For a getaway from Thailand’s popular beach destinations, you can head inland to explore its lush landscape where you can stay with the locals. Located in the southern portion of Thailand, the 738 sq.km. Khao Sok National Park – one of Thailand’s largest – is a lowland jungle that’s believed to date back 160 million years, interspersed by limestone hills, hidden waterfalls and caves.
Not only is it a great place to observe wildlife like bears, gaurs, tapirs, gibbons, marbled cats, and maybe a tiger, it’s where you may spot the rare Rafflesia kerrii which blooms from October to December. The park is also home to a number of community-run stilted villages over lakes.
Khao Sok National Park
There are two main areas of the park – the area around the visitor centre, and Cheow Lan Lake.
A number of short hiking trails are accessible from the visitor centre; a dirt track from the east side of the campsite takes you to many of the waterfalls along the Sok River, while a trail from the north side leads you to the beautiful 11-tiered Sip-et Chan Waterfall.
Longer trails will require guide assistance, which can be arranged either at the visitor centre, or at one of many guesthouses and lodges near the park entrance. Various tour companies as well as guesthouses offer 3-4 day tours that combine hiking and canoeing, especially around Cheow Lan Lake with its various caves and viewpoints.
Cheow Lan Lake
The lake is probably the most popular destination within the park, where raft houses are the main attraction. Stilted atop the lake, these colourful houses are beautifully set against the backdrop of the lake and dotted with over 100 jutting jungle-clad limestone karsts. Several raft houses – which are basic but have amazing scenery – are built for tourists, with the proceeds going towards the upkeep of the park.
The vast lake is only 35 years old, created after the building of a dam when 385 families were resettled.
The only clue to its origins are the dead trees that protrude from the water as a reminder of the flooded forest. There are many caves, viewpoints and trails all accessible with boats or canoes from the raft houses.
While there are trails for wildlife-spotting, kayaking among limestone hills in morning mist is a must, where you can spot langurs, gibbons, toucans, and more.
The lake is accessible via longtail boat from the southeast side of the park, 65km from the visitor centre. Getting there requires private transportation which can be arranged via tour operators or raft houses that dot the lake. Many of the lodges employ people from the area to run the accommodation and have trained guides to run tours throughout the park, giving you an insight into this beautiful area from a local’s perspective.
Animal-spotting aside, the best time to visit is the December to April dry season. The wet season is between late April and December, and during the June to October monsoon, trails get slippery but waterfalls are in full flow.