For the longest time, travellers to Thailand have traditionally headed to the north of the country for jungles, wilderness and mountains and to the south for sea, sand and sun. Yet with Khao Sok National Park right on Phuket’s doorstep, it doesn’t have to be like that – it’s actually possible to sunbathe on Phuket’s lovely beaches in the morning and find yourself in the almost untouched wilderness of Khao Sok in the afternoon.
And getting to Khao Sok is easy: Most tour operators can arrange transport and, with local roads in good condition (in the dry season), renting a car and driving yourself is also an option. The latter also gives you the opportunity to explore the national park on your own once you get there.
A network of smaller or larger trails snake their way through the park and, if you’re lucky (and stay quiet), you might be able to see some of the park’s rare wildlife. There is a 300-baht entry fee which comes with a detailed map of the park. If you’re not comfortable with roaming around on your own, guided tours can also be arranged at the park entrance.
Covering more than 700sqkm, Khao Sok National Park is a nature-lover’s paradise. It’s covered by one of the oldest evergreen forests in the world – believed to be over 160 million years old – complemented by huge limestone mountains that rise up here and there, dramatic waterfalls, inviting and cooling swimming holes, deep lakes and mysterious caves. With all this wilderness, the park is home to an astonishing array of wildlife, including wild elephants, gibbons, tapirs, tigers, deer and wild boar.
The main attraction of Khao Sok National Park is the vast 165sqkm Cheow Lan Lake, created in 1982 following the construction of the Ratchaprapha Dam. The hydropower generated from it supplies electricity to much of the region. The lake’s main pier is located around an hour’s drive from the park entrance and there is never a shortage of long-tail boats ready to take you out on the water. Several tour operators also arrange tours.
The lake is surrounded by verdant and thick jungle and parts of it have become popular photographic spots due to the huge blocks of limestone karst jutting out of the water, forming majestic islands. Most people just make a day trip to Cheow Lan Lake but staying overnight is actually an attractive option, with several places offering accommodation in floating bungalows – essentially rooms built on stilts or on pontoons on the water. Depending on where you want to stay, the bungalows range from the most basic form to more luxurious options offering air conditioning and hot showers. As the night falls and the day-trippers leave, use the opportunity to take a dip in the lake while staff members prepare a meal of freshly caught fish on the barbecue, then fall asleep to the sound of the water lapping against the bungalow stilts and the distant calls of monkeys.