks fabulous!

  2. Nina says:

    This is great Kate. Thank you! I live in Krabi and I keep hearing about this place…. I too love my karst mountains. Can’t get enough. 🙂 I will def mark this one down for a visit soon. It’s too close to mis out on.

  3. This place looks amazing! Adding it to the bucket list right now! Jungle trekking is a hard one – I always love them in hindsight but during I’ll be the one throwing my arms around screaming at the leeches to get off me!

  4. Aww this makes me so happy to see. Khao Sok was my first choice during my trip to Thailand- but I was so incredibly allergic to the pollen there I ended up having trouble breathing and getting sick enough that I couldn’t stay. I am happy to see another peak at the park though and know other people are having better experiences there!

  5. Robin says:

    Just got back from Khao Sok and the kids LOVED the kayak trip, as well as the lake tour. Had to skip the caves because the kids were too small, but we loved every moment in this beautiful area. Also hiked into the National Park on our own and followed a trail past some waterfalls, where we spotted monkeys playing in a tree above us.

    To anyone who goes, the food at Thai Herb in the village is superb – fresh, flavorful (ask for spicy), and cheap. Once we ate there we stopped going anywhere else.

    http://trippingturkeys.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/lake-tour/

  6. Alana says:

    This sounds amazing! When I was in Thailand we were mainly in the North, and visited Laos for a bit. I didn’t get to treck through any jungles, but the forests we drove threw were amazing. The wildlife in Thailand is intense, and my first instinct would be to suspect that all creatures are either poisonous or capable of killing we in another way. I’ll have to keep this in mind for when I go back.

  7. Laryssa says:

    In countless posts I’ve read about SE Asia, I’ve never heard of Khao Sok — but it looks intriguing.

    I’m not sure I could handle the cave trek…

  8. Kate says:

    This post is great. I only went to Northern Thailand and did some trekking for a few days in the hills. I’ve always said I’d go back and do Southern Thailand. This have given me ideas 🙂

  9. Renuka says:

    This sounds like a trip for me! I love jungle treks and islands. I have always known Thailand as a buzzing city-like destination. It’s great to discover its pristine natural side through your blog. 🙂 If I ever make it to Thailand, I’m sure to take a similar expedition.

  10. Quyen says:

    Boat rides in the jungle are always my favorite! So relaxing.
    http://liveitinerantly.com/

  11. Angela says:

    Amazing place. I love the off beaten places you have been finding. I can’t wait to head to Thailand in the future!

  12. joanna says:

    Very convenient post Kate! We are heading to Khao Sok today from Surat Thani. Having a small break from the Islands. Am looking forward to it even more now. 🙂

  13. Rachel says:

    This is a side of southern Thailand I didn’t even know existed. Most people cover the beaches, sun and all night parties. This is much more my kind of thing.

  14. Rick says:

    I’m impressed…..a girl who enjoys wading through dark caves filled with bats and spiders in a Thai jungle! And in a dress no less! Good stuff, glad your having a blast and love adventure. Keep it up, I’m really starting to like reading your blog.

  15. Arianwen says:

    I did that same trip and it was awesome – except we also encountered leeches in the cave, but I think I’m a bit of a leech magnet!! I also did the tubing. It was just me and one friend with a guide and we stopped at one point to swing from a rope back into a river. If you’re ever back there in the rainy season, I would definitely recommend it.

  16. Katie says:

    Sounds amazing… everything except the spiders. I know that travelling is supposed to be about conquering your fears, and in general I’m totally up for that (skydiving, paragliding, diving with reef sharks, even visiting a deserted graveyard entirely on my own in the middle of the night), but spiders is one fear I don’t think I’ll ever conquer. Tiny weeny money spiders, I can just about handle. But anything other than that is a definite no!

  17. Dennis Kopp says:

    Thanks for the great suggestions Kate. I personally have been to Surat Thani and further south to Krabi and Phuket, but it did not cross my mind to visit a national park in that area. But since Thailand is so famous for its beaches, Khao Sok seems to be great alternative to escape the masses for a while. And even if the park appears to be a bit more expensive than the average days in Thailand, it definitely looks like a beautiful place to keep in mind for the next visit… 🙂

  18. Catherine says:

    Sounds like a great day out, the lake houses look beautiful 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the caves, though I’m pretty sure I would have hated it, I cannot stand spiders!

  19. Laura says:

    Wow, what beautiful scenery! This looks like the perfect spot to visit between beaches. I love jungle trekking!

  20. Jennifer says:

    Absolutely love jungle trekking – Panama is still my best experience of staying in and trekking through the jungle. Thanks for highlighting this place in the south! We’re in Phuket so just may have to go check it out.

  21. This has officially been added to my SE Asia itinerary! Looks stunning!

  22. Vanessa says:

    I have been to Thailand several times already and also thought about going to Khao Sok but didn’t make it there so far. Definitely have to add this for my next visit, but I might probably also stay there for one or two nights. I have done jungle trekking in Costa Rica and malaysian Borneo and especially loved the latter. We slept in an Iban Longhouse, did a two-day-hike on the Headhunter’s Trail and explored three or four caves in Mulu Nationalpark.

  23. I am in awe. There’s nothing quite like it. I’ve been on a wild mushroom hunt in the Knysna forest in South Africa once, but definitely want to hike in the Borneo Rainforest this year. Absolutely love how you portray you adventures Kate!

  24. Jamie says:

    We live in Phuket and Khao Sok for us is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle, plus it’s normally cooler than Phuket and we don’t mind if there’s an afternoon thunderstorm. We always stay at the Cliff and River resort, a bit more expensive than where you stayed, but it has a great location right under a cliff and right by the river. We’ll surely go again during the low season.

  25. budget jan says:

    Just emailed it to a friend of mine who visits Phuket frequently and has been asking me about Khao Sok.

  26. Rod Austin says:

    Wow, beautiful! National parks are always awesome, and a complete surprise when you live in a different part of the world.

  27. Sophia says:

    I know I’m supposed to be focused on the jungle part but that chili-smothered fish lunch has completely captured my attention!

  28. Silvia says:

    Someone was just telling me the other day that I had to go to Khao Sok before leaving Thailand. Guess that’s no joke. It looks gorgeous!

  29. yara coelho says:

    Great photos, thank you for sharing!

  30. I’m also a slower hiker. As a photographer it pays to take the time and study things with more depth than just a quick walk by. The cave would have been a challenge with a bit of claustrophobia, but the canoe trip would have been a great substitute 🙂

    Definitely a photogenic place

  31. Khao Sok was our last stop in Thailand. After Bangkok and the beaches in the south it felt good to leave on a foresty nature note. We did the same excursion to the dam and the Nam Talu cave, enjoyed it as much as you did. I found the hike to the cave a breeze compared to the jungle hike out of Khao Sok village (we stayed at Nung House) to the waterfall at the end. Only 7 or 8 kilometers but most of it was up and down the steep hills. The swim under the waterfall was worth all the sweat!

  32. Charissa says:

    This is where i want to go when i go to Thailand! I found it within the guidebook and was intrigued right away, so its nice to read your experience of it.

  33. Katie says:

    I am planning a trip to Thailand with some friends in September & one of our stops is Khao Sok National Park. I REALLY want to stay in one of those lake raft houses but I cant find where to book them online except through “limestone tours” which costs around $250 USD per person. What!! Any ideas?

  34. This all looks soooo cool! I’m going to Thailand in about a month. I’ve been looking around your site and I haven’t been able to find this, so I thought I’d ask you in the comments: what visa would you recommend? I’m American as well.

    Also, I love your wit and ability to tell a vivid story-it really makes your posts stand out among other travel bloggers whose sites I’ve been scouring for Phuket advice. Thanks in advance for answering my question!

  35. Looks and sounds incredible! I would be the one hiking behind everyone as they hike-run, so it’s encouraging me to venture on this journey someday. I’m always looking for something beyond the typical travel destinations and the next adventure while traveling!

  36. Ellie says:

    Went to Khao Sok after reading your blog (doubt I would found out about it any other way!)
    The two friends I was travelling with both thought it was the best thing we did in Thailand – thanks Kate!

  37. Gah! Still haven’t been and I’ve been living in Thailand for years! This and Koh Lipe are at the top of my lists!

  38. Hi Kate!
    That’s the first time I hear of Khao Sok. Never heard of that place before! I am going soon back to SOA and I will try to head down to that beautiful place in Thailand! I will have ot pass on the bat cave tough. Haha. Thank you for this cool post! Great photos! 😉
    Read you soon!

  39. Wouter says:

    I also just found out about Khao Sok on my 4th trip to Thailand. Cheow Lake Lake is really one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I ended up in Khao Sok working as a volunteer at Riverside Cottages (http://www.khaosok.net), a few kilometers east of town, which gave me a great change to explore the area. (If anyone is interested in working there as a volunteer, just contact them! – It’s mostly guest relations, social media, blogging, but special skills are welcome)

    Of course I would be a bit biased recommending Riverside Cottages, but it’s really a nice, relaxing place on the river, with a good atmosphere and excellent food (though some might find it too quiet here), it’s great for couples and families. If you’re on a tighter budget I can also recommend Jungalow (http://www.khaosokjungalows.com) in Khao Sok Town; great vibe there as well.

    Any guesthouse in Khao Sok can arrange trips to Cheow Lan Lake, jungle hikes and other activities. I stayed overnight at the lake a few times. The nice thing about that is that you see the morning mist, you make morning and afternoon safaris by boat (bigger chance to see animals if you are further into the park) and sleeping in the floating bungalow was really nice. Especially the part where you jump into the lake in the morning. You can also grab a kayak and paddle around.

    Seems like you went to Nam Talu cave. This cave cannot be visited during the wet season (al least you can’t walk through it), because of the risk of sudden flash floods. But there’s also lots of other caves to visit this time of year. If you only want to visit the lake, you can book your tip with Khao Sok Lake (http://www.khaosoklake.com). This sustainable tour company arranges custom made trips with local (freelance) guides.

  40. Jules says:

    Your snake bite mime and his response totally cracked me up. I’m not too far from Khao Sok and I wouldn’t mind a break from the beach. Great post and really informative. Thanks!

  41. Ami Egor says:

    I have been there and my opinion it is the best place to enjoy tropical foresr and Nature in South Thailand.

    And fish on the photo made me hungry.

  42. Cj says:

    Hi!
    I have some questions, I want to visit this national park, do I take a bus from Phuket to get there? So the town calls khao sok I suppose where this national park is? How long is the ride from Phuket to there?
    I would also prefer a one day tour/trip, so can I go like in the morning with the bus from Phuket and go back in the evening to Phuket? Or is it too far and too late to return back to Phuket in the evening?

  43. Lena says:

    Khao Sok is amazing, isn’t it? I also found it to be a nice escape from tropical Thai beach weather. Lovely stay in the lake.

  44. tawnya says:

    Hi I’m visiting Thailand in December. We were thinking about renting a car in the south. We are probably going to be flying to Phuket and wanted to explore Khao Sok and other little towns. All I hear is about buses. What is your take on renting a car?

    • You can definitely rent a car if you want to. Keep in mind they drive on the left in Thailand. I’ve never rented a car there but some of my friends have. You can have a car on Phuket, but don’t plan on taking a car ferry to any other islands.

  45. Jenn says:

    I cannot wait to go there this November, it should be a bit after the wet season so I hope to see it all in full magnificence… I am wondering though… how did you find this tour? were you departing from Phuket ot Surat Thani? Thanks a lot for the pics!

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