One of the most spectacular national parks in Thailand, Khao Sok National Park in Suratthani province is often skipped by travellers hurrying up from the capital to star island destinations of the Gulf – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao – or of the Andaman – Phuket, Koh Phi Phi or Koh Lanta. If you have a couple of days to while away, call to Khao Sok National Park and you will be rewarded with stunning scenery, lush jungles, impressive limestone cliffs, spectacular waterfalls and lakes.
Suratthani is the most convenient base for travelling to Khao Sok National Park with buses departing from Suratthani bus station throughout the day, but if you do not want to make a layover in Suratthani, there are direct buses from Bangkok, which cover the distance of 750 km between Bangkok and Khao Sok in about 16 hours. After a day or two spent in the national park, you will be able to hop onto a bus heading to your next destination – be it Suratthani, Krabi or Phuket.
From Bangkok to Khao Sok by direct bus
There are direct buses from Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park. All of them are normally night buses leaving Bangkok between 6pm and 8pm and bringing you to the park before noon the next morning, right by the time guesthouses and resorts start to check-in new guests. Buses take about 16 hours to get to the park and make several stops en route at large gas stations with convenience stores, food courts and toilets. There are toilets on board, too, soft reclining seats and some snack and water along with blankets are provided on the bus, making the long trip not as bad as it sounds. So why not have a look at virgin rain forests teeming with wild life before putting your toes into blessed sands of the beach?
Direct bus tickets from Bangkok to Khao Sok cost anywhere between THB850 and THB1100, but be careful choosing your bus operator. Not all of the services operating from Khao San Road enjoy good reputation, so if you are going to start from there, double-check the company you are travelling with. Among the most common problems with Khao San buses is on board theft – keep your valuables close to you, not in your luggage, no matter where you are going to put it (in the luggage compartment or right by your seat).
One of the reliable operators to recommend is Paradive Travel. Find their buses at Hua Lamphong train station.
From Bangkok to Khao Sok via Suratthani
If a long haul bus trip is not what you are dreaming of, then a more convenient or faster way to get to Khao Sok is via Suratthani. Night trains with first and second class sleepers (THB1500/THB1000) are a great way to travel around Thailand. Take a train from Bangkok to Suratthani and sleep comfortably all night through. All trains take under 12 hours to get to Suratthani. Your best bet is train #85 leaving Bangkok at 7.30pm and arriving to Suratthani train station at 7.10am the next morning. If this one is full, also worth considering are trains #83, #173 and #167.
Tip: Second class fan sleepers cost slightly less than AC sleepers but are generally ok, especially for travelling during ‘cold’ months. Expect to pay THB800 for a berth.
You can fly to Suratthani from both Don Mueang (Thai AirAsia & Thai Lion Air) and Suvarnabhumi (Thai Smile) airports in Bangkok. Thai Smile is usually a more expensive choice, but with low-cost airlines based in Don Mueang you can buy tickets for THB700-THB1000 one way. This price may or may not include checked luggage – it depends on the airline, so inquire in advance. There are over a dozen flights from Bangkok to Suratthani a day to choose from.
Khao Sok is located mere 120 km west of Suratthani. Vans need about two hours to bring you there from the town (THB250-THB300). If you arrive by train or by plane, there is no need to go to the town first as transfer to Khao Sok from Suratthani train station and Suratthani airport is also available.
Note that vans to Khao Sok from Suratthani train station meet night trains arriving before 9am. If you reach Suratthani after that hour, you may need to go to the town to catch a van to Khao Sok or take a taxi (it is advisable to book it in advance). Last vans from Suratthani airport depart around 4.30pm to reach the park before the darkness falls.
Private transfer from Suratthani to Khao Sok by a 9 pax van will cost around THB3200. Consider this option if you travel as a group of friends/a family.
Why go to Khao Sok
Khao Sok National Park is definitely one of the wonders of Suratthani province. Khao Sok is arguably the wettest region of the country with annual rainfall reaching 3500 mm. The driest months are from December to April, but even during this period rains are not unheard of. Expect hot and humid weather during ‘high’ season and daily rains the rest of the year.
Thanks to its unique geographic location and relative remoteness the park boasts incredible biodiversity, which easily surpasses the one of the famous Amazon rain forests. Khao Sok shelters over 5% of the world’s wildlife species and an abundance of plants, i.e. a beautiful Rafflesia.
Where to stay in Khao Sok
Basically there are three main areas to choose from. The majority of travellers stay in Khlong Sok village by the park entrance. The choice of accommodation is wide there and if you are after budget-friendly digs, this is the area to be explored in the first place.
For scenic and upscale resorts as well as a high degree of isolation, head to Khao Sok Valley. Note though, that you can reach it only with your own wheels.
Cheow Lan Lake rafthouses cannot be beaten in terms of setting and atmosphere. Staying in a rafthouse will give you that distinctive feel of being close to nature and of isolation, which is considered by many the most precious experience of visiting the park. Note that many package tour trippers stay around Cheow Lan Lake, too. So if you are against organized activities, just opt for simple huts, not AC bungalows.
Things to do in Khao Sok
There are plenty of activities on offer in Khao Sok including jungle trekking, elephant encounters, canoeing, cruising Cheow Larn Lake or bird watching. Well, even sitting on your guesthouse terrace and taking in amazing views is already greatly rewarding! The park offers package multiday tours, but you can as well come all by yourself and tailor-make your vacation in Khao Sok right on the spot.
Onward travel from Khao Sok
80 km and 1½ hour southwest of Khao Sok lies another worth visiting national park, Khao Lak. There is bus service linking Khao Sok to Khao Lak National park and proceeding to Phuket afterwards. Travel times are two and four hours respectively.
If you decide to reach beautiful beaches and world-class shopping and dining of Phuket from Khao Sok directly, without calling to Khao Lak first, then you will cover the 150 km to Phuket in about three hours.
Going south from Khao Sok you can get to Phang Nga (80 km, 1½ hour), the most underrated destination in Thailand with breath-taking karst scenery, emerald waters and close-to-nature eco experience.
Krabi, 150 km and 2½ hours away, makes for an excellent starting point for exploring the amazing islands of the Andaman, from the cult former backpackers’ hideaway Koh Phi Phi to the secret luxurious paradise of Koh Nhai.