Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok is a nature reserve in southern Thailand, and I’d go as far as to suggest that it’s an absolutely essential pitstop if you’re travelling down to the Gulf Coast.
The reserve was created in 1982 when the Thai government deliberately flooded the forests here to create a dam. The idyllic scenery and concentration of rare animals have understandably made the area a massive draw for visitors.
What to do in Khao Sok
Khao Sok was my first taste of rural Thailand after several days spent in something of a daze in hectic, urban Bangkok. Chieow Laan Lake’s serene emerald waters were a more than welcome respite from the capital’s craziness – I loved it immediately.
The towering rocks jutting up out of the tranquil waters (called karsts) were an unbeatable introduction to Thailand’s natural beauty – it looked like something out of Avatar! While everybody’s heard of and stared longingly at pictures of Koh Phi Phi’s limestone formations, Khao Sok is a better kept secret, and until I arrived at the reserve I had no idea that the island could be so easily rivalled (or in my opinion, beaten)
Once you’ve taken a gentle ride in a longboat over to Chieow Lann Lake, there’s plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can sunbathe and relax on the decking, take a canoe out to explore the beautiful water and little islands, laze out in an inner tube (not Vang Vieng style!) or take an elephant trek or jungle hike through the luscious rainforest backdrop. You’re likely to spot some Thai wildlife, including elephants, tapirs and gibbons.
I spent a night in these beautifully unique and incredibly located floating river huts. Of course, after a few too many Changs and Leos you’re likely to lose your footing and fall into the water (not me for once – despite my habitual clumsiness!)
If I’m honest the huts were Spartan-like – completely without frills and containing just a mattress and a mosquito net, but I think that adds to their undeniable charm. Toilet blocks are a short walk away from the huts, but they don’t have showers – the lake is clean and warm and makes an excellent bath. Khao Sok is not somewhere you bring a hairdryer and make up to. For those who prefer a little more comfort, regular accommodation is also available. There is a central area (connected by some very precarious plank walkways) where you can eat breakfast and dinner, and buy some very cheap Thai beer.
The first hut I was allocated turned out to be too rudimentary even for me… halfway through the night the window shutter blew off (a disadvantage of visiting Thailand during the monsoon season!) and the torrential rain began drenching the inside of the hut. The staff were very helpful and quickly moved me to a different hut. I should hasten to add that during the day the sun was scorching, and I didn’t experience any rain at all (I visited in August.)
NOTE: This is a wildlife reserve. Leaving any kind of food around will attract creepy crawlies, birds and more unnervingly, rather large monkeys – who are very adept at prising open the window shutters and rough-and-ready doors. I heard them scampering about on the thatched roof throughout the night, safe in the knowledge that several hundred ants had already demolished my Lays crisps earlier that day.
I loved my (far too short) time here. I recommend to anyone visiting Thailand to visit Khao Sok – the otherwordly cliffs, sparkling water and chilled out vibe easily competes with the islands down south. The reserve isn’t particularly touristy – while I was there I didn’t see any other tour groups, or any solo travellers. For that reason it’d be a fantastic place to chill out for a few days, away from the scrum of the islands, or the unrelenting energy of Bangkok.
How to get to Khao Sok
For anyone interested in a trip to Khao Sok, Limestone Lake Rainforest Tours can organise everything. Their website offers pre-designed itineraries which vary in length, cost and content, so you can make sure you get the most out of your visit.
Khao Sok is located in southern Thailand, a one hour drive from Surat Thani. I caught the overnight train from Bangkok, arriving in Surat Thani early in the morning (highly recommended – you can watch the sunrise come up as the train zooms through the Thai countryside. It’s exciting (and a little bit scary) to sit in the train carriage links to get a better view. Make sure to book a bed well in advance, especially if you’re considering heading down south to coincide with a Full Moon Party. We then chartered a private minibus to ferry us from the train station to the park.