Experiences in nature are getting harder to come by in Thailand; fortunately, Khao Sok remains a top draw for both adventure and tranquility.
Text and Photos by Dave Stamboulis.
Khao Sok National Park is one of Thailand’s lesser-known gems. Tucked away in a mountainous corner of Surat Thani Province, the park covers an area of over 700sqm; mostly spectacular limestone and jungle covered peaks, and is dotted with caves, rivers, and waterfalls. As much of the area is dense jungle, protected area, and difficult to access, it is a prime habitat for an abundant variety of large wildlife, such as gaur, sambar, mouse deer, bear, Malaysian tapir, macaques, gibbons, serow, wild dogs, and civet cats, to name but a few. The park also supports several of the huge rafflesia flowers and a number of very rare tree species.
The name “Khao Sok” is derived from the words “ban sop,” which mean “house of dead bodies,” but this rather macabre moniker aside there is nothing frightening or uninviting about the park itself. Khao Sok is comprised of a large swath of land and water, both with access points that are miles apart. The majority of foreign visitors usually end up near the park headquarters, where a peaceful little village has sprung up with guesthouses and resorts snuggled into large cliffs and surrounded by the thick jungle. From this spot, one can easily access Khao Sok’s main trails, visiting waterfalls and pristine swimming holes on daytrips or hiking out to cave systems ripe for exploration or viewpoints in search of wildlife.
At the right time of year, one might even come across a rafflesia or two. Rafflesia, famed for being the world’s largest flower, is actually a parasitic flowering plant with no roots or stem, which takes over a host vine and produces a flower that can weigh up to 10 kilograms! The rafflesia is also known as the corpse flower because of its rotting flesh smell, which serves to attract flies for pollination. Even more amazing is the fact that this beautiful bud, which takes up to a year to burst forth, only lives for four to five days once it appears, and is highly endangered.
While the interior jungle part of Khao Sok is certainly lovely, many foreigners miss out on the park’s best piece of real estate, the beautiful Chao Larn Lake, home to jagged karst pinnacles and also to one of Thailand’s most unique accommodation options. The lake was formed during the flooding of the Ratchaprapa Dam, and is wildly photogenic in early morning and evening light, with the mountains lit up by sunrise and sunset colors, or else poking up out of the mists that often shroud the lake. Best of all, there are a series of floating raft houses that are operated by the national park, where one can sleep surrounded by water, canoe around the limestone, and take early morning boat trips to try and spot hornbills nesting in the cliffs. Accommodations here are a bit basic, but food is provided and the experience is well worth the simple sleep.
For something a bit more elegant, a stay at the new Thanyamundra Organic Resort (102 Moo 6, T.Klong Sok, Panom, Suratthani // Tel: 077- 395-031/4 // www.thanyamundra.com/en/) is not to be missed. This intimate nine-suite boutique lodging is comprised of two traditional teak villas, which sit perched over an organic farm and surrounded by mountains and jungle. The beautiful eco-resort combines silence and solitude along with a 24-hour personal butler and some of the best food in the country (fresh from the farm), and is certainly one of Thailand’s most idyllic and natural retreats.
Thanyamundra has plenty of green touches, such as only using recyclable paper products, serving up fresh meals using their own organic produce, and even using rechargeable batteries to power the buggies used to shuttle visitors around the property, while guests can use the 50m-lap pool and be serenaded by birds and gibbons while swimming and sunning.
Experiences in nature are getting harder to come by in Thailand, and fortunately, Khao Sok remains a top draw for both adventure and tranquility. While the park is at its best in January and February, when the rafflesia bloom and the sun shines out on the lake, it can also be rewarding to come just after the rainy season, when the waterfalls are gushing, and visitors a bit thinner. At any rate, other than trekking at the height of leech season (July-September), it is hard to go wrong at this natural gem.
Khao Sok is accessible by bus and minivan from Surat Thani, Phang Nga, and Phuket. The nearest airport is in Suratthani, about two to three-hour drive with public transport.
Khao Sok National Park
Phanum, Suratthani, 84250 //
Tel: 077-395-155 //
National Park Office: National Park, Wildlife, and Conservation Department,
61 Phahonyothin Rd., Chatuchak, Bangkok, 10900 //