Khao Sok National Park is covered by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, and has the famous limestone mountains as the backdrop to the emerald-colored lake. It has ancient rainforest, limestone cliffs, waterfalls & rare flora & fauna. The park is a large man made lake in the nature preserve called Cheow Larn Lake with several floating huts that you can stay at overnnight in the park. There is kayaking, swimming and boat tours of the lake. The park is home to rare species such as the giant parasitic Rafflesia flower, hornbill birds, gibbons and tigers. There are caves, hiking trails and boat safaris that you can take on the river as well as canoe and kayak rides. This was definitely so far one of the biggest highlights in exploring Thailand and was an amazing experience.
How to get there
When you show up to the remote boat dock location on the edge of the lake it is pretty isolated. You must arrange a private taxi transfer to there and out of there or take a group tour bus. Mostly the boat trips are included in your stay at whatever floating hut you choose. It is best to tour the lake and stay one night in a hut because it is harder to book a private boat day tour of the lake. The park is 3 hours away from Krabi and Phuket area and you can book transfers from the Phuket or Krabi airport as well. It is important to know that you must set up your transportation in advance to get out of the park or into the park.
You can take the overnight train from Bangkok’s Hualanphong Station to Surat Thani. The trains leave around 6-11pm and arrive around 8am in Surat Thani at Phun Pin train station. It is recommended to take the first class carriages as lower class standard tickets have crowded trains and you get a bunk to sleep in first class. If you book a tour there is free pick up at 08:00 from Surat Thani’s Phun Pin station every day! The overnight train could save time and money in lodging on your trip if you can still sleep and get ok rest on the train. The train cost is 107-1839 baht or $3-$60USD depending on what class of train or if you take the express. This is another great option if you are traveling from Bangkok that is budget and more comfortable potentially than doing a long bus trip especially a cramped minibus.
There are minibuses you can take from Phuket, Krabi, Surat Thani, and Koh Samui. You can do a one way transfer or return. It is important to know that you must set up your transportation in advance to get out of the park. There are no taxis or song taos or any other form of transportation waiting at the boat dock area and you will have a very difficult time trying last minute to share a taxi with another party that has already reserved their transfer. The price one way from Phuket or Krabi area is $136USD or $272 USD roundtrip. The trip from Surat Thani is $106-$212 for single or return trip. The minibuses are the most cramped and feel the most uncomfortable to me of transportation in Thailand. So it is ironic to me that they are more expensive than the busses that you can take. The regular buses have more space for you to sit. I have taken minibuses before that had all the seats full in the small 10 seater van and people kept boarding and sitting and standing in the small isle with very little air conditioning inside. This is one of the most expensive and uncomfortable options. I really don’t recommend taking the minibus.
The tickets for the bus can be bought at the station or through a travel company. It is best to try to book your ticket a few days in advance to guarantee your spot. The bus from Surat Thani leaves at 7am, takes 1 hour and costs only 80 baht. The bus leaves Phuket at 7:30am and takes 5-6 hours and costs 180 baht. There is a bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani that takes 10 hours and then you would still have to take the bus 1-2 hours to Kao sok and make it a two day trip. The bus trips can be crowded and hot depending on the bus. The bathroom stops are difficult because they don’t announce them and you never know when they are or for how long. People who easily get car sick should avoid taking the bus. However, this is a budget option if you have time in your trip schedule and you are trying to save money and cut corners somewhere. This is the best budget option for your money!
This is the most expensive option but is also the most practical in your travel time and plans to maximize your trip and be able to do everything that you want to do. This is the most comfortable and air conditioned option that will not be cramped. There are many different companies that you can arrange in advance with different drivers. The private taxi transfer for a sedan for two people from Krabi area costs $88USD with Khao Sok Transfer company. A 4 person party this distance is $98USD. To have a private minibus van that holds up to 8 people is only 100 baht more than the 4 person party vehicle SUV. Doing a two way private transfer in and out of the park will cost around $160-$200USD.
There are several 2-4 day group tours that take you jungle trekking, canoeing on the lake and spend time with elephants in the wild. If you would prefer to do more activities this would be a good way for you to tour the park. When you reserve a night in a floating hut and get taken out it is very beautiful and relaxing. However, there are not many activities and it is difficult from there to go do much. I really enjoyed personally just having space to take in the lake and swim and kayak a bit. If your vision though is doing more activities and hiking and actually spending time in the jungle it is best to do a pre-arranged group tour.
When to Visit
The park is open year round with Thailand’s climate. June-November is the more humid and rainy season in the jungle of the park. The temperatures are coolest during the wet periods because the rain reduces the heat. If you want to visit with less rain and during the heat and sun it is best to visit December-May. September and October are the coolest months and March and April the warmest on average to visit. Most of Thailand only has two seasons, dry and wet. Also try to avoid traveling during holidays as this is the most crowded time. The Buddhist and school holidays for Thailand are very busy times in the park.
Khao Sok National Park Entry Fees
The park is open daily 8-5pm and you are charged an entry fee per day that you enter into the park. The fee helps in the upkeep and maintenance of the park. Thailand nationals are charged a reduced rate. The adult fees for tourists is 300 baht and 150 baht for children. Thailand national adults are 40 baht and children 20 baht. Every person must pay the entry fee and be stamped for the day taking the boat onto the lake. If you have an arranged tour or floating hotel then only one day ticket is necessary. They will not force you to buy another ticket in the morning just to get out of the park.
What to bring
The area is very tropical and there are many bugs on the lake. It is recommended to bring bug spray. Especially at night they are out and everywhere. If you visit during rainy season definitely pack a raincoat and get a poncho. The downpours in Thailand are heavy especially in the dense jungle that is this national park. The lake is amazing for swimming and you should bring a swimsuit.
There are ethical elephant tours to see them in the wild in the park. There are jungle safari tours of the park trekking on some hiking trails. There are many water sports available such as canoeing, kayaking and bamboo rafting. You can also take group boat tours to see further parts of the lake. There are sunset and sunrise tours daily on the lake for guests to experience the wildlife.
Where to stay
Panvaree, The Greenery
This floating bungalow hotel is one of the most unique and fun experiences in all of Thailand and Asia. This should be on your bucket list. This place was gorgeous in a remote location on Chew Larn Lake with its own kayaks. The hotel offers a boat transfer service from the main pier in the national park. This is included in your fee for staying there per night. They have a restaurant that serves all meals and a small store that sells snacks and drinks. There are limited options and the food is traditional Thai food. It is smart to pack and bring snacks and things you want with you for your time staying on the lake. The hotel costs $200-400 a night depending on the season and whether it is low or high season. This experience is worth it for a night even. For more pricing and booking details check here.