Jungle Trekking with Leeches in Khao Sok

By Nomadic Matt | Published January 10th, 2012

a water fall in khao sok park, thailandLocated in the south of Thailand, Khao Sok National Park has always held my imagination. It’s constantly rated as one of the best parks in Thailand with amazing trekking, camping, limestone karsts, cooling rivers, and a beautiful lake. Ever since I’ve been coming to Thailand I’ve been trying to visit Khao Sok, but the road bends in mysterious ways and for one reason or the other, I’ve never able to make it.

But this time, I used my visiting friends and my job as “tour guide” as the excuse I needed to finally push myself to this park. And I’m glad I did — I’ve been to many wonderful national parks in Thailand but this is one of the best.

I spent three days surrounded by dense jungle, animals, and cooling jungle air. The highlight of my trip was the day-long jungle trek I took. Starting out late in the morning (9:30), my friends and I met our guide, bought our park entrance tickets, and drove to the far end of the park. Instead of doubling back on the main trail, we would explore another trail, hike 400 meters to see some giant flowers, head towards a waterfall, eat lunch, and then walk back to the main park entrance.

It all seemed easy enough. I envisioned a well-worn trail and a mildly strenuous day hike. We were doing 11 km in the jungle so it wouldn’t be a cake walk, but I didn’t anticipate that this trek would be much of a challenge, especially since the last half was on the park’s main road.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

This hike was stressful, challenging, leech-infested, and exhilarating all at the same time. It started out easy enough – we hiked 400 meters to visit giant parasitic flowers. Attaching themselves to vines, the flowers sap the life from the vines to grow. After 9 months, they blossom, spray their seed throughout the jungle, and die within 4 days. However, while in bloom, the flowers are a sight to see.

red flower that kills vines

The hike to the top wasn’t very tough. The trail was well-worn, had amazing vistas from which to view the surrounding jungles, and I didn’t break much of a sweat. On the way up, we caught sight of a troop of gibbons making their way through the treetops. Gibbons in Khao Sok are rare to see and it was quite amazing to see them, especially since I love monkeys. They moved too quickly to be photographed. By the time I clicked my camera, they had moved on so instead of fruitlessly capturing a photo, I just watched them in their glory. When we got to the top, our guide told us we would hike down to the waterfall. I assumed he meant we would be heading down another trail.

Again, I was wrong.

Our trail had opened up at the top of the waterfall and our guide looked at us. “Ok, we’ll eat lunch, but first we have to get down. It will be no problem. We have ropes, and I go first.”

pool at the base of the waterfall

My friends and I looked at each other hesitantly. To get to the base of the waterfall, we were going to have to embrace our inner Indiana Jones to rappel down the side. As you may know, heights make me extremely uncomfortable and I opted to go down last as I worked up the courage to never look down.

However, we didn’t encounter too many steep drop offs and soon I was vying to the lead the way. We would rappel down ropes. When there was no rope to guide us, we scaled the rocky sides of the waterfall, holding on to vines as we made our way down to the base.

Looking out over a waterfall in Khao Sok

But the waterfall was not the worst of it. After lunch, we had to hike downriver, which entailed following the river, which sounds pretty simple. Walking along a river bed is normally not a challenge, but not here. There was no trail or easy path. Sometimes we had to walk on large, wet rocks, climb up the narrow embankment, or scale down vines again when the river became impassable.

And the leeches only made it worse. By the time I walked out of Khao Sok, I had taken seven leeches off my legs, and a few even found their way onto my arms. Luckily, unlike the leeches in northern Thailand, most of these leeches were small and easy to grab off. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t notice one until the end, which by then had enlarged so much it left a scar on his foot.

Hiking through the riverbed in Khao Sok

After the river and subsequent leech removal (cue The Life Aquatic jokes), we were in the home stretch — it was now an easy walk through a bamboo forest back to the park entrance. On our way out of the park we were given a farewell by another troop of monkeys. These weren’t gibbons and I forget their proper name but they jumped around for a while, playing in the trees, and giving us one last exciting thing to remember. When it was all said and done, our hike had lasted a little over 8 hours. Back at my guesthouse, I took the hottest shower of my life, scrubbed myself clean and collapsed on my bed.

Waterfall in Khao Sok Park

Though tiring, this jungle trek was the most exciting in recent memory. I left Khao Sok with a sense of rawness. Here the lack of people and trails let you feel as if you are exploring the jungle for the first time. I love the moments when you travel that make you feel as if you have unearthed a hidden gem. As though you had found somewhere or some place long forgotten by man. That may not be the case, but that sense of wonderment, adventure, and exploration are what drive me on my travels.

And in Khao Sok, it was just me, the jungle, and that sense of adventure.

But I could have done without the leeches.

Logistics

  • You can get to the park via Surant Thani or Phuket. Most hotels will offer you private transportation for 2,000 baht, though you can hire a taxi from either place for around 1,500 baht. If you are with a group of 4 this can be a good deal as it’s much quicker and far easier.
  • If you go by public bus, the minibus is 250 baht each way from Surant Thani town and 300 Baht from Phuket. It will drop you off on the main road leading up to the park. You’ll have to walk the rest of the way.
  • The park entrance fee is 200 Baht or 100 Baht if you are a student.
  • Hiring a guide from one of the tour operators or guest houses (very recommended due to the lack of marked trails) costs 1,000 Baht per person and comes with lunch.
  • There is only one ATM in town.
  • You can find cheap guest houses for 300 Baht per night with very basic accommodation and cold showers. Rooms get better at around 600 Baht per night and luxurious around 1,400 Baht per night.

comments 37 Comments

This sounds absolutely amazing and has given me yet another reason to want to get to Thailand. I too could do without the leeches though – I remember going on hikes as a kid in the rainforests of northern NSW (Aus) and having to take salt sachets along to deal with the leaches. One hike in particular I took off my shoes at the end to do a leech check and one of my once white socks was completely red with blood … I was only about 6 or 7 at the time and it really freaked me out!

c

To keep the leeches away, use sunblock. They will leave you alone.

Sounds like quite an adventure. The rappelling actually sounds like a lot of fun – I know there are some adventure tours out there in Latin America that specialize in those types of activities. Did you see any other wildlife beyond the gibbons and the monkeys?

NomadicMatt

We saw a few birds and some fish. There are elephants in the park but they are hard to spot. You just have to get lucky.

Pol

I was there during the raining season so it was packed of leeches. I went until the last waterfall and the way back was a torture due to this blood suckers. I got lots of them! Even with thick socks and long pants they manage to get into your skin.

NomadicMatt

I have heard horror stories about the leeches there in the rainy season. It must have been awful.

CY

Next time you see leeches on your body, just pour some salt over.

They will fall off quickly.

Thanks for sharing this incredible adventure! You give me hope — I am not a fan of heights either, but my husband is always wanting us to do stuff like repel down waterfalls together. Well worth the effort for the scenery and the wildlife. Good for you, Matt. Thanks, also, for sharing about the diversity of Thailand — that there is so much more to it than just gorgeous beaches.

NomadicMatt

It’s always a shame that so few get off the islands. There’s a lot more to Thailand than Ko Samui. I especially love central Thailand. Lovely rural down there.

Cal

Sounds like a lot of fun, could do without the leaches though. We went repelling down a waterfall last July which was a blast.

I’d love to try this trek some time.

Ew, ew, ew, ew, EW! Otherwise: awesome.

Sounds like my kind of trek. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in Thailand.

Sounds like an awesome day trip. Great way to get the blood flowing.

I loved Khao Sok – we stayed at a floating hostel on the lake one night – we were the only guests – magic! So quiet. You probably won’t have to walk from the turn off if you get off a local bus – we were met by guest house owners and got a free lift both ways.

It would be a waste to go direct from Phuket – we spent a couple of days on the beach at Khao Lak on the way

Allison Akel

What was the name of your hostel??

Oh no, leeches! I so hate them! Was freaking out in Malaysian National Park when I had to get rid of them … would be much better without them!

Kim

Amazing and beautiful, though I’m not quite sure I could handle the leeches.

I’m glad we didn’t take the trail, there’s no way Dee would have made it down the waterfall! It sounds like an exciting adventure and a great story Matt.

NomadicMatt

It was a great day for sure!

Good hearing from you! It’s been ages. Hope all is well.

Jan

I spent 5 nights at Our Jungle Home on the edge of Khao Sok in March last year – best part of my trip to Thailand. There’s no way I could have done your jungle trek, Matt, but I did spend many hours walking through the park along the well marked paths and swimming in jungle pools at the bottom of waterfalls – sublime and only a few leeches. An overnight excursion to the Cheow Lan lake in the park was a highlight. Waking up in the floating raft house to the early morning mist on the water and the call of the gibbons in the jungle was wonderful. Roaring across the lake in pelting rain in a long boat was chilly but exhilerating and I gave the walk through the bat caves a miss. Not as adventurous as Matt but I did good for a 58 year old female solo traveller and loved every minute of it all.

Hi Matt
Great to hear of your trek in Khao Sok. Deb & I trekked there several times during our 21/2 years in Thailand and loved it each time even with the leeches. We stayed overnight once and went out at night to see the night creatures – mostly red eyes in the jungle but it was great to think maybe they belonged to a Tiger or similar. We also didn’t see any elephants but did see plenty of evidence where they had crashed through the jungle. A truly special place to visit among the many in our second home, Thailand.
cheers and thanks for the memories,
Ray & Deb

Oh, man… I only got to see the lake part of Khao Sok when I finally made it there last week – also absolutely worth seeing. Seems like I’ll have to go back, I’m sad I missed the Rafflesia! And even I managed to get a nasty leech on my foot after just 20 minutes of trekking…

Also, the monkeys you saw were probably either macaques or dusky langurs (we saw both on my trip, but no gibbons!)

Penny

Aww brings back memories. My friend and I did this 8hr trek. I remember 1 hour into it thinking “this was a mistake..” It was gruelling, especially walking down the edge of the waterfall and trying to grab on to anything stationary, like roots of trees (cant say I remember any rope – perhaps that’s a new addition)..Anyway, very rewarding in retrospect (and we did see gibbons) although my friend did admit to me that she was properly crying at one point HAHAHA. Thought we had escaped the leeches until I had a shower and saw blood running down my leg! and that I had been walking around in bloodstained shorts (which could have been construed as erm something else).
Stayed at KS Nature Resort -it was rather nice.

Great blog and photos. We did a 3 day jungle trek out of Chiang Mai recently and loved it. I wrote a blog plus an article. Our guide, One, told us that you rub tobacco on yourself to avoid leeches. But even more impressive, he told us that the remedy for a scorpion bite is burning a woman’s ‘secret hair’ (his words), and rubbing the ash on the wound. Cheers.

NomadicMatt

I wonder if anyone has tried that with success.

I won’t try getting bitten by a scorpion, and rubbing the ashes of a woman’s “secret hair” on the wound, but I’ll give the tobacco tip a shot when I visit Khao Sok next month :-)
But going down THAT waterfall? I don’t know Matt… just looking at the picture gives me vertigo.

helena

Matt,
would you know the name of this trek, it sounds like something we would like to do, so if there is a selection of the treks in Khao Sok I want to be sure we do the right one.

Where did you stay in the park and how did you arrange this trek?
are there any hikes or walks that one can do independently?

thanks

Allison Akel

I would also like to know the name of the trek! I’m having a difficult time finding a non-touristy and inexpensive trek.

Yay Life Aquatic jokes!

Angel

I agree Khao Sok is amazing. I was there last week and loved the trails for hikking.
I think you do not need a guide, it is pretty easy to go through.
There are two trails.
I advise to start in the early morning because you can spend all day long there, and get some food with you.

Please, can anyone recommend me any other place in Thailand or even in Malaysia for hikking into the jungle. I mean, not a nice park ….. I want a real jungle.

Thanks

NomadicMatt

A student ID.

Great write up Matt, sounds like you had a fun if not slightly challenging experience!
Do you need to be in good shape to attempt this sort of trek and a hardened backpacker, or would you reckon anyone can go along and enjoy trekking in Khao Sok?
From your pics, it certainly looks a bit more rustic and rural than most of southern Thailand ;)

NomadicMatt

Anyone could do it. There’s an easy trail. Our guide took us on the harder one.

Nana

Dear Matt,

Two questions:

1. I’ve looked it up, and I can’t seem to find any day trips at logical prices. All the tours I’ve found for the park are for 2 days or more, and/or are ridiculously expensive.

2. Is it possible to just show up at the park and hire a guide for 1,000 baht for the day? Or should we book a tour beforehand (and if so, is it cheaper to book online or at a travel agent in Surat Thani / Krabi) ?

Thanks for the help!

NomadicMatt

Your guesthouse can arrange a day tour for you. You don’t need to book anything in advance.

Jeffo

Great article! and beautiful photos too.

Love all the advice on leech prevention, this is one thing I always had problems with on treks around SE Asia. We did a hike with Indochine Safari on the other side of Khao Sok – the guide was using something called “Rid”?? Was in a purple bottle some kind of strong insect repellent.
Best anti-leech stuff I ever used, didn’t get a single leech after putting rid on :)

No doubt, your articles always amazed me. Everyone is sharing their encounter with leech, so why not I. Once i had gone to my native place. My cousin asked to go for bath/swim in river, i thought, it would be fun, lets go. We jumped in the river for bath and started swimming, bathing. But after sometime, i felt something on my feet and i came out. And when i saw leech on my feet, i can’t say, It was horrible. That day totally turned in black day of my life.

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