After our quick trip to Hanoi, Vietnam and an overnight layover in the Suvarnabhumi Airport (a.k.a. the Bangkok Airport), we made our way from Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park, where we’d be staying the night on a floating bungalow!
I sort of stumbled upon Khao Sok when researching places to visit in Thailand, as it isn’t a well-known tourist destination. As it turns out, Khao Sok National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Thailand! The pictures online were gorgeous, and I got my heart set on seeing Khao Sok Lake, locally known as Cheow Larn Lake, and the surrounding rainforest in person.
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Tours in Khao Sok National Park
Finding the right tour company for Khao Sok National Park took some effort. We ultimately booked our two-day, one-night ‘Superior Group Tour’ through Khao Sok Lake – and we’re happy we did!
Upon arriving and talking to the owner, we learned that the majority of overnight Khao Sok National Park tours are operated by major hotel chains. This means that the money spent on your stay doesn’t make it back into the local community. As of July 2019, Khao Sok Lake was the only local tour operator in the area (and had been for 8 years), and our drivers, guides and chefs were all locals. We had a great experience with Khao Sok Lake and can highly recommend them!
How to Visit Khao Sok National Park
We flew into the Surat Thani International Airport, where a driver from Khao Sok Lake picked us up. This made getting to Khao Sok National Park safe and simple in an area that isn’t as easy to navigate as some of the larger cities with more tourism.
A Broad Recommendation: Khao Sok Lake also provided our transportation from Khao Sok National Park to Phuket, dropping us off directly at our hotel. It’s around a three-hour drive from Khao Sok National Park to Phuket, so we were very impressed by this service!
In order to be picked up at the airport, we had to arrive by 8:30 a.m. This was because our Khao Sok National Park tour started at 10:15 a.m. If you arrive later than 8:30 a.m., your next best transportation option is to take a taxi out to the park.
Our first stop was to Khao Sok Lake’s office in Ban Ta Khun to drop off our luggage. We’d be staying in a floating bungalow inside Khao Sok National Park, so we were permitted one ‘lake bag’ each. See the recommendations for packing your lake bag here.
Note: Khao Sok Lake had a secure space to store our oversized luggage. We locked our bags with these TSA-approved cable luggage locks and felt safe leaving them overnight.
Is Khao Sok National Park Safe?
While we were at the office, I called my parents to let them know that we’d made it and wouldn’t have much, if any, cell service for about 48 hours. For some reason, this was the only part of my eight-week-long-trip to India, Thailand and Vietnam that made my dad nervous. Perhaps telling him that I was going into a jungle without giving him much more information was the reason for his concern – oops!
To ease his mind, I asked the owner if there were any major safety concerns. We learned that there’d only been one ‘injury’ since they started operating – and it was a wasp sting. We also learned that the limestone rock throughout the lake wards off any mosquitos!
Khao Sok National Park Entrance Fee
When we arrived at the Rajaprabba Pier, we each had to pay a Khao Sok National Park entrance fee. This is not included in the price of the tour, and you have to pay with cash. At the time of our trip, it was 300 Baht, which is about $9.60 USD.
Getting to Khao Sok National Park
At the Khao Sok National Park entrance, we had a chance to use the bathroom and to buy some last minute items before boarding our longtail boat that would take us out on the Cheow Larn Lake – and onward to our floating bungalows.
The lake and the surrounding views were absolutely breathtaking with limestone rocks scattered throughout. In fact, Khao Sok National Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The ride out to our floating bungalows took about 30 to 45 minutes.
A Broad Recommendation: any time that we were on the longtail boat, we each had a life jacket. However, most people in our group took theirs off while we were just sightseeing around the lake.
Our Khao Sok National Park Floating Bungalow
When we got our rooms, we had time to change and rest before lunch was served.
Our room had two twin beds, a shower, and a toilet. There were shared sinks right outside for us and our neighbors. In between our beds was a glass floor, through which we could see water – so cool! We also had a private deck right outside our door with kayaks ready to use at our leisure.
All of our meals were included with the tour, and lunch that day was a traditional southern Thai meal. We enjoyed our lunch while sitting on the dock, overlooking the lake. The amount of food provided could’ve easily fed a small army. And, Sara said that the green curry was the best thing she ate on our entire Southeast Asia trip! Unfortunately, it wasn’t vegetarian, so I didn’t try it.
A Broad Recommendation: if you have any dietary restrictions, Khao Sok Lake will accommodate you. Just be sure to communicate these before leaving Rajaprabba Pier, as not everyone at the floating bungalows speaks English. I’d forgotten to mention that I was vegetarian back at the office. So, I had to track down our tour guide to ensure my food was vegetarian.
What to Do in Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok National Park Rainforest
After lunch, we got ready to head out for our first tour of the day. We’d be hiking through one of the largest and oldest rainforests in the world! In fact, it’s believed to be older and more diverse than the Amazon.
A Broad Recommendation: Sara packed this HOLYLUCK drawstring backpack, as well as these Northside Women’s Burke II Sport athletic sandals for our hike. She did quite a bit of research before choosing these sandals. They’re lightweight, waterproof and breathable, which was perfect for the humid weather at Khao Sok National Park in July.
Traveling anywhere from our floating bungalows required a longtail boat ride. At the beginning of this excursion, our guide spent more than an hour stopping at various viewpoints around the lake. He was a pro at stopping the boat in just the right places for the perfect photo opp. And, he gave everyone a chance to take photos and to soak up the fresh air and amazing views.
A Broad Recommendation: when you aren’t using your phone, put it in a sealed, waterproof bag or in your backpack, so it doesn’t get wet.
When we got to the trailhead, our guide tied up the boat, and we began our hike. Despite the various wildlife we could potentially find in the forest, the trail felt very safe. It was well-defined, and our group of about twelve people wasn’t the only one out hiking that day.
Walking through the forest was incredible! Right at the beginning of the trail was a warning sign to beware of wild elephants. Despite my deep love for elephants, they were not something I particularly wanted to bump into. Our guide pointed out spots where there’d clearly been an elephant. You could tell because the trees were sort of knocked out of the way, clearing a path for the elephant to make its way through the forest.
At one point, we could even hear an elephant in the distance, but it sounded far away. Thankfully, we never ran into it.
When we got through the first part of the hike, we ended up at a private inner lake. Here, there was a covered waiting area with descriptions of the various animals that live in the forest.
We learned that Khao Sok is home to 48 species of mammals, 311 species of birds, and countless species of bats, reptiles and insects. Included in the mammal species are Asian Elephants, Black and Clouded Leopards, Asian Golden Cats, Tigers, Malayan Sun Bears, Wild Boar, various primates, and more. I was excited about the prospect of seeing one of these jungle cats! I obviously wouldn’t want to encounter one up close and personal, but the possibility of seeing one from the boat as we went past the various islands was exciting. For better or for worse, we didn’t see any cats, likely because most are out at night.
Learning about these critters was both fascinating and a bit nerve wracking, as we waited for our group’s bamboo raft, which would be our transportation out to the cave.
Khao Sok National Park Cave
When it was our turn, we boarded a bamboo raft and headed out to Pakarang Cave (or Coral Cave). This is a 10,000 year old cave in Khao Sok National Park with ancient rock formations. We hiked up to the entrance, where we saw reminders to not touch the stalactites and stalagmites and to be sure not to make loud noises while inside the cave.
As we walked around, our guide shared some information about the cave and showed us some of his favorite rock formations.
After exploring the cave, we headed back the way we came, first taking the bamboo raft back to the dock, then hiking back through the rainforest. As far as the difficulty of the hike is concerned, neither of us had any issues. However, a few of the other people in our group did have some difficulty coming up and down to where the bamboo boats were, as it was a bit steep.
On our way back through the forest, we got to see some monkeys up close! One of them sort of propped himself on a branch and leaned back looking at us – ready for his photo shoot, almost like our own little monkey model.
Relaxing in Khao Sok National Park
When we got back to our floating bungalow, we jumped in the water to cool off and took the kayaks out for a spin. We decided to stay right around the area right by our room, as neither of us are particularly strong kayakers.
That evening, we had another large traditional Thai dinner overlooking the lake. As we tend to do on all of our excursions, we started talking to one of the couples at table next to us. Funny enough, the woman lived in Maryland just ten minutes down the road from where Sara grew up, and they’d both lived there at the same time – what a small world!
We ended the night reading our books out on the deck, overlooking the water, before heading to bed.
We slept with our windows closed, since we weren’t sure if bugs or anything else would find their way into our room, and it got pretty toasty. In the morning, we asked some of our ‘neighbors’, and they said they’d left the windows open without any issues. Something to keep in mind for next time!
Khao Sok National Park Boat Safari
That morning, we set out on a “Morning Mist Wildlife-Spotting Boat Safari”, during which our guide took us through different parts of the lake to observe wildlife from the safety of our boat. For the most part, we just saw more monkeys and birds, but it was fun being out on the water.
Khao Sok National Park Swimming & Kayaking
When we got back, we had some free time to swim and kayak. Several people from our group decided to go out kayaking together a little farther away from ‘home’. Sara and I were super proud of ourselves for keeping up on this outing! It was just a gorgeous day to be out on the water exploring.
After that, we swam some more then got ready to head back.
Khao Sok National Park to Phuket
When we arrived at Rajaprabba Pier, we headed back to the Khao Sok Lake office to pick up our luggage. Shortly after that, our driver arrived to take us the three hours from Khao Sok National Park to Phuket. Note: our car was air-conditioned and super roomy for just the two of us!
Overall, our stay in the floating bungalows on Khao Sok National Park was one of our favorite experiences of our Southeast Asia trip! Cheow Larn Lake is a freshwater lake, which means no sticky, salt water vibes after swimming. Plus, there’s just so much to do in this area!
If I were to plan another visit to Khao Sok National Park, I would definitely stay longer. There are other really cool places to stay – like a tree house, for example! – as well as a wildlife sanctuary and other jungle tours.
A Broad Recommendation: if you plan to explore the jungle more, be sure to do your research. There are very few trails that you can hike here without a guide. And, be sure to find the right tour that fits your needs!
We were ready to enjoy a relaxing trip to Phuket, our final stop in Thailand before closing out our Southeast Asian adventures!
XOXO Travel A-Broads