The moment I saw a photo of a wooden cabin surrounded by the emerald waters of a lake, I just knew that I needed to go and witness the magic myself. Never mind that I would have to catch another flight from Bangkok, never mind that it would be a daunting task to plan the trip; with my heart captured and my wanderlust awakened, I knew that it would only be a matter of time until I could turn this new-found dream into reality.
Overview of Khao Sok National Park
The main reason why planning a trip to Khao Sok National Park seems overwhelming is its vast area. Located in Surat Thani Province in Southern Thailand, it has a total area of 739 sq. km, 1/5 of which is occupied by Cheow Lan Lake. The park is surrounded by beautiful limestone karsts and mudstone rocks that tower up to 950 m in height. It is estimated that the park is home to 5% of the world’s species including gibbons, tapirs, macaques, wild boars, Asian elephants, and deer. It is also a home to adventure seekers, with activities including jungle trekking, canoeing, bamboo rafting, water tubing, and spelunking.
With too little logistical information available online, I was quite anxious that I couldn’t arrange my trip way ahead of time as I usually do. When I was in Krabi, I came across a fellow backpacker who had been traveling around Thailand for two months by then and I asked her if she knew anything about Khao Sok by any chance. Unfortunately, she encountered the same difficulty and simply opted to remove it out of her route. This is a convenience I couldn’t afford to resort to – I was in Thailand just because of Khao Sok and my whole trip wouldn’t be complete without it. With two more days remaining, I exhausted my efforts and tried to search for last minute information that could save me. With enough prayers and luck, I made my trip happen and here’s how I did it.
How to get to Khao Sok
From Krabi – The main street of Ao Nang is lined with travel agencies offering transfers to different destinations in Bangkok and rates are mostly standard. From Krabi, vans to Khao Sok depart daily at 11:30. Depending on the number of passengers, the transfer company may combine Khao Sok and Khao Lak in a single transfer. A direct trip to Khao Sok takes just 2 hours but with a detour to Khao Lak to drop other passengers, the trip takes 4 hours. They both cost 350 baht. You will be dropped off at the main entrance of Khao Sok along Route 401. From here, most accommodations are within one-kilometer walking distance.
Via flight – Nok Air, Thai Lion Air, and AirAsia have daily flights connecting Bangkok and Surat Thani. From the airport, there are shared vans bound to Khao Sok for 200 baht. Travel time takes around 2 hours.
Via train – Trains from Bangkok to Surat Thani depart from Hua Lamphong station. Fares vary depending on schedule but they range from 830baht for day trips to 1000 baht for 1st class night trips. Travel time takes 10-11 hours. Trains arrive at Phun Phin station, about 15 kilometers from Surat Thani proper. From Phun Phin station, it is possible to catch a bus or a taxi to the center.
Via bus – Buses depart from Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal. This mode is a popular choice for budget travelers since it is usually cheaper than the train and at times, even faster than traveling by rail. Fares range from 550 – 1000 baht depending on schedule and class.
From Surat Thani – There are hourly bus connections between Surat Thani (airport/town center) and Khao Sok, with a travel time of 1.5-2 hours. Fare costs 200 baht.
A Khao Sok experience has two main highlights, with starting points separated by a 60-km distance.
Activities in Khao Sok
Land experience – This is the more accessible part of Khao Sok and serves as the main visitor area. The tourist vans from other locations in Thailand usually drop the passengers at the main entrance. From here, it is possible to do the following activities:
- 1 day jungle trek – 1200 baht/person (minimum of 2)
- ½ day jungle trek – 650 baht/person (minimum of 2)
- Rafflesia trek – 700 baht/person (minimum of 2)
- Canoe trip – 800 baht/person (minimum of 2)
- Water tubing – 400 baht/person (minimum of 2)
Lake Experience – The highlight of the lake experience is an overnight stay at the lake house although it is also possible to arrange a day trip. The entrance is located at the port of Chiew Lan Lake near Ratchaprapa Dam.
- Daytrip – 1500 baht
- Overnight stay – 2500 baht
I booked an overnight stay at Smiley Lake House in between my stay at Smiley Bungalows. Here’s my itinerary.
Khao Sok Itinerary (Land and Lake)
Day 1. Stay at Smiley Bungalows
Day 2 – 3. Overnight stay at Smiley Lakehouse
Day 4. Return to Smiley Bungalows
From Krabi, I risked going to Smiley Bungalows without any prior reservation since I wasn’t able to receive a response from them. I was brave to do so since I knew that I could easily find alternatives. Fortunately, Smiley had vacancies and I was able to book both the Bungalows and the Lake House tour for the next day. As I pushed through with my plan, I realized that I was really lucky that I booked directly from them.
Smiley doesn’t combine guests with those who booked through partner agencies. There were only three of us when we did the tour, and we had the van and long tail boat all to ourselves. At the Lake House, we had the priority in terms of the accommodation and in my opinion, we got the best places. The German couple traveling with me got their own place, as I had mine. The Lake House was good for at least 6 persons, with huge glass windows on three sides and two terraces – in front and at the back.
Those who booked with other agencies were combined, reaching to huge groups of 40. Guests from the same accommodation in the mainland are also mixed together in a single Lake House (especially for solo travelers).
Our stay at the lake house was longer and we have more free hours. Other organizers placed the Nam Taloo Cave trek on the 1st day, practically consuming the whole afternoon. For Smiley tours, we were free until 5PM on the 1st day. We used the time to kayak to the nearby islands and enjoy the warm waters of the lake. On the 2nd day, we had a morning safari, breakfast, and the Nam Taloo Cave trek from 9:00 to 12:30. We didn’t have to leave until 2:00 in the afternoon. If you plan to go to other places right after, you might want to book the one with an early departure from the lake. Otherwise, the extra few hours for the same price was well appreciated by our group.
When we returned to Smiley Lake House, it was only then that I came across the information that it was possible to extend the stay at the lake house for 1000 baht, with food and return transport still included. It was a waste that I didn’t know about this before, but I’m sure that this information will come handy in the future.
I’ve traveled for a month, I’ve been to different countries, but Khao Sok definitely captured my heart and soul and now reigns as my favorite destination in Southeast Asia.
Other practical tips:
It is possible to arrange a DIY trip to the park although this is even more challenging for solo travelers since there are no public buses that go straight to the port. Upon arrival at the port, you will then have to charter your private long-tail boat for 1500 baht. The lake houses can be reserved through the website of Thailand’s National Parks at most 60 days before the travel date. A two-bedroom raft house costs 560 baht per night and 840 baht for a six-person accommodation. If you are traveling in a group, this option can be cheaper than paying 2500 each for an overnight stay and transfer to the lake.