After our trip to Hanoi and our long overnight layover in the Bangkok airport, we flew into the Surat Thani airport, headed for Khao Sok National Park.
I sort of stumbled upon Khao Sok when researching places to travel in Thailand, as it isn’t a super well-known location for most tourists, but the pictures were gorgeous, and I got my heart set seeing the Cheow Larn Lake and surrounding rainforest in person.
Finding the right company to book our tour through took some effort to work out, but we ultimately ended up booking our two day and one night “Superior Group Tour” through Khao Sok Lake.
I’m so glad we found this organization, because upon arriving and talking to the owner, we learned that the majority of overnight tours are operated by major hotel chains, and the money spent doesn’t ultimately go back into the local community. Khao Sok Lake has been the only local tour operator in the area for 8 years, meaning our drivers, guides and chefs were local – we had a great experience and would highly recommend them!
We also had the option to schedule our pick up from the airport and drop-off to our hotel in Phuket (a three hour drive); this made transportation go super smoothly in an area that isn’t as easy to navigate as some of the larger cities with a lot of tourism.
In order to be picked up at the airport by Khao Sok Lake, we had to arrive by 8:30 am, as the tour starts at 10:15. If you arrive later than that then your best travel option is to take a taxi out to the park. Our first stop was at their office in Ban Ta Khun to drop off all of our luggage – our housing overnight was a floating bungalow on Cheow Larn Lake, so each person was only allowed to carry one ‘lake bag’ with them. See the recommendations for packing your lake bag here. Note: they had a secure place to store our oversized luggage, and we felt safe enough leaving it there.
While we were at the office, I checked in with my parents to let them know we had made it and that we wouldn’t have much, if any, cell service for about 48 hours while we were on the lake. For some reason, this was the only part of my 8 week long trip that made my dad nervous – perhaps telling him I was going into a jungle without giving him very much other information caused this.. oops!
To ease his mind, I asked the owner if there were any major safety concerns, and we learned that they had only had one ‘injury’ since they’d been operating and it was a wasp sting. Additionally, we learned that the limestone rock throughout the lake prevents there from being mosquitoes to worry about!
When we arrived at the park, our group had to get our park entrance tickets (not included in the price of the tour – you need cash to pay the 300 Baht fee, which is about $9.60 USD). We also had a chance to use the bathroom or to buy any last minute items from the shop before boarding our longtail boat that took us out on the Cheow Larn Lake for the first time – and toward our bungalows.
The lake and views were absolutely breathtaking with the limestone rocks scattered throughout; it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The ride out to our bungalows was about 30 to 45 minutes; 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, and there were shared sinks right outside for us and our neighbors. In between our beds was a glass floor that let you see into the water, and we had a private deck right outside our door that had kayaks tied up and ready for us to use at our leisure. All of our meals were included with the tour and lunch that day was a traditional southern Thai meal that we ate while sitting on the dock overlooking the lake. The amount of food they gave us could have easily fed a small army, and the green curry, not vegetarian so unfortunately I didn’t try it, was the best thing Sara said she ate the entire trip!
A Broad Recommendation: If you have any food restrictions, they can accommodate you, but be sure to communicate them before you head off on the boat into the park, as not everyone at the bungalows will speak English. I’d asked before we arrived but forgot to mention that I am vegetarian back at the office that morning and had to find our tour guide to help with making sure my food was vegetarian.
After lunch, we got ready to head out for our tour of the day, which would include hiking through the rainforest, one of the largest and oldest rainforests in the world that is believed to be older and more diverse than the Amazon, to Pakarang Cave.
Traveling anywhere from our bungalows required riding on the longtail boat through the lake, and this tour began with over an hour of our guide taking us to various points around the lake that are known for their beauty. He was a pro at stopping the boat in just the right places for a perfect photo opp and gave everyone in our group 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 to take photos, make sure you have it in a sealed baggie in your backpack so you won’t get any water damage.
When we got to our hiking spot for the day, he tied up the boat and we walked up to the trail we would be following. Despite the large amount of wildlife we could potentially find in the forest, the trail felt very safe, as it was well-defined, and our group of about 12 people was not 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 – not something I particularly wanted to bump into despite my deep love for elephants. Our guide showed us spots where there’d clearly been an elephant, which you could see because the trees would be sort of knocked out of the way from the elephant just making its way straight through the forest.
At one point, we could hear an elephant in the distance, which was confirmed by our guide, but it sounded pretty far away and thankfully, we never saw it. When we got through the first part of the hike, we ended up at a private inner lake, which had a covered waiting area with descriptions of the various animals that live in the forest. This was fascinating and a bit nerve wracking to learn while we waited for our group’s bamboo raft, which would be our transportation out to the cave that we would be hiking.
Here, we learned that Khao Sok is home to 48 mammal species, 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 much more. I was excited about the prospect of potentially seeing one of these jungle cats – obviously not close up but possibly from the boat as we went past the various islands; I wouldn’t want to meet any of these guys up close and personal, but for better or worse, we didn’t see any of the cats, likely because most are out at night.
When it was our turn, we boarded a bamboo raft that took our group out to the area that houses Pakarang Cave (or Coral Cave). This is a 10,000 year old cave with ancient rock formations. We hiked up to the entrance to the cave, which has reminders not to touch the stalactites and stalagmites and to be sure not to make loud noises while in the cave. As we walked around, our guide shared some information about the cave while showing us some of the rock formations that he found most interesting.
After the cave, we went back the way we had come – first by taking the bamboo raft back to the dock and then by hiking back through the rainforest on the trail. As far as the difficulty of the hike is concerned, neither of us had any issues, but a few of the other people in our group had 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.
When we got back to the bungalow that night, we both jumped in the water to cool down and took the kayaks out, just in 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, and as we tend to do on all of our excursions started to talk to one of the couples at the next table. As fate would have it, the woman actually lived in Maryland just ten minutes down the road from where Sara grew up, and they 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 because we weren’t sure how concerned we needed to be about bugs or anything else finding its way into our room at night, and with the windows closed, we were pretty toasty. In the morning, we asked some of the other people staying there and they said they’d left the windows open without any issues, so something to keep in mind for next time!
In the morning, we got up early to go with our tour guide on a “Morning Mist Wildlife-Spotting Boat Safari” where our guide took us through different parts of the lake so we could observe the wildlife from the safety of our boat. For the most part, we just saw some more monkeys and birds, but it was still fun to be out on the water.
When we got back, we had free time to swim and kayak, and 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, and it was just a gorgeous day to be out on the water exploring.
After that, we swam some more and then got ready to head back to the Rajaprabba Pier where we had begun our lake adventures the day before. 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. As we got close to the pier, though, our guide made us put them on, as the park requires us to wear them, and he would get in trouble if we weren’t.
When we got back, we were driven back to the Khao Sok Lake office to pick up our luggage and shortly after our driver arrived and drove us the three hours to Phuket, dropping us off right outside our hotel. Note: our car was air-conditioned and super roomy for just the two of us!
Overall, this was one of our favorite places to visit – the lake is a freshwater lake, so no sticky salt water vibes after swimming, and there is just so much you can do while in this area. If I were to plan this part of our trip again, I would definitely stay longer, as there are tree houses and other really cool places to stay in the park, other than on the lake itself, as well as a wildlife sanctuary and more tours through the jungle.
A Broad Recommendation: If you are going to stay at Khao Sok to explore the jungle some more, be sure to do your research as there are very few hikes and trails that allow visitors to be there without a guide, so be sure to find the tour that fits your needs!
Check back in soon to read about our final stop in Thailand before our Southeast Asian adventures came to an end!
XOXO Travel A-Broads