In a nutshell
Khao Sok is a breath-taking natural park located in the south of Thailand, in the Surat Thani province.
Why go to Khao Sok
Attr: smagdali (cc by)
Established in 1980, it covers a 739-square-km area and forms a part of the large Khlong Saeng–Khao Sok Forest Complex, a natural territory of more than 5000 square km which consists of 12 protected area, including some islands in the Andaman sea.
With daily bus-n-ferry links to many of the stunning islands on the western and eastern coast, a visit to Khao Sok can be easily integrated into your travel itinerary if you are planning to visit the southern parts of the country.
Evergreen rainforests, limestone cliffs, spectacular caves, lush valleys, waterfalls, rivers and lakes are the natural habitat for a lot of wildlife, including elephants, leopards, Asiatic sun bears, gibbons, macaques, reptiles, hornbills and countless species of birds.
From the main western entrance where the park headquarters are located, several hiking trails originate leading to a couple of waterfalls and caves. There are also river kayaking opportunities and more serious multiday trekking that will give you the chance to dive deeper into the jungle and spot some of the wildlife also start from there.
The eastern entrance, some 60 km away, is where the spectacular Chiew Lan Lake is. The lake is one of the natural paradises in Thailand that everyone should put on their list of things to see when visiting the country. Spend a night in one of the raft houses or floating bungalows, admire the sunset from your canoe, paddle in the morning mist and a get a glimpse of the limestone cliffs diving into the lake. If you have more time, consider setting off for a hike – there are numerous trails on offer.
Opening hours and entrance fee
The park is open all year round from 8.00am till 6.00pm. The entrance ticket costs THB300 (THB150 for kids) and is valid for 24 hours. If you stay more than one day, try to enter the second day before the 24 hour period expires ptherwise you’ll have to buy another ticket.
When to go to Khao Sok
It’s quite hard to say when is the best time to visit since, because of its location, the park is affected by both the western and eastern monsoon. As a result of that chances of rain are high all year round, with only the months of February and March enjoying the driest weather.
Nevertheless showers normally last less than a couple of hours, and usually happen in the late afternoon helping the temperature to cool down and guaranteeing a pleasant sleep without the need of an air-con.
Where to stay in Khao Sok NP
A lot of bungalows, guesthouses and resorts can be found in Khlong Sok, on the 1,5 km road that lead to the western park entrance from route 401.
Almost all the western tourists decide to sleep there and not inside the park, where the choices available are limited to more expensive and inferior bungalows with shared toilettes.
The opposite thing happens when moving to Chiew Lan Lake area since the main draw of the lake is a chance to spend the night in one of the raft houses on the lake inside the park.
Where to eat in Khao Sok
Inside the park near the visitor centre a small restaurant serves decent Thai food at affordable prices. Closing time should be at 6.00pm, but it might close earlier than that on a quiet day.
Outside the gate in Khlong Sok where the guesthouses are, a good selection of restaurants can be found offering both Thai and western food.
Pawn's Restaurant is the place to go for a cheap Thai food. They serve simple dishes, and don’t expect too fancy presentation, but the food is authentic and delicious.
Thai Herbs is a popular place with an extensive menu with a lot of choices and friendly English speaking staff. It is not the best place for western food though –stick to the exceptional curries if you want to be safe and if you like them authentically spicy – be sure to tell the waiter, otherwise they usually make an adapted version more suitable to our palate.
Chao Italian is where you can get a good wood fire oven pizza and decent pasta.
At Chiew Lan Lake many of the raft houses will include your dinner in the rate and in any case you will have nowhere else to go apart from the on-site restaurant. When you get to the pier check out the only restaurant there before you get on the boat; they serve only genuine, cheap and tasty Thai food.
How to get around Khao Sok NP
Khao Sok have two main entrances, the western gate close to Khlong Sok, and the eastern one where Chiew Lan Lake is located, 60 km away near Ban Ta Khun.
Your best bet to travel from one to the other is to rent a motorbike for a couple of days. It can be easily done in Khlong Sok (THB300 a day). The ride is pretty scenic and quite straightforward. Drive route 401 for 50 km, and when you get to Ban Ta Khun (the first town you will stumble upon) turn left following the indications to Ratchaprapa Dam.
If you prefer public transportation, any bus from Khlong Sok to Surat Thani can drop you off at Ban Ta Khun where you’ll need to find a lift for the remaining 13 km. A local songthaew may randomly be available or you can ask at any guesthouse and they’ll sort it out for you. Hitchhiking from there is probably the easiest way, since all the cars turning left will go to the lake.
Once inside the park having entered through the western gate, there are no roads, only hiking trails, and your feet is everything you will need.
Around Chiew Lan Lake you’ll need to hire a long tail boat to move around and eventually take you to your accommodation. Expect to pay THB1800 for half a day for a maximum of 6 people.
How to get to and from Khao Sok NP
All the buses plying route 401 will stop in Khlong Sok, so it doesn’t matter which island –either in the Gulf or on the Andaman Coast – you’re coming from or going to – you’ll almost always find a direct bus or minivan to get to Khao Sok. The bus stop is on the main road, so you’ll have to walk the final 1,5 km to get to the park entrance.
If you’re coming straight from Bangkok there used to be a single overnight bus leaving from Southern Bus Station, but we’re unable to confirm if it’s still on. Otherwise shared minivans from Morchit Station will charge THB700 for a very uncomfortable 11 hours trip.
From Surat Thani buses for Khao Sok leave every hour and cost THB120 for the two hours trip. Minivans depart all day long very frequently. They cost the same but are a bit faster (but less confortable).
If coming from Surat you might want to consider stopping in Ban Ta Khun and visiting the eastern part of the park with Chiew Lan Lake first.
From Phuket buses leave every hour (last departure is at 3.00pm). It takes 4 hours, and tickets start at THB 160.
Daily minivan services are available to/from Koh Lanta, Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Koh Pha Ngan, Pak Bara (if heading to Koh Lipe), Hat Yai and Satun. The fare usually includes the ferry ticket when needed, but double-check with the agency you’re buying it from.
Every guesthouse in Khlong Sok will be able to give you detailed information on schedules and prices, and most of them will sell you the ticket and arrange a minivan to pick you up wherever you’re staying.
Direct minivan to Malaysia (Penang and Kuala Lumpur) and even Singapore are available too. The trip in this case might be extremely long, uncomfortable and depending on the driver, even dangerous. We would suggest you to consider different options, like getting to Hat Yai first and get a train or a bus from there.
Is Khao Sok NP a safe place to visit?
Don’t underestimate the risks of hiking without a guide when the guide is required. We know there are people doing it but getting lost is pretty easy, trails are challenging and the area is huge and full of potential dangers (snakes and wildlife).
Don’t venture deep inside the caves if you see leaking water there without asking advice and permission from a ranger. Even if it’s not raining in the park, it might actually rain somewhere several km away, and the rain can cause unexpected and incredibly quick flash flooding that can fill up the cave in a course of a couple of minutes. Such tragic accidents happened in the past, and nowadays the guides will not let you anywhere near dangerous points when they know it might be risky.
Don’t approach any wildlife; respect their space, especially in case of elephants.
The park headquarters is able to treat any minor accident, but for anything more serious the nearest hospitals are in Takua Pa and Ban Ta Khun.