Located 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.