Beaches in the south and mountains in the north. That is commonly how the story goes when summarising Thailand’s most popular travel destinations. And while there may be some truth to this, there are definitely also exceptions. Khao Sok National Park is one of them.
Located just two hours north of Phuket and in close proximity to other popular destinations including Krabi, Khao Lak and Koh Samui, Khao Sok National Park is a 739 square kilometre national park that offers a great variety of activities. It is covered by one of the oldest evergreen forests in the world and contains deep valleys as well as steep lime stone cliffs. The main attraction is the Cheow Lan Lake, a 165 square kilometre lake contained by the Ratchaprapha Dam. The lake is popular for kayaking, sailing and swimming, and there are several operators arranging tours and accommodation on the lake.
The information online for exploring Khao Sok National Park is rather sparse so many travellers opt for a tour operator when venturing into the park. But there are plenty of opportunities to explore the park on your own and once there, many travellers will realise that it is actually not so difficult.
Khlong Sok, or Khao Sok Village, is the point of entry for many travellers arriving from Phuket and Surat Thani. The village is nothing special, rather a small town that has grown on the back of the growing interest for the national park in recent years, but it is a perfect place to start your trip into the park. Many tour operators will tell travellers that the trails starting in the village are only accessible with a guide; this is not true, they are easily accessible for anyone.
Venturing into the park on a bicycle is also a great way to see the park and cover more ground. There are several places in Khao Sok Village that rents out bicycles on a daily basis and once inside the park, most lodges and guesthouses will have bicycles available for free for guests or for a small fee.
Cheow Lan Lake
Cheow Lan Lake is most easily accessible from the eastern side of the park near Ta Khun Village. If you are travelling Khao Sok National Park on your own and came in from the park’s eastern side near Khao Sok Village, the easiest way to get to Cheow Lan Lake is perhaps by hiring a car or booking a trip from your lodge inside the park. Getting to the lake from Ta Khun Village is also possible by renting a motorbike. The roads are in good condition, there is not much traffic and you will be treated to excellent views of misty mountains covered in lush, dark green forest.
Most tour operators have tours on the lake and this may be the easiest option for first-time visitors. Boats can be anything from a large modern motorboat to a smaller traditional Thai-style long tail boat – so called for the oftentimes homemade motor that features a propeller at the end of a long bar that is inserted into the water and operated from the back of the boat. The good thing about booking a tour with an experienced company is that the guide will be able to tell you about the lake and take you to the most interesting places whether they be secret lime stone caves, nice view points or other places of interest.
Many small lodges line the edge of the lake, some of which are little more than a bamboo shack on poles, others are more substantial. Many of the lodges have a distinct eco-feel and take great care to preserve the natural environment. They offer an excellent way to get close to nature and really wind down with a good book while taking in the magnificent views.
Other Places of Interest
While Cheow Lan Lake is definitely the most visited attraction in Khao Sok National Park, the park offers a plethora of other attractions. Waterfalls are abundant and varied, with Wing Hin, Bang Hua Rat, Bang Laeb Nam and Than Sawann waterfalls being some of the most stunning and accessible. There are also several caves, some of which have temples and places of worship lodged inside and some of which are little more than a small hole in a mountain side.
The park is also home to the famous Rafflesia Flower, known for its size – some may grow to over one metre in diameter – and its foul odour, which is used to attract flies and which has resulted in the flower being nicknamed ‘corpse flower’. The flower blooms for just a few weeks in late January to early February and it is quite rare, so make sure you plan your trip carefully if you want a chance to see it.
- When walking around in Khao Sok National Park, beware of leeches, especially during the rainy season, which runs roughly from August to October. The leeches are not only on the ground but also appear in trees and high grass. Do not wear sandals.
- Some tour operators offer trips to elephant camps. Thailand has had some bad publicity regarding a number of elephant camps in recent years. Most camps are run professionally and the elephants are well taken care of, but like any trade, there are a few bad examples that tarnish the name of the industry. Check to see what has been written about the camp online before booking a trip and don’t be afraid to quiz the tour operator about the conditions at the camp.
- There is a nice view point from the Ratchaprapha Dam, offering views over the lake and the surrounding hills and mountains. Close to the dam there are also a few shacks serving food and snacks that will come in handy once on the lake.