Khao Sok National Park is the wettest spot in Thailand and is also supposedly one of the oldest rainforests in the world. It’s one of the few places in Thailand that’s best to visit during the low/hot season and it’s in a very convenient location to combine with a trip to Thailand’s southern islands. The scenery is gorgeous, filled with massive karst rocks jutting out of the jungle and the water.
Khao Sok’s most popular attraction is Chiaw Lan Lake, a massive lake about an hour from the Visitor’s Center. Many people do day or overnight trips here from Khao Lak, though it’s supposedly about twice the price doing it this way than if you go to the park and set it up yourself through one of the many guesthouses/bungalows. You can visit the lake on your own, without doing an organized tour, but you need to hire a long tail boat to take you around and then if you want to do any hiking around the lake, you’d need a guide as well. When all is said and done, the price is probably about the same and with a tour, you don’t need to worry about any of the logistics, as everything is taken care of for you.
We took a public bus from Khao Lak to Khao Sok and were dropped off on the highway, where there are taxis waiting to take you the 2km into the park near the Visitor Center. These taxis will drive you for free if you agree to go to one of the guest houses that they’re promoting. We hadn’t booked anything in advance, so our taxi took us to a bungalow right off of the main road. For 300 baht per night, we had no complaints! Art’s is one of the most popular bungalows in the area, but it’s several blocks further into the jungle, twice the price, and much further from the main road. We had wanted to book a room there in advance, but couldn’t get in touch with them when we tried to call, which ended up being a blessing in disguise, as we thought our place was in a much better location. Art’s does have a “swimming hole” but anyone can use it (and we did!). You can set up tours from any of the guesthouses/bungalows, they all sell the same packages for the same prices.
As soon as we checked into our place, we wanted to set up our tour for the next day. It’s possible to stay overnight on the lake in a floating house, and this is what we originally wanted to do, but the timing didn’t work out for us. We thought the overnight trip would get back in the morning, but it was two full days, which wouldn’t have worked with our flight home. So istead, we signed up for the one-day trip to the lake for 1500 baht per person (not including the park entrance fee – 300 baht for foreigners).
After setting up our tour, we went to check out the town. The road leading to the Visitor Center is very cute, and is filled with guesthouses and restaurants. There are some hikes that you can do around the Visitor Center, but every day you’re in the park, you have to pay the entrance fee (unless you’re staying overnight on the lake and then you’re ok for two days). We didn’t want to pay twice, so we just hung around the town, went for a swim at Art’s and had dinner at one of the restaurants on the main road.
The next morning, we were picked up at 8:30am for our tour. It was an hour ride to the lake from our area. We were flying out of Surat Thani the next day and didn’t realize that the lake was basically half way there. Had we realized this, we probably would have brought our stuff with us and stayed near the lake after our tour, rather than going back to the Visitor Center area. If you’re heading to any of the islands in the Gulf of Thailand after visiting Khao Sok, you’ll likely leave from Surrat Thani, so we’d recommend you try to do this to save yourself some time.
Once we got to the lake, we paid our park entrance fee (once again, we weren’t able to get the Thai price, but they did give us half off!), and got on our long-tail boat. The boat ride around the lake was about an hour long and it was gorgeous. We had no idea just how big this lake was, but it was huge. It reminded us a little bit of Halong Bay in Vietnam. The scenery was gorgeous, with huge karst rocks jutting out of the water. Our guide told us that the nickname for the lake is “the Guilin of Thailand” – Guilin, China, which we’ve also been to, is an area also known for beautiful karsts jutting out of the water (though probably not as widely known as Halong Bay).
After our tour of the lake, we arrived at the raft houses. There was a restaurant/common area with about 20 little bungalows all set up along the water. Once we saw them, we decided we were happy that our overnight trip didn’t work out, as the bungalows weren’t very nice, and we figured we would have probably been bored there for the night. We had a nice lunch at the restaurant before heading out for our trek for the day to another very popular location on the lake, Tham Namthalu Cave. We hiked for about 30 minutes before arriving to the cave and then we were in the cave for another 30 minutes or so. The cave was really cool. We were walking/swimming through a pitch black cave with our headlamps. There were lots of frogs, bats, and spiders in the cave and aside from the 5 minutes or so where we thought we lost our group and might be lost in the cave (we stopped for a few minutes to take some pictures and got behind), it was a really cool experience!
The hike back from the cave was about an hour and then we spent an hour swimming in the lake back at the raft houses before starting the long journey home. Overall, it was a really nice day and the scenery was beautiful. We wish we would have known that the lake was on the way to Surrat Thani, but other than that, we really enjoyed our time in Khao Sok.