“A jungle paradise of white-sand beaches and dense rain forests on the Andaman Sea.” This is a description of Phuket in a recent article in Elle magazine, which I read with a wistful sigh not long after being stuck — again — in Phuket’s ever-worsening traffic.
In its busier areas at least, Phuket is looking more like Bangkok than a beachy tropical escape. Certainly there are pockets of paradise remaining on Phuket but to describe Thailand’s busiest holiday island as a jungle with a beach is just laughably out of date … and deceptive.
But while Phuket is no longer a “jungle paradise”, just a few hours’ drive away sits Khao Sok National Park, a place that needs no misleading travel writing fluff to describe. If you’re in search of a real rainforest wonderland, Khao Sok is it!
Inside Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok is a 739-square-kilometre protected ancient rainforest with towering limestone mountains, waterfalls and thick jungle terrain. Together with two adjacent national parks, protected forest land in the area covers more than 4,000 square kilometres.
Khao Sok’s main attractions for visitors are its jungle hiking trails and Cheow Lan lake, a large reservoir of emerald-toned fresh water surrounded by steep limestone cliffs. Though poaching and development have had some affect on the park, Khao Sok still teems with birds, reptiles, mammals, insects, tropical plants and trees.
Wild elephants still roam the forest, along with Asian black bears, gibbons, gaur, Malayan tapir and wild boars. Among the hundreds of bird species found in Khao Sok are the brahminy kite, great hornbill, painted stork, red junglefowl, hoopoe bird and the white-throated kingfisher. And many snake species including the huge reticulated python, pit vipers and the Indochinese rat snake have been spotted there.
Khao Sok history
Going back in time, Khao Sok has been a place of refuge for people as well as animals, during two periods of upheaval in Thai history. In the 1800s, the Andaman Coast was under threat by Burmese invaders, forcing villagers from Phuket, Takuapa in Phang Nga and other coastal areas to escape and hide in the jungles of Khao Sok. Having discovered this fertile place in the mountains, some stayed on to settle and farm there.
In the 1970s, groups of Thai communist insurgents fleeing from violent government crackdowns set up camps deep within the Khao Sok jungle. In extremely rough conditions, they lived there from 1975 to 1982 until they put down their arms and left the jungle after the government granted them amnesty.
Having fended off both the Thai army and would-be loggers, these fierce guerilla fighters are now credited with saving Khao Sok from the heavy encroachment and logging that devastated forests across Thailand during that time. The area has had official protection since 1980 when it was declared a national park.
Nowadays, the only insurgent activity that we’re aware of in Khao Sok is when pesky troops of macaque monkeys try to steal your food and trash your bungalow!
Things to do in Khao Sok
Khao Sok is all about getting back to nature and relaxing in the tranquil jungle surrounds. There are a few small bars in the village near the park gates but those looking for nightlife action will not find much here. Some of the main activities in Khao Sok include:
- Tubing, kayaking or bamboo rafting on the river – These can all be arranged at your guesthouse.
- Jungle treks – Exploring Khao Sok’s caves, waterfalls and wildlife. Note that self-guided trekking is limited; hiring guides is required for the longer trails.
- Searching for the elusive Rafflesia flower on a guided hike, best time of year is November through January.
- Bicycle tour of Khao Sok with Amazing Bike Tours.
- Standup paddle tour of Cheow Lan Lake with Paddle Phuket.
- Longtail boat tour of Cheow Lan Lake – Book a tour at your guesthouse or charter a boat at the lake pier.
- Overnight stay at a floating raft house – The original raft houses are simple bamboo huts with shared bathrooms, now it’s possible to find raft houses with air-con and some luxury amenities (more details below).
For any activity inside the park gates at Klong Sok village and Cheow Lan Lake, there is a national park entry fee of 300 baht for foreign adults, 150 baht for foreign children, 40 baht for Thai adults, and 20 baht for Thai children.
The best time to visit Khao Sok
Timing your visit to Khao Sok largely depends on what you want to see and do. The park is open year-round and temperatures in Khao Sok vary only a few degrees during the year, hovering around the mid 20s to low 30s Celsius. Khao Sok’s drier months are December, January and February but since it’s one of the wettest regions of Thailand expect to have some rain any time of year.
The wetter months are better for river tubing and kayaking, the waterfalls have a stronger flow, and everything looks more misty, mysterious and lush. Park officials will shut down any trails with risks of flash floods or other dangerous conditions. The drier months are better for more comfortably exploring the lake and hiking trails and improving your chances of finding a Rafflesia in bloom.
If you’re not sure when to visit, then it’s probably best to follow the advice of a Khao Sok expert, the conservationist and author Thom Henley, who wrote: “Don’t let any season deter you as each has its special features. Khao Sok National Park can cast its spell in any weather and at any time of year.”
Getting to Khao Sok
Located in Surat Thani province about halfway between Phuket and Surat Thani town (the mainland town that links to the Gulf Coast islands of Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan), getting to Khao Sok requires at least a 90-minute drive from the nearest airport.
Long-haul buses connecting Surat Thani to Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi make stops in Khao Sok. Hotels and tour desks at all the main tourist areas of the South can help book a mini-van transfer to Khao Sok.
If you’re hiring a car to drive there, make sure your car rental agreement allows for driving to Khao Sok. Some car hire places won’t let their customers take cars to a different province.
Khao Lak, 58k, a 1-hour drive
Surat Thani airport, 105km, a 90-minute drive
Phuket airport, 130km, a 2-hour drive
Krabi airport, 155km, a 2.5-hour drive
Useful guides to Khao Sok:
Travelfish Khao Sok travel guide
Full disclosure: I wrote the most recent update to this guide, so blame me for any errors found within!
Thai National Parks Khao Sok guide
Birdwatchers especially will love this site’s wildlife guide, which lists every species of bird and animal ever spotted in the park.
Waterfalls & Gibbon Calls by Thom Henley
Great book if you can find it! Some guesthouses in Khao Sok might have copies in stock. Last updated more than 10 years ago, it’s still a top source for useful information, interesting interviews and expert tips.
Our recommended Khao Sok accommodation:
Our Jungle House
183 Moo 6, Klongsok, Phanom, Surat Thani
Set on a large jungly riverside area, this is our favourite place to stay Khao Sok. Live out your treehouse fantasies in this eco-conscious, low-key and family-friendly guesthouse. Booking well in advance is essential – we shed some tears when we couldn’t get in on our last visit because we left it too late.
Cliff and River Jungle Resort
97 Moo 7, Klongsok, Phanom, Surat Thani
Found 11km east of the Klong Sok village park entrance, this is a mid-range riverside resort with a small swimming pool in a spectacular setting at the base of the cliffs. Our kids loved rolling down the grassy hills here (the resort staff probably didn’t love that, however).
Khao Sok Treehouse
233 Moo 6, Klongsok, Phanom, Surat Thani
Found conveniently in the village just up the road from the park entrance, this is a long-running and busy place with treehouses in quirky designs.
Khao Sok Lake floating bungalows
We’ve never stayed in any raft house on the lake, so we recommend checking with this local tour operator that specialises in booking floating raft accommodation. The best source of information we’ve found on the different raft houses available.