If you are planning a trip to the south of Thailand, be sure to make time on your itinerary for Khao Sok National Park. Located around halfway between the Gulf Coast and the Andaman Coast, this area of outstanding natural beauty is a delight to explore. Take a longtail boat ride along Cheow Larn Lake to admire the scenery or get your walking shoes on and hike a trail that will take you through some of the oldest evergreen forests on the planet.
With its dramatic limestone mountains, verdant forests and expansive waterways, this is one of the most striking landscapes to be found anywhere in Thailand. And with its protected status, Khao Sok National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife that includes wild elephants, bears, marbled cats, dusky langurs and hornbills.
Ratchaprapa Dam and Cheow Larn Lake
Ratchaprapa Dam was constructed in the early 1980s to provide electricity to southern Thailand. The growth in tourism in South Thailand during the 1980s saw a corresponding demand for electricity and the decision was made to build a hydropower plant here. Ratchaprapa Dam was constructed and part of the area was flooded to form Cheow Larn Lake.
Cheow Larn Lake covers an area of around 65 square miles and cruising along the man-made lake there are some areas where you can still see the tops of submerged trees and hills.
Activities at Khao Sok National Park
To make the most of the natural wonders of Khao Sok, there are a number of activities available to visitors.
Longtail boat ride
One of the best ways to appreciate the landscape at Khao Sok is to take to the water on a longtail boat. With the boatman doing all the work, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the stunning views. Trips can be arranged on arrival at Khao Sok National Park (at the visitor centre), but unless you or somebody you are with speaks Thai, you may find it easier to arrange though your hotel or guest-house. A shared boat ride with other passengers is around 800 baht (check for consistency: see if using baht or Baht) per person. But if you are travelling with family or would just like to have the boat to yourself, you can hire a boat for around 1,800 baht. A typical cruise around the lake and the chance to visit at least one cave (if conditions allow) lasts approximately two to three hours.
Rafting & kayaking
If you’d like to explore the lake at your own pace, stay overnight at one of the raft houses. Many have the option for you to hire a kayak to explore some of the area near to where you are staying. On some guided day tours of the lake, there is also the chance to spend time in a kayak in addition to the longtail boat trip.
Elsewhere in the Khao Sok area, a number of tour companies can arrange canoeing or rafting trips on the Sok River.
Although there are some shorter, self-guided hikes at Khao Sok, for most hikes you will need the services of a local guide. This is in accordance with National Park regulations and helps ensure your safety and also protects the natural environment. Professional, local guides can be hired at the park headquarters or you can ask your hotel, guest-house or any travel company in the area. Expect to pay at least 500 baht/Baht for a half-day or 1,000 baht/Baht for a full day. One of the advantages of a guide is that they can also show you some of the hidden treasures of the region including waterfalls and giant caves lined with stalagmites and stalactites.
There are a number of hiking routes available depending on your fitness levels and the amount of time you have. One of the longer routes that you can walk with a guide gives you the opportunity to see one of the largest and most unique flowers in the world, the Rafflesia. The variety found in Khao Sok is the Rafflesia kerrii. Known in Thai as Bua Phut, this striking red flower is the official flower of Surat Thani province. Not only is it famous for its size and colour, but also for its smell. Sometimes called the ‘corpse lily’, the Rafflesia emits a putrid smell which attracts flies for pollination.
Ethical elephant experiences
The elephant sanctuary at Elephant Hills provides safe refuge for rescued elephants. There is no riding here and guests are instead allowed to interact with the elephants in a more responsible way. This includes preparation of the daily meals for the elephants and the chance to watch them bathing in their giant mud pool.
How to choose an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand
Guided bicycle tour
Taking to two wheels with an experienced local guide is a fabulous way to learn more about the wonders of Khao Sok. Trips can be organised at most guest-houses and hotels in the Khao Sok area. And if you’re serious about your cycling, check out the epic coast to coast trip from Spice Roads. Starting at Nakhon Si Thammarat on the Gulf Coast the route takes you through Khao Sok with an overnight stay at Cheow Larn Lake. The tour continues across to Khao Lak and Phuket on the Andaman Coast.
With so many fabulous dive locations in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Khao Sok isn’t an obvious location for divers. But if you’re an advanced diver, the freshwater diving and unique underwater sights at Cheow Larn Lake make this a fascinating dive site. There are no dive shops in the immediate vicinity of Khao Sok and if you would like to dive here you need to arrange it with one of the dive companies in Khao Lak. There are also a few specialist dive operators on Ko Tao (e.g Ban’s Technical Diving and Big Blue Tech) who may be able to help you out.
Where to stay at Khao Sok National Park
Much of the accommodation in the Khao Sok area is located outside the boundaries of the National Park. Situated just off Highway 401, the small village of Khlong Sok makes for a good base and is easy to reach by public transport. You’ll find a number of guest houses and specialist accommodation here and this area is also the location for the National Park headquarters and visitor centre.
Eco-friendly Anurak Community Lodge is an excellent choice with epic views of the countryside. To stay closer to the lake, the town of Ban Ta Khun is another option although there is less variety here compared to Khlong Sok. But arguably the best option of all is to stay on Cheow Larn Lake itself in floating bungalows. There are a few different options depending on your budget. At the most basic, the bungalow consists of little more than a wooden hut with a mattress on the floor. However, it is worth spending more to enjoy the unique luxury camping (aka glamping) experience provided by Elephant Hills. You can choose to stay at the floating Rainforest Camp on Cheow Larn Lake or the equally amazing Elephant Camp which provides luxury tented accommodation within the grounds of Khao Sok National Park.
Weather in Khao Sok
There are two main seasons in Khao Sok. From January to late April is the dry season and from late April through to December is the wet season. September and October are the wettest months, but average temperatures are warm all year round ranging between 22°C to 36°C. The weather can change quickly in Khao Sok and even during the dry season you should be prepared for potential downpours. Although Khao Sok National Park is open all year round, some hiking trails are closed to the public during the wettest months.
Please visit responsibly and respect nature and park regulations. Don’t feed or try to attract wildlife. Dispose of litter at designated refuse areas and don’t take single-use plastics into the park. When booking tours of the park, check to see if the tour operator supports responsible tourism. Among those who have been recognised for their environmental awareness are Andaman Discoveries, Anurak Community Lodge and Elephant Hills.
An entrance fee is payable at all of Thailand’s national parks. The fee for foreign visitors to Khao Sok National Park is 300 Baht (150 Baht for children) and covers a 24-hour stay. If you are booking a day tour to the park, this fee is often included in the price so check with your tour operator if it is included or not.
How to get to Khao Sok
The nearest airport to Khao Sok is at Surat Thani, approximately 1.5 hours away. A taxi between Surat Thani airport and Khao Sok will cost between 1,500-2,500 Baht.
The Khao Sok National Park headquarters and visitor centre are located just off Highway 401. This is the road that runs between the towns of Surat Thani and the Gulf Coast to the east and Takua Pa and the Andaman Coast to the west. If you are travelling to Khao Sok by public transport, buses and minivans will drop you off at the bus stop on Highway 401 near the small village of Khlong Sok.
Take any public bus travelling between Phuket and Surat Thani and asked to be dropped off at Khao Sok. Alternatively, there are also minivans that run between Krabi, Phang Nga and Khao Sok as well as from Ko Samui via Surat Thani. Some hotels and guest-houses will send someone to meet you if you let them know when you are coming or if you give them a call when you get off the bus. To give you an idea of fares, the big bus from Khao Lak is around 140 Baht and takes 2 hours. From Krabi (Ao Nang) a shared mini-bus is 450 Baht per person and takes around 3.5 hours.