Khao Sok National Park: rainforest-covered hills, soaring limestone cliffs and scenic lake expanses

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

Unique Trip Thailand

Words: Mark Glanville
Photos: Phuwadol Jankhum
Published: November 1, 2018

Khao Sok National Park in the southern province of Surat Thani is known for its age’s old rainforest and the diverse wildlife that lives within it, for its hills, waterfalls and caves, and for its limestone cliffs and picturesque lake waters of turquoise and emerald green that lend themselves to longtail boat exploration of a truly exotic nature.

The park covers 739 sq km of Phanom and Ban Takhun districts on the Surat Thani mainland, and is comprised of two distinct areas – Klong Sok Town which is where many visitors enter into the national park and where accordingly there are guesthouse and bungalow accommodation, restaurants and small stores; and Cheow Lan Lake.

Around 65 km from Klong Sok Town, Cheow Lan Lake is actually an artificial lake or reservoir some 185 sq km in size that was formed in the late 1980s with the construction of the Rajjaprabha Dam.

For many who visit Khao Sok National Park, Cheow Lan Lake is the highlight, and for good reason. Towering limestone outcrops with cliffs that burst upward out of the lake’s placid waters and the lush forest that borders the shoreline in all directions makes for a dramatic and unmistakably exotic landscape.

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

It is possible to do a daytrip to Cheow Lan Lake, but it’s well worthwhile staying a night or two at one of the various raft houses or floating bungalow resorts spread throughout the lake’s six tributary regions. At a distance of 15-16 km, the two nearest tributaries to the longtail boat pier at Rajjaprabha Dam – the main jump-off point for the lake – are Khlong Long and Khlong Ka.

Those resorts situated on the far west side of the lake (with the pier being in the southeast corner of the lake) are two to three hours journey by longtail boat, but taking in the picturesque scenery along the way certainly helps pass the time.

Among these is 500 Rai Floating Resort which enjoys a particularly scenic setting in the Khlong Yee tributary about 27 km from the pier, nestled up against a dense forested backdrop and looking out across a vast expanse of Cheow Lan Lake to the towering mountains of the far shore. Among the more upmarket of the lake’s various resorts, this six-year-old property offers 18 duplex rooms each with a main bedroom on the ground floor and a second bed in the area aloft.

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

With a welcoming, nature-inspired décor of plush wood, all rooms feature their own ensuite bathroom with shower, soap and shampoo amenities, around-the-clock electricity, air conditioning at night and an outdoor terrace with lake access and a private kayak.

An open-air restaurant and bar serves breakfast, lunch and dinner that’s included in the stay (in-room dining is also available upon request) and this connects out on to a relaxation deck and swimming pool cleverly designed in such a way that it almost seems one with the lake itself. At night the deck is the perfect spot for cocktails and star gazing.

Much of 500 Rai Floating Resort’s staff are from the local community, who can be seen arriving for work if not by longtail boat then by kayak. This and other community support the resort provides is a key objective in the operation of the property, along with adherence to eco-friendly management, conservation and sustainable tourism.

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

500 Rai Floating Resort is very much for those who want to embrace the natural beauty and environment of the area and at the same time even learn a little about the southern Thai culture. Activities on offer to guests include a two-and-a-half hour visit by longtail boat to the picturesque and easily climbable Pad-Zian Waterfall, two hour boat safari into Klong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary, three-and-a-half hour exploration of nearby Coral Cave and its intriguing formations and four hour trekking excursion through forest and cave terrain.

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani
Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

Likewise, other resorts on the lake offer sightseeing excursions to nearby attractions like caves and waterfalls and activities such as kayaking, hiking and wildlife-watching. While Khao Sok National Park is home to the likes of the Malayan tapir, Asian black bear, elephant, gaur (Indian bison), wild boar, deer, gibbon and hundreds of bird species including different breeds of hornbill, stork, osprey, eagle, kingfisher and parrot to name just a few, these are rarely seen close to areas of human activity.

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani
Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

More likely to be spotted are some of the park’s various lizard, snake and amphibian species and birds like the Great Argus pheasant. Macaques may make the odd appearance, and it’s not uncommon to hear the call of gibbons in the morning.

The abundant nature on offer at Cheow Lan Lake is enough to make one forget that there is limited or no cell phone or internet connection in large parts of the area. But surrounded by such scenic beauty, would one even miss it.

Getting there

Khao Sok National Park can be accessed from Klong Sok the main visitor center area at the park’s far west where there is guesthouse and bungalow accommodation and restaurant and store facilities. This is also where buses from Surat Thani or Takua Pa will drop off Khao Sok-bound travellers. Around 65 km from Klong Sok is Cheow Lan Lake and the longtail boat pier at Rajjaprabha Dam is the main jump-off point for the lake.

Tours can also be taken that include transfers to and from Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lak, Samui and Surat Thani and come with accommodation and activities. Tour duration of two to four nights is recommended. Driving time to Khao Sok National Park from Phuket is around three hours and a half, from Krabi three hours and from Khao Lak or Surat Thani two hours and a half.

Khao Sok National Park Surat Thani

Checking in

Guesthouse and bungalow accommodation is available in Klong Sok, while there are various raft houses and floating bungalow resorts on Cheow Lan Lake. These are spread throughout different tributary regions of the lake and are accessed from the longtail boat pier at Rajjaprabha Dam, and they offer packages of varying stay length.