Exploring Khao Sok National Park
As the morning light slowly crept through the trees and up the towering bamboo timbers, I stood there in disbelief. Were the stories true? Could the forests of Khao Sok National Park really be older than the ones in the Amazon?
It was late February in southern Thailand where I had just finished my certification diving on the island of Koh Tao. Up until that point, my only experiences; on my very first trip to Southeast Asia; had been underwater.
Having explored the jungles of Central and South America; I was extremely eager to find a classic South Pacific jungle adventure. When a Thai local told me about one in Khao Sok National Park that was older than the Amazon rain forest I was skeptical but knew I had to check it out.
Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park is the largest section of virgin forest in southern Thailand. With over 285 square miles of unspoiled nature, the park contains the 63 square mile Cheow Lan Lake and is home to over five percent of the world’s species. It is also; in fact; the remnant of a rainforest older and more diverse than the Amazon.
There are plenty adventures to be had in Khao Sok if you find yourself in the neighboring village bearing the same name. The first, and arguably the best, of which is a set of trails that lead you through some of the most scenic parts of the forest. The second is an expensive and; in my opinion; overrated tour across the lake to some floating bungalows and Namtalu cave.
Do Go Chasing Waterfalls
The Waterfall Routes
The hiking trails in the southern part of the park are the best way to experience the unspoiled nature and tranquility of Khao Sok National park. Ranging in difficulty from family friendly to what the hell did I get myself into? They will take you through the trees, over cool running rivers, and past loads of waterfalls.
The two routes from which to choose are a trail leading North to Sip-et Chan Waterfall and the eastern trail to Ton Kloi Waterfall.
Travel Tip: The entrance fee to Khao Sok is ฿300 or $10 and lasts for 24 hours. However, if you go before 7 a.m., there is a good chance that you will arrive before the fee collectors. 😉
Sip-et Chan Waterfall
The trail to Sip-et Chan Waterfall starts near the park entrance and stretches about two and a half miles North through the dense forest. Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to hike to Sip-et Chan. However, I did meet a few travelers who had done it and said that they had a blast.
They did, however, inform me that the trail was covered in leeches and that there was a sign stating the path was closed. They disregarded the warning and didn’t have any trouble getting to the falls. Depending on your level of fitness you should be able to complete the trail in around four hours.
Ton Kloi Waterfall
The trail to Ton Kloi Waterfall is the harder of the two and leads you through groves of towering bamboo and along the cool running waters of the Sok River. The trailhead is located near the southern entrance and is well marked.
It should take the average traveler with a decent fitness level around six hours to complete this trek.
Warning: I seriously advise you download an offline map app like Maps.Me. The trails in Khao Sok National Park start well marked but quickly turn dense and un-navigable crossed by loads of animal trails. It is super easy to get lost.
Groves Of Towering Bamboo
Looking at your offline map app while hiking the trail you will notice the waterfalls like Wing Hin, Wang Yao, Ton Mai Yai, and so on, dotting the path. If you go during the rainy season, you might be able to see these falls in all their glory but have to deal with dreary days. If you go in the dry season; like me; you will get beautiful clear skies, but no falls.
Even if the waterfalls along the Sok River aren’t flowing, that doesn’t mean you won’t have an unforgettable time in the park.
The Sok River
Magic In The Trees
Despite the waterfalls being virtually non-existent, it didn’t hamper my experience in the slightest. The best part of the hike through Khao Sok National Park; in my opinion; is the unfiltered nature.
There’s a sort of magic in the dark, creepy corners and massive vine networks winding through the trees.
Vines For Days
Massive mushrooms grow on logs directly on the trail which is something you almost never see because of irresponsible hikers destroying them along the way.
No Tripping On These Shrooms
I am in love with nature and to have an almost entirely untainted piece of it is extremely rare. Usually, big companies harvest the natural resources from places like this, working unchecked by the government, destroying the environment.
The curators of Khao Sok National Park have done a fantastic job fighting off would be invaders and have only allowed a few establishments to exist within the park. One of which you will run across on your journey to the falls.
Bang Hua Rad Waypoint
About forty-five minutes into the hike and past Wing Hin Waterfall is the Bang Hua Rad Waypoint. A partial ranger station and place to top up on water before you enter the serious part of the trail. You will most likely be asked about where you plan to go, and it’s best to be confident; if not, they may require you to hire a guide to continue.
Travel Tip: Another benefit of going early is passing the waypoint before the guards arrive, eliminating the possibility of being forced to hire a guide.
The trail leading on from Bang Hua Rad gets significantly harder to navigate, so if you haven’t downloaded an offline map, be very cautious. The path will guide you along the river and up the ridge until you reach my second favorite part of the hike; the Tang Nam canyon pass.
Tang Nam Canyon Pass
A small separation in the hillside with the Sok River running through will mark your arrival to Tong Nam. This is a great spot to take a break from the heat and go swimming through the canyon. Floating on your back and looking up at the steep canyon walls is an experience that you won’t soon forget.
After you’ve had enough of the frigid water and mosquitos you can pack up your gear and head off to your final destination, but be warned; finding where the trail picks up again to Ton Kloi can be a little tricky. I managed to hike for fifteen minutes only to arrive back at the canyon.
Just backtrack until you see a small fork in the trail leading directly up the hill that looks strikingly similar to a washout.
Ton Kloi Waterfall
After you hike down the ridge fighting through the thick vines covering the trail you will finally arrive at the Ton Kloi Waterfall.
Ton Kloi Waterfall
Ton Kloi is a small cascade positioned behind a pool of crystal clear water, and if you happen to be there during the dry season, you will thank your lucky stars that you actually get to see a waterfall on this; so called; waterfall hike.
After some time cooling off and snapping some pics it’s time to head home. The way back might seem a bit rougher than before due to the sun being directly overhead. Try to stay hydrated and make good use of the cool river along the way.
Oh Yeah That Other Thing
So if you’ve decided to go on one of the hikes through the forest and enjoyed the tranquility of being alone in nature, then you might not enjoy the next most popular activity at Khao Sok National Park.
Simply named The Lake Tour, this second activity is just that. You can take a longtail across Cheow Lan Lake past massive limestone karsts and floating bungalows to explore a dark, creepy cave.
Massive Karsts On Cheow Lan Lake
The hour-long ride across the lake is visually stunning, and unlike any other place I’ve seen before. There are a few options and prices for a tour of the lake including a one-day and two-day one-night.
Lake Tour Options
One-Day Tour – A minibus will pick you up from your accommodation around 8 a.m. for an hour-long journey to the other end of the lake. You will then board an overcrowded longtail and set off to one of the many floating bungalow locations. After a short lunch break and a quick ride to Namtalu Cave; where you will spend a few hours exploring; you will head back to the bungalows to grab the gear that you left behind and start the tiring journey back to town. Price – ฿1500 or $48.
Two-Day Tour – The same events will occur as the one-day tour except for this time you’ll have the option to chill out and enjoy some time swimming around the area. You’ll also have the option to explore the cave that afternoon. A private bungalow, lunch, dinner, and breakfast are included in the price. After a night spent on the lake, you will head out on a morning sunrise tour and arrive back at your accommodation around noon. Price – ฿2500 or $80.
The Floating Bungalows
If you couldn’t tell by the descriptions, the one-day tour is an absolute nightmare of being herded around with no real time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. I combated the madness by foregoing the cave tour and relaxing at the bungalows.
The two-day one-night tour seems like it would be a good deal; for only $30 more you get time to relax and a few meals.
I did, however, meet some travelers who’d also gone on the one-day tour with a different company and their experience was far better than mine. It may just be a case of good guide bad guide.
The Famous Karsts Of Cheow Lan Lake
Whatever the case may be; good guide or bad; you are sure to have an unforgettable time cruising one of the most beautiful lakes in Southern Thailand.
Getting To Khao Sok
Getting To Khao Sok National Park is much like everything else in Thailand; super easy. Most hostels and hotels offer moderately priced transportation and booking a bus on 12go.asia couldn’t be any easier. The two most popular routes are from Surat Thani in the East and Phuket further South.
From Surat Thani – Buses leave the main terminal every hour for ฿120 or $3.75 and the trip should take roughly two hours.
From Phuket – Buses leave every hour to Khao Lok which is roughly four hours North and then from Khao Lok bus terminal every hour for a two-hour ride to Khao Sok. The whole trip should cost about ฿160 or $5.
Transportation Tip: Whichever option you choose to take keep in mind that the bus or van will drop you off along the highway just outside of town. You will have to walk about half a mile to get to your accommodation unless you’ve booked a fancy pickup service.