While many travellers justifiably come to Thailand for the beaches and temples, exploring Khao Sok National Park was top of our personal must-visit list ahead of a recent visit. The park’s lush jungle trails, gabbling gibbons, and enormous, emerald Cheow Lan Lake make visiting Khao Sok an unforgettable trip of a lifetime, especially if you love walking on the wild side. Read on to find out how we made the most of this extraordinary place.
Visiting the natural wonders of Khao Sok National Park
Located pretty much halfway between the southern peninsula’s two coasts and easily accessible from Khao Lak, Phuket and Surat Thani, Khao Sok National Park is becoming increasingly popular place to spend a few days on travellers’ routes.
The reasons for this are clear. With several trails to trek, and opportunities to try more adventurous activities, like caving and kayaking, it’s the perfect place to unleash your inner explorer.
The landscapes and diversity of wildlife in Khao Sok are extraordinary, too. Most of the park is blanketed in almost-impenetrable rainforest that plays host to 48 species of mammal, among them elephants, gaur bisons, leopard cats, tigers, and Malayan sun bears.
For us personally, we wanted to try a variety of trails, bathe in pools fed by gushing waterfalls, and spend a few nights near Cheow Lan Lake to see (hopefully!) some of the park’s wildlife wonders.
In particular, we wanted to see as many of the park’s 300 bird species as possible, and hoped to catch glimpse of a pangolin or tapir. And it’s fair to say, we weren’t disappointed.
In fact, the experience exceeded our expectations. We were blown away by epic views of limestone crags around the lake, and the magical, swirling morning mists. We’ll never forget all those whooping, hee-ing, haa-ing gibbons, and the Great Hornbill whose huge, curved, bright bill we spied through the canopy. And that’s just for starters.
Best things to do in Khao Sok
The main activities in Khao Sok National Park, and around Cheow Lan Lake are watching out for wildlife while walking trails, trekking to waterfalls, and taking in those extraordinary vistas.
More experienced (and brave) adventurers could also consider caving.
Trek the Khao Sok Main Trail to Ton Kloi Waterfall
The park’s abundant natural attractions (all those waterfalls, pools, gorges and viewpoints we really, really wanted to see!) branch off the clearly signed main trail that runs along the Sok River, west of the park headquarters and visitor centre.
At just under 3km, this route heads east from the western entrance of the park, and took us along the Sok River into deep jungle.
The first section of the trail is suitable for all levels of walkers — while you’re in tropical territory, it’s pretty much a walk in the park, with no scrambling or slippy parts to navigate.
All that changed when we went beyond the halfway point, past the ranger station. From here our trek heated up — literally as the sun rose higher, and figuratively as the path became muddier.
Still, after taking things a bit slower (all the better as we paused to see a perching crimson sunbird), we made it to Ton Kloi Waterfall at the end of the trail.
All that slipping and sliding was soon forgotten when we cooled off in the pool, surrounded by lush greenery and the distinctive, increasingly familiar calls of excitable gibbons.
Travel tip: when planning your trip, allow around six hours to walk this trail.
Wind (and wade) your way to more waterfalls
While en route to Ton Kloi Waterfall, you’ll see signs to more waterfall wonders.
Bang Liap Nam Waterfall (4.5km from headquarters) is a straightforward, pretty hike that took us along the river through towering trees and thick bamboo.
Meanwhile, Tan Sawan Waterfall (6km from headquarters), involves wading along a river bed for the final kilometre. This means it shouldn’t be attempted during the rainy season.
Love trekking? Read up on the best treks in Thailand.
Visit Cheow Lan Lake
Created in 1987 when the Khlong Saeng River was dammed to power a new hydroelectricity plant, Cheow Lan Lake (also known as Ratchabrapa Dam Reservoir) is Khao Sok’s most famous feature.
With fabulously photogenic karst islands, forested inlets and mist-clad mountains surroundings its jade waters, it’s also the most popular destination for guided tours.
At 28km long, it’s also vast, and home to a huge diversity of birdlife, and some primates, seen most easily in the early morning.
Tours generally combine a trip on the lake with a wade through the nearby flooded cave system, and a night on a floating raft house.
Explore Nam Talu cave
While we didn’t do this ourselves, many visitors come to the lake to undertake an adventurous three-hour trek to — and through — the 800m long horseshoe-shaped Nam Talu cave.
Though it’s just a five-minute boat ride from the national park raft houses, or an hour’s boat ride from the dam, the trek itself isn’t easy, and isn’t for everyone, as we heard first-hand from fellow travellers.
Part of the trek involves an hour-long wade through the river that hollowed out the tunnel. By all accounts, things get very slippery underfoot, very dark, and you have to swim for at least 20 metres.
Tips from our fellow travellers: wear sandals with decent grip and take a torch.
Put off by the hassle of planning your treks and booking guides? Browse our customisable Thailand itineraries — you could easily include Khao Sok in your tailor-made trip.
Booking the best Khao Sok tours
While some of the park’s trails are possible to walk alone, we really recommend booking guided treks and tours.
For example, had our guide not pointed them out, we’d have walked past the claw marks a sun bear had left on a tree. And we wouldn’t have seen half as many birds, or the pangolin and tapir that were near the top of our wildlife wish-list!
Our guide was also great at pointing out lots of medical plants, explaining how they’re used, and their benefits.
1-day tour of Khao Sok National Park
The typical day trek goes to Ton Kloi Waterfall, as described above. But, as we visited in March, we had the opportunity to take an additional route that allowed us to see the world’s second-biggest flower in bloom. Namely, the rafflesia kerrii meier.
In flower from December to March, this alien-like monster of a plant unfurls its petals to reach an impressive 80cm diameter. Be warned, though there’s a reason it’s also known as “stinking corpse” — we can confirm it definitely does stink!
Rest assured, this walk wasn’t all about the reek — to reach the rafflesia, we walked the gorgeous three-mile Orchid Trail.
From the Khao Sok Main Trail, the route steered us south and crossed the Sok River through parts of the forest that are festooned with (you’ve guessed it) wild orchids.
More elevated and winding than the Main Trail, it was one of the highlights of our trip — courtesy of the flowers and sunbirds, it really was a kaleidoscope of colour and life.
Day tour of Cheow Lan Lake
If you’re only in the area for a short time, you could opt to turn up at the dam and hire a boat and guide for a day-trip.
If you opt to stay overnight in Khao Sok National Park, after your day-trek, you’ll get to experience an after-dinner night safari along the main park trails.
Ours lasted just over three hours (they average 2-4 hours), and we got to see a few mouse deer, civets and, best of all, a slow loris, thanks to our guide spotting its gleaming eyes.
Regrettably, no elephants or leopards were seen during our night trek, but it was still a remarkable experience.
After the walk, we fell asleep to the ringing, rising crescendo of calls from crickets, cicadas and tree frogs.
Travel tip: book your guided night tour through your accommodation. Try Bamboo House, Nung House and Khao Sok Rainforest Resort.
If you have longer, you might want to include spending a night on a raft house on Cheow Lan Lake.
This was one of our favourite parts of our time in the area, as a result of being able to witness incredible wildlife the morning after our (first) boat trip on the lake.
Note that the lake house accommodation is managed by Khao Sok Smiley, which also has headquarters (and treehouses) back in the tourist village.
After a comfortable night’s sleep in one of the lake houses (bungalows and dome tents also available), we rose early to see a bounty of langurs, macaques and gibbons around the lakeshore.
Extras: your accommodation should be able to arrange a two-hour visit to a nearby elephant sanctuary, and many can also arrange tubing and canoeing trips along the Sok River. We opted to borrow a kayak and paddle around the shore for a few hours.
- The park has two centres. Firstly, the tourist village that’s developed around the park headquarters and trailheads. This offers all essential services, including an ATM and currency exchange. Secondly, the dam, 65km further east, at the head of Cheow Lan Lake.
- You pay an entry fee (THB 300) at the HQ checkpoint. This is valid for 24 hours. You only have to pay again at Cheow Lan Lake if you arrive more than 24-hours later.
- While most visitors (including us) stay in the tourist village and organise their lake trips from there, it’s also feasible to do one or more nights at the lake first.
- Pick up a sketch map of the park and trails from the HQ checkpoint office.
- Wear loose-fitting long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and insect repellent, and bring plenty of water — it gets very, very, hot and humid.
- Watch out for monkeys — even the cuties can be aggressive.
Tips for visiting Khao Sok National Park
How to get there
Khao Sok National Park’s headquarters, its tourist village and Cheow Lan Lake are all north off Highway 401, which is served by frequent buses.
All bus services between the junction town of Takua Pa, 40km south of Khuraburi, and Surat Thani come this way, including some Surat Thani services to and from Khao Lak and Phuket.
If you're coming from Bangkok, Hua Hin or Chumphon, take a Surat Thani–bound bus as far as the Highway 401 junction, about 20km before Surat Thani, and change onto one for Takua Pa.
The access road to the tourist village and trailheads is at kilometre-stone 109 on Highway 401.
Here guesthouse staff meet bus passengers and offer free lifts to their accommodation, the furthest of which is about 3km from the main road.
Cheow Lan Lake
Access to the lake is via the town of Ban Ta Khun, 50km east of Khao Sok on Route 401. From here, it’s 12km north to the dam.
There’s a regular minibus service (about every two hours) from Talat Kaset II in Surat Thani, via Phunphin train station, to Cheow Lan Lake.
Alternatively, you could take a Surat Thani–Takua Pa bus, alight at Ban Ta Khun and get a motorbike taxi to the dam.
Best time to visit
There’s no question that the best time to visit Khao Sok National Park is during Thailand’s east coast dry season. This runs from December to April.
Happily (or not, depending on how sensitive your nose is!), this also coincides with the blooming of the stinky rafflesia kerrii meier flower.
While you’ll want to steer clear of visiting during the June-October wet season, when the trails can be treacherously slippy, for lower prices and fewer crowds you could consider visiting during the in-between months of May and November. Though you’re likely to experience the odd shower, the trails remain manageable.
Read all about the best time to visit Thailand.
What to pack
After reading tips from travellers who’d already trekked the park’s trails, we opted for lighter weight hiking shoes as opposed to heavier duty footwear, which can become even heavier when thick with mud!
We also packed two pairs of long trousers and a couple of long-sleeved shirts for protection from insects (two pairs because you’re bound to get a bit muddy).
Staying overnight? You might also want a clean change of light, fresh clothing for dinner, and, of course, whatever toiletries you usually travel with.
Insect repellent and sun screen should be regarded as obligatory, and the same goes for stocking up on lots of water — Khao Sok is notoriously humid.
You’ll also want your camera (or phone) ready to take photos of all the breath-taking landscapes and wildlife you’re sure to see. We snapped several hundred!
Hoping to see lots of birds? Bring your own binoculars.