Khao Sok National Park and the Sok River
Amid the steep limestone mountains and luxuriant tropical rainforest is snaking the wild Sok River. Waterfalls, rapids and slow-flowing stretches, deep valleys and a reservoir, is a must go for nature and river lovers. Among other wildlife, tigers, sun bears and elephants call this jungle a home.
Located in southern Thailand, in a thin strip of the land that goes to the Malay Peninsula, Khao Sok is one of few vast remaining rainforests of the area. For tourists, Khao Sok is ideally situated on the mainland between Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak, and Koh Samui, the most popular destinations in Southern Thailand
This piece of paradise covers an area of 739 square kilometers. The combined sizes of Khao Sok and its bordering protected areas (Kaeng Krueng, Sri Phang nga, Khlong Phanom, Khlong Saeng, Khlong Yan and Khlong Naka), is over 3,500 square kilometers, roughly half the size of Bali island in Indonesia!
The primary ecosystem is a tropical rainforest, but the attractions are many streams, waterfalls, majestic limestone cliffs jutting above the rainforest, and an island stubbed lake. The park is surrounded by several other protected areas, forming even more significant chunk of nature. The relief is hilly, some 200m above sea level with the average mountain heights around 400m. The tallest peak in the national park is 960m. Khao Sok National Park was established in 1980 as Thailand’s 22nd National Park.
This park harbors extraordinary biodiversity, including tigers, Clouded Leopards, wild elephants, and Malayan sun bears among others. With 48 mammal species, 311 different species of birds, more than 30 species of bats and countless reptiles and insects the animal kingdom in Khao Sok is extraordinary. There are approximately 200 different floral species found here per hectare, making it one of the most bio-diverse areas (average forests in Europe or North America have only about 10 tree species per hectare). Rafflesia, the largest flowers in the world and can grow up to 90cm in diameter, weighing 7 kg, is one of the highlights, along with pitcher plants and other numerous plant species. The forest is dominated by giant Dicterocarps, while bamboos and palms abound s well.
It’s often quoted that the rainforest in Khao Sok is one of the oldest in the world since Thailand has remained in an equatorial position throughout the last 160 million years. The climate in the area has also been mostly unaffected by ice ages and there were no dry phases (like in Amazon for example).
Humid tropical climate
All these natural richness springs from average 3,500 mm per year of rain that sprinkles and showers the forest. Thanks to the monsoons, Khao Sok has the highest level of rainfall in Thailand. The heaviest rains are between May and November, the driest period is between December and April; although even during that time, occasional rain is possible. But that is the rain forest.
The Sok River is one of the rivers that are born in this humid environment, in deep valleys. It flows in a quiet pool, then rushes downwards in a blustery rapids, gushing around the large reddish boulders. The dense forest is overhanging the river, bringing monkeys to the river.
The Cheow Larn reservoir
Khao Sok Lake (Cheow Larn) stretches over an area of 165 km2 within the 739 km2 park. The water is a beautiful emerald color, which further adds to the vibrant greens of the rainforest. The lake is vast, and is dotted with over one hundred limestone karsts which jut up from the still water, remnants of what were once mountain peaks. Obviously, it is not the lake, but the reservoir that flooded almost fifth of the park apparently killed the river and inundated hectares of the rainforest, a precious habitat for tigers, elephants, etc… Official site claims to be a boon for both people and wildlife, but I find it hard to believe such a rosy story. For that reason, I will not spend a single baht. This is my personal choice and opinion.
How to get there?
Khao Sok is perfectly situated on the mainland between Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak and little bit further Koh Samui, the most popular destinations in Southern Thailand.
Khao Sok nowadays is rather easy to visit. From Bangkok (Khao San area), you can enter any travel agency, and book the bus to Khao Sok (around 800 bahts per person). This is Bangkok – Phuket area bus, and in Surat Thani you are transferred usually to other smaller bus or van. The driver will drop you off on the main road, some 2km from the park entrance. It is an easy to walk, or you can take a taxi for 100-150 baht.
Where to stay?
The road to the park entrance is littered by the restaurants and resorts. Once sleepy Khlong Sok town village is a tourist hub with all necessary infrastructure, but still not looking too developed.
We stayed on Tree Tops resort, closest to the park entrance. It’s immaculate and cozy place immersed in vegetation, with a small pool, perfect for relaxing after a sweltering day in the jungle. The restaurant is nice, and the staff is amiable and helpful. The simple, but comfortable room with bed mosquito nets and a balcony is around 500 bahts – excellent deal for me.
Hiking in the park
The park is large, and it is open to the public near the park entrance. The good thing is that you can freely hike several kilometers. The first two kilometers follow the dirt jungle road (parallel to the river Sok River) with info and educational panels. You can relax and refresh in a natural swimming pool on the river. It looks muddy but is safe enough. Several hundred meters further is another attraction – the Bang Leab Nam waterfall. It is not very impressive, but still nice to see. The Sok River flows here through large boulders and makes another beautiful scene with the rapids.
The jungle road ends ant the small camp and restaurant. After that, the trail becomes narrow, jungle path. National park commends that you take the guide after this point, but it is still possible to walk for experienced jungle explorers. Beware of the branching road – follow the river on your left. The path is slippery and steep at times. Take your hiking shoes or good sandals for this part.
The trail leads to several other attractions like waterfalls and natural swimming pools. After some arduous hiking, you reach the junction. Left trail leads to the Than Sawan waterfall. You end up on the left bank of the Sok River, but this is not the end. After crossing the river, the trail follows the small tributary. Hiking becomes the one-kilometer canyoning, very fun, but care must be exercised, as the rocks are slippery.
Right trail of the junction leads you even deeper in the forest to Ton Kloi Waterfall and Tang Nam gorge.
Leaches are lurking in the bush, but they are small and not transmitting any disease. During our stay in January, very few mosquitoes bugged us, even in the evening. Rarely seen, venomous snakes including vipers and cobras could be hazardous, especially at night. Macaque monkeys are cute but will try to steal your belongings if left on the ground. They can bite you, so show respect and distance. Do not feed them.
Khao Sok area offers other activities, like night safari, rafting and kayaking (out of the bounds of the national park though), camping in the jungle etc.