Khao Sok national park, with the oldest evergreen tropical rainforest in Thailand, and the Cheow Lan Lake, or Rajaprapha dam must be one of the most under-visited places in Thailand. Located less than 3 hours from Phuket Airport and just over an hour from Khao Laks wide stretched beaches. It is pretty hard to understand that this place doesn’t see more visitors.
To begin with, Khao Sok was extremely isolated due to the spread of disease in the old days. People wouldn’t dare to go there. The name itself is related to “mountain and a place where people are buried”. Then communist guerrillas hid in the forest. However, after a peace settlement with the communist guerrillas, the area with its unspoiled and virgin forests became a wonderful and untouched national park in 1980. It is the greatest area of virgin forest in Southern Thailand and within its area, you find the Cheow Lan lake that was constructed as a dam for water supply and a source of electricity, but now it is also popular for fishing.
Moreover, some areas of the lake are between 50 – 100 meters deep. The making of this lake created a scenery that Thai people like to compare to Guilin and the Li River in China. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful lake in Thailand.
The mountains were once part of a barrier reef that was larger than the equivalent in Australia today. When the Indian plate collided with the Eurasian plate, forming the Himalayas and making the landmass of Thailand rotate clockwise and move south-east. The limestone, sandstone and granitic rocks were uplifted, folded and faulted, exposed to erosion by rain and water from rivers. Acidified water increased the speed of erosion.
In my mind, it is not very different from the beautiful Phang Nga Bay. Here you get freshwater, in Phang Nga saltwater.
The dam got the name the “light of the kingdom” and it is well worth a day trip for swimming and kayaking in the cool water, looking at the scenery of the limestone formations, maybe visiting a cave and every now and possibly encountering some wildlife. There are wild elephants roaming around, and on a few occasions I have seen hornbills flying high over the forest. Monkeys are also around. It is not unusual to hear gibbon song.
A private tour of the lake will cost you from 2000 baht with one of the long tail speedboats waiting at the headquarters.
From there you will go to the scenic Guilin area – where three karst cliffs arise in the lake. You can ask for some time at one of the floating resorts. Paying higher prices will take you for a longer ride, and maybe to some of the caves.
Try the cultivated deep-fried Gurami fish and don’t miss the gang som curry that most restaurants in the lake have on their menu.
Some people overnight in the floating cottages on the lake. However, I prefer to stay around one hour away from the lake in the small Khao Sok Headquarters area. Located just by the entrance to the national park You can also stay in one of the more secluded resorts in the forest.
When you stay in the village you can enjoy a sunset canoe tour of the Khao Sok river for an hour. It is worth it if you do it at the right time of the day. Early morning or just before sunset. You don’t have to work yourself, a man or lady is doing the paddling for you. Just sit down, try to spot macaque monkeys and birds, the occasional snake or spider and take plenty of pictures. This is far from adventure rafting, just slowly gliding through nature, sometimes you stop for a quick bath or some local coffee in the jungle.
Staying in Khao Sok Village also has the advantage of more choices of restaurants, you can enter the national park itself for a night hike, and there are also some local massage places in the village. If you are lucky you might see the stinky and huge Rafflesia flowering between December and March.
Be aware of macaques monkeys trying to enter your bungalow, or invading the breakfast.
A nice option to stay will be the Cliff and the River Resort. About 15 minutes drive from Khao Sok Headquarters.
It is located by a river and with a cliff in the background, a stunning view from the reception. After they upgraded and opened a new swimming pool and some new bungalows, it is worth the higher price of staying in the new section.
In the village itself, Khao Sok River Lodge is a nice option just by the river. Still, there are many choices in the headquarters area. We stayed at the Khao Sok Riverfront which seems to have shut down now. Hopefully, it can open again.
Finally, Khao Sok national park is about 70 km from the provincial capital of Surat Thani. Also a place worth its visit.