The South of Thailand is known mostly for Full Moon parties, rum buckets, and beautiful beaches. Few people who come to Thailand know about Khao Sok National Park, the green jungle in between the Andaman Sea and Indian ocean.
Khao Sok is a national park that’s been around since the 1980s. It consists of your standard National Park type deal with waterfalls and hiking trails, and more importantly gorgeous limestoe-cliff-filled Cheow Lan Lake, which comes up in any google or Pinterest search of Khao Sok. Tigers and elephants have even been spotted in the park from time to time.
During a recent 3-day weekend, my friends & I decided to head down south to check it out.
From Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station (Sai Tai Mai in Thai), you can take an overnight bus to Surathani. It’s about 10 hours, and the bus we took was only 500 baht(about $15), although they range from 500-1100-ish. The overnight busses in Thailand are pretty nice, and usually come with water/snacks/food. On the way back we took Krung Siam, which even included massage-chair seats and personal TVs. High-so, am I right?
Once you get to the bus station in Surathani, you have to hop on another mini-van that goes to Khao Sok. Staying in floating bungalows on Cheow Lan Lake an hour further is an option, but we’re peasants, so we opted to stay at Palm View Guest House, which cost 325/baht person for squeezing 4 people into a family-sized bungalow for 2 nights. I’d highly recommend it; it’s walking distance from the town and park entrance, and the people who work there are super nice.
AirAsia also has cheap flights from Bangkok to Surathani, and you can get vans from the airport to Khao Sok.
After rolling off at overnight bus around 7 AM and checking in to our guesthouse, we went for a 6 KM hike through the forest. There are plenty of guides around here that offer treks, but again we’re poor, so we did it ourselves. You can also tube, but it’s February and Thailand is heading towards dry season, so the water in the river was too low.
The park has a steep entry fee of 300 baht, which is good for 24 hours. You also can camp inside the park if you’re down with bugs.
Speaking of bugs – thank GOD we didn’t see any, but every other blog I’ve read about Khao Sok says that the leeches are vicious. Apparently it’s worse during rainy season, so if you visit the park during September-December make sure you bring hella bug spray. I drenched myself in the stuff regardless.
The hike was decent; there was a pretty nice river to swim in. But it was rainy so we got lazy and didn’t hike all the way up to a waterfall, after another hiker informed us that it wasn’t that impressive anyways.
That night we hit up Jumanji, 1 of 3 bars in town, complete with a bunch of hammocks and absolute garbage rasta remixes of pop songs. Also 1 of 3 rasta bars in town; Khao Sok isn’t much for nightlife, and the town itself is kind of dead. Because we’re American and obnoxious we even brought our own stuff to make s’mores to the bar, as they had a fire pit. It was a Thai interpretation with 7/11 crackers instead of graham crackers & kit kats instead of Hershey’, but we did our best. Festive, am I right?
Cheow Lan Lake
Day 2 we woke up chipper bright & early to head to the lake. We hired a van to take us to that lake that cost 1500 baht, and it took about an hour to get there. There was yet another steep friggin entrance fee, this time 250 baht.
There’s a million different things you can do on the lake – picnic, kayak, tube, etc.; but we decided to just hire a longtail to take us around for the day. We had to bargain a little, but for 2000 baht we had our own chauffeur longtail driver for the day.
Homie first took us around to a nice little bay to take pics (Khao Sok is GREAT for pictures), brought us to some floating restaurant for lunch, and brought us out to some other bay to swim.
I loved the lake because it wasn’t very crowded- it was almost like we had our own private little bay to drink & swim around in for the day. Just 8 of us, a couple bottles of Hong Thong whiskey, and an obnoxiously loud set of speakers. And the scenery was absolutely GORGEOUS, it legit looked like something out of pirates of the Caribbean, complete with monkeys and all. Did you know monkeys can swim?
The sunset over the lake was by far one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in my entire life. I also loved the lake because it was FRESHWATER, and I could swim without burning out my eyeballs. Maybe I’m a brat because I grew up swimming on freshwater Lake Michigan beaches, but swimming in saltwater with my eyes open drives me nuts.
I haven’t been yet, but my friends said that it compares to Halong Bay in Vietnam, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Obviously we’re biased because we love Thailand, but they also said it’s more beautiful than Halong Bay. Their reasoning was that a) it’s way less crowded and b) you can see more of the limestone cliffs. Something to consider if you’re thinking about either of the two.
To get back it cost us 1500 to hire a van. Our driver was DOPE and even had an AUXILIARY CHORD (a rare find in taxis/vans these days) AND lights, so we bumped all the way back to our guesthouse.
You can get a big bus from the Khao Sok bus station to the Surathani bus station that leaves every hour until 4PM and costs 100 baht/person. You also can get a van that costs 150 baht/person. If you’re going during a holiday weekend, I’d recommend booking the van ahead, as we didn’t and we almost didn’t make it back to our overnight bus back to Bangkok.
If I did Khao Sok again, I’d definitely make sure there was some extra time for kayaking on Cheow Lan Lake, and for tubing down the river. I’d also want to stay in one of the floating bungalows on the lake for at least a night. They cost around 1500 baht/person/night; but they only include the bare necessities. And by bare necessities I mean mats on the floor and electricity that only lasts until 6PM.
All in all, Khao Sok was absolutely beautiful, and is definitely off the beaten path for most people that come to Thailand. If you’re planning a trip, it’s a nice stop for green in between island-hopping.