Jungle trekking, elephant safaris, white water rafting, and the [rare] chance to spot a tiger! Khao Sok National Park in Thailand simply has it all!
Khao Sok is in Surat Thani Province, Thailand. Its area is 739sq km, and it includes the 165sq km Cheow Lan Lake contained by the Ratchaprapha Dam. The lake is actually the site of the best camping in the entire region, with floating huts for you to spend the night in (and have a cool morning swim in the water, of course). The park is also the largest area of virgin evergreen forest in southern Thailand and is a remnant of rainforest which is older and more diverse than the Amazon. It became a national park in 1990.
I visited Khao Sok from Krabi. It took me just over 3 hours in the air-conditioned bus to reach the park, and the price was around 350 Baht. Be aware that you should always visit Khao Sok as part of a tour group, as the main parts of the park are not available to independent travellers. It’s not worth going on your own if you cannot explore the best areas.
The area enclosing Khao Sok National Park is estimated to be over 160 million years old, built through tectonic movements, climate changes, erosions and sediment accumulations. Approximately 300 million years ago, shallow water and warm temperatures in this region led to the creation of a huge coral reef. Estimated to be 5 times as big as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, it originally stretched from China all the way Borneo. Due to the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plate 66 million years ago, the Himalayas were formed. What is now Thailand shifted dramatically near the continental divide and the limestone rocks were forced upward creating the dramatic limestone “karsts” for which the region is known today. Finally, melting ice established the river-rich landscape as well as dozens of waterfalls around the national park. As you can imagine, this area is the place of astounding natural beauty, and in my opinion up there with Doi Inthanon and Ao Nang as the best national parks in all of Thailand – and probably the best national park in all of South East Asia, as far as I’m concerned. The beautiful landscape all but assures this lofty recognition (even if the omnipresent leeches are annoying!).
Beautiful sandstone and mudstone rocks rise about 600m above sea level. The park is traversed by a limestone mountain range from north to south with a high point of 950m. This mountain range is hit by monsoon rain coming from both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, which makes it among Thailand’s wettest regions with an annual rain fall of 4cm. Heavy rainfall and falling leaves led to the erosion of the limestone rocks and created the significant karst formations seen today. Luckily, during my visit I was not at all troubled by the elements. It was a hot and humid day, and especially so as we ventured deeper and deeper into the thick rainforests.
The adventures you can have at Khao Sok are varied. Elephant adventures, canoeing, kayaking, safaris, and jungle trekking are all part and parcel of the itinerary for any backpacker here. If watersports are not your thing, why not take up the opportunity to enjoy some bamboo rafting?! I have always loved the bamboo rafts, having first experienced them up in Chiang Mai on what was the Ping River, if I recall correctly. You always get a wet bum, and you will think that you will sink in any minute (and who knows what is lurking in the water?), but the bamboo always keeps you afloat – and it’s a great way to have a up close and personal experience with the Thai jungle. The sound of the jungle itself is enough to keep you coming back for more, and it seems much more serene on the river (no leeches!).
Khao Sok National Park contains wild mammals such as the Malayan tapir, Asian elephant, tiger, sambar deer, sun bear, wild boar, pig-tailed macaque, langur, white handed gibbons, muntjak, and the barking deer. At Elephant Hills, there is a luxury tented camp where I was fortunate enough to stay for one night, and I got the chance to see these magnificent creatures up close to feed them and watch them being scrubbed and washed. I had the chance to do this at Tangkahan in Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, but passed on the opportunity, so this time I was not going to make the same mistake; it was a great joy to touch these gentle creatures and see them frolic!
I really believe Khao Sok National Park is the best national park in South East Asia. The rainforest here is just so…tropical! It is thick and dense, with a LOT of wildlife, and so many activities for people on every budget and of all ages – it’s no surprise that it is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations!