Khao Sok National Park is a sprawling nature reserve in Southern Thailand. Home to towering limestone cliffs, an emerald lake, and luscious vegetation, it is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Covering 739 square metres and sparsely populated, it feels like a hidden paradise that’s away from the many tourist traps of Thailand.
You’ll find hidden waterfalls and caves, along with the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, dating back 160 million years. The dense jungle is teeming with a breathtaking diversity of plants and wildlife. While the man-made Cheow Lan Lake and its brightly coloured waters provide a variety of water-based activities to enjoy.
Khao Sok National Park is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It’s a little tricky to get to, but that’s the beauty of it. You don’t get the same hordes of tourists as you do elsewhere in Thailand. It’s a truly magical part of the world.
In this guide to visiting Khao Sok National Park, I explain everything you need to know about staying in this hidden gem. From getting there and when to visit, to things to do and where to stay (think jungle treehouses and floating bungalows!).
Where is Khao Sok National Park?
Khao Sok National Park is located in Southern Thailand, within the province of Surat Thani. It is nearly 600km from Bangkok. In terms of well-known nearby towns, Khao Sok National Park is on the mainland between Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak and Koh Samui.
How to get to Khao Sok National Park
There are several options for getting to Khao Sok National Park. The one you choose will depend on your budget and where you are travelling from.
Private taxi or minibus
Private taxis and minibuses are available from most popular towns, including Phuket, Ko Lanta, Krabi, and Surat Thani. It is probably the best option, as it is the most comfortable and direct means of travel. Tour operators will be able to organise this for you; for example, mine was all organised through Contiki.
There are a number of bus services available too, which are a more budget-friendly option. Some of the most popular routes are as follows. Please note that prices and timings are guidelines only – always check before you travel.
- From Phuket: 4 hours, one bus per hour until 14:00, 160 baht
- From Khao Lak: 2 hours, one bus per hour
- From Surat Thani train station: 2 hours, one bus per hour, 120 baht
- From Surat Thani Airport: 2 hours 30 minutes, one bus every four hours, 300-350 baht depending on drop-off point
- From Krabi: 2-3 hours, one minibus per day at about 11:00, 300 baht
- From Ko Lanta: 6 hours including ferry, 650-850 baht
Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park
There are three different ways of travelling from Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park:
- By plane to Surat Thani airport. Followed by a private taxi or public bus service to Khao Sok.
- By sleeper train. This takes around 11 hours and costs 1000-1600 baht depending on class.
- By overnight bus. This can take anywhere between 8-14 hours depending on the route and costs around 450-700 baht.
I travelled from Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park via sleeper train and then private minibus. The sleeper train was… an experience! It wasn’t exactly luxury but it was comfortable enough.
If you’re staying in a floating bungalow deep in the park then your final leg of the journey will be a long-tail boat ride to your accommodation. This is by far the best part of the journey! It’ll be one of the most scenic boat rides you’ve ever taken.
Top tip: Make sure you stock up on snacks and drinks if you are staying in a floating bungalow before you set off on the boat. Food and drink provisions are very limited once you’re there and in some places, the only alcoholic drink available is beer.
When is the best time to visit Khao Sok National Park?
The best time to visit Khao Sok National Park is in the dry season, from December to April. Although it’s worth mentioning that even in the dry season, you are still likely to see overcast days and rain. It is the rainforest afterall!
The wet season of June to October is best avoided as there is rain most days. The trails become slippery and there will be a lot of leeches to contend with. Activities will likely be limited too
You can just about get away with visiting in the transitional months of May and November. As long as you’re okay with some sudden downpours. I visited in mid-May and we had pretty good weather for the most part.
Things to do
There are a number of activities which can be accessed from the town, Khlong Sok. Other activities are accessible via Cheow Lan Lake, where you can stay in a floating bungalow. Or, you can stay just outside the lake in jungle treehouse accommodation.
I’d recommend one or two nights in a treehouse and then one or two nights in a floating bungalow so that you can experience the best of both worlds. They are both incredible experiences!
Floating raft house stay
A stay in a floating raft house (or floating bungalow) is a must experience for any visit to Khao Sok National Park. I’d strongly recommend staying overnight so you can experience this – rather than just doing a day trip, which will feel quite rushed.
The quality of the bungalows vary in quality but generally they are all quite basic. Do not expect luxury! It will be a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net… and that’s it. The bathroom situation is also very basic. There will be a selection of basic toilets, which are usually accessed via a walk over floating planks (super fun if you want to go in the middle of the night when it’s dark!). Where I stayed, the showers consisted of a bucket of water.
This may sound pretty unwelcoming but it’s all part of the fun. And I genuinely mean that. Honestly I am usually one for luxury, but even I really enjoyed the ‘back to basics’ experience. Plus, it was only for two nights. Food wise, it was perfectly good considering the basic setup, and you can benefit from delicious fresh fish.
If it all sounds a bit too basic for your tastes and you have more budget, then there are some luxury options too, such as 500 Rai.
Jungle treehouse stay
Our first night in Khao Sok National Park was in a jungle treehouse. It was a truly unique experience and one I would highly recommend. There is something inherently magical about being amongst the rainforest. I have a particularly fond memory of sitting on the outside terrace of my treehouse while the rain was pouring around me.
There are a number of adventures within the jungle, which can be enjoyed from your treehouse base. From kayaking along the river to enjoying a cup of tea made from bamboo cups crafted by your guide. It goes without saying, but just be aware that there will be bugs and there will monkeys!
There are various hiking trails within Khao Sok National Park. With so much rainforest and wildlife diversity, there is plenty to discover on the trails. Whether it’s exotic plants and wild animals, or rushing waterfalls and breathtaking caves.
Most treks are best done with a guide. It’s easy to get lost in the dense jungle, and it’s teeming with wildlife. Your guide will keep you safe and know the best places for spotting certain plants or animals.
What to look out for on your Khao Sok jungle trek:
- Wildlife: bears, deer, elephants, gaur, gibbon, macaque, Marbled cat, porcupines, tapir, wild boar, wild dog, over 400 species of birds, and over 90 reptile species
- The Rafflesia Flower – one of the largest flowers in the world
- Beautiful waterfalls
- Hidden caves
- Unique swimming spots
- Stunning viewpoints
There are many incredible caves to explore in Khao Sok National Park. Your tour guide should provide head torches and water shoes, but I’d recommend bringing your own headtorch. Learn about the many stalagmites and stalactites, as well as the animals and bugs which reside in the caves.
Most of the caves are reached by longtail boats or bamboo rafts.
There are various bamboo rafting tours available, or ways to incorporate it into a tour. For example, when you go off to visit certain caves or trails, one leg of the journey may be via bamboo raft. It’s a fun and unique mode of transport that’s definitely worth the experience.
Kayaks are readily available for use if you’re staying on the lake. They provide the perfect opportunity to explore the scenery at your own pace. There’s no better feeling than gliding along the water and taking in the breathtaking surroundings.
A dip in the lake is a great way to cool off from the intense humidity. At most accommodations on the lake, there will be diving platforms too for a bit of added fun. Due to the lack of good showering facilities at many of the floating bungalows, a swim in the lake is pretty much your only way of cleaning off the sweat!
Top tip: Use your life jacket as a seat – stick your legs through the arm holes and just sit back and relax! You can spend more time in the water without having to catch your breath.
River tubing is a super fun way of exploring the rivers. It is one of the few activities that is more popular during the wet season, as Sok River is higher. You can rent inner tubes from various companies in Khlong Sok town. The activity takes 1-2 hours and costs around 400-500 baht per person.
Another popular activity in Khao Sok National Park is elephant-back safari. This is not something I did, as I always question the ethics of these kinds of tours. Although it would be an amazing experience, I recommend doing thorough research before booking. Make sure you only choose an ethical tour company where the elephants have been treated well.
How long to spend in Khao Sok National Park
I’d recommend spending 2-3 nights in Khao Sok National Park to really make the most of everything on offer. One night would suffice if you’re tight on time – I just wouldn’t recommend a day trip, as you won’t get the full experience.
Three whole nights in a floating bungalow would be a bit much (unless you stay in a more luxury version). So I’d suggest one night in a jungle treehouse and then one or two nights on the lake.
What to pack
If you’re staying in floating bungalow accommodation then you’ll be required to leave your suitcase on the mainland. If you’ve booked via a tour operator then they should take care of this for you. Or you can leave your suitcase with your hotel in Khlong Song if applicable.
Khao Sok National Park packing list
- Dry bag. To keep your belongings safe and dry when out on the water or exploring the caves. This is an absolute must!
- Minimal clothes. You won’t need many clothes as it’s so hot (I also gave up on wearing a bra as it was just too hot!). You’ll of course need swimwear.
- Comfortable shoes. For trekking and hiking.
- Flip flops. For wearing around the accommodation.
- Small towel. You’ll need to pack light and a big one isn’t necessary as you dry off pretty quickly in the heat.
- Suncream and a hat. For vital sun protection.
- Fully charged electronics and a power bank. There is very limited electricity and usually no plug points in the bungalows. Although you’re not likely to need your phone anyway, as there is no signal!
- Head torch. Essential if you plan to visit the caves. Most tours will provide these for you, but personally I’d rather not wear a sweaty head torch that tonnes of other people have used! They can also be helpful at night if you need to go to the toilet after dark. There was no electricity after 6pm where we stayed so the head torch came in handy!
- Mosquito repellent. Due to all the surrounding water and heat, there are a lot of mosquitoes.
- Playing cards. There isn’t a huge amount of entertainment in the evenings, so playing cards are a good addition.
Khao Sok National Park still remains one of my favourite places I have ever visited. When in the depths of the park, being cut off from the outside world was such a liberating feeling. I was a hot sweaty mess with intense humidity, sticky from the sun cream and covered head to toe in bug spray. And no functioning shower to wash with. Yet somehow it was the best feeling. Right now I would swap my clean clothes, the cool temperature and a functioning bathroom to go back in a heartbeat.