If you're traveling in Thailand and are seeking untouched nature and a bit of adventure without the crowds, Khao Sok National Park should be on your itinerary.
We have been wanting to get there for a few years, but each time we traveled to the south of Thailand, we decided it was too far out of the way. Now that we’ve been there, we can’t believe it took us so long!
Khao Sok National Park is located in southern Thailand and is known for its ancient rainforest and diverse wildlife.
Imagine centuries old bamboo forests, towering limestone karst cliffs, and a lake that will blow you away... Those are just a few of the sights you'll find in this spectacular national park.
If you're convinced to add Khao Sok to your travels in Thailand, keep reading. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip!
Planning your trip to Khao Sok National Park
Visiting Khao Sok National Park requires a bit of planning and a sense of adventure; plus it takes a bit of time to get there. But the inconvenience means you won’t find the same hordes of crowds as on the beaches in Phuket or the temples in Bangkok.
And Khao Sok isn’t exactly the type of place you come to get wasted, lay on the beach and hook up, so it attracts a different type of traveler than the Full Moon Parties and popular islands.
To be honest, there’s not a ton of information about Khao So National Park online, and the stuff that’s out there can be a bit tricky to navigate. We had a hell of a time researching and figuring out how to get to Khao Sok and what to do while we were there.
So we’ve put together this complete guide to serve as a resource for other travelers who want to add a visit to Khao Sok National Park to their Thailand itinerary.
When to visit Khao Sok National Park
The tricky thing about Khao Sok is that it is in the middle of the Thailand peninsula so the weather on both coasts effects the area. It is typical for it to rain a little bit every day (it is the rainforest after all), but it won't be down pouring for hours.
The dry season: is from November to April, but still be prepared to for showers and muddy hikes. The dry season is the best time to visit Khao Sok.
The wet season: is from May to October and we’ve been told that it’s pretty difficult to visit Khao Sok during this time because many things are closed. You can still go, but your activities may be limited.
Khao Sok National Park
First, you have to understand that Khao Sok National Park is divided into two sections:
- Khlong Sok town
- Cheow Lan Lake
Khlong Sok Town
The town is the easiest section of the park to reach from Phuket and Khao Lak, and is likely where you’ll enter Khao Sok.
While I wouldn’t describe Khao Sok as super touristy, just like any National Park, most everyone visiting is a tourist. The town is small but has plenty of restaurants, guesthouses, little convenience stores, ATMs and a couple bars. The town itself is more or less a base for exploring the park, so there’s not a ton to do, but it’s not a terrible place to spend a couple nights.
Cheow Lan Lake
The entrance to Cheow Lan Lake is located 65 kilometers away from the Khlong Sok town and the lake section of the park is likely what you’re imagining in your head. If you search Khao Sok on Google images, this is the part of the park you’ll see.
Things to do in Khao Sok
Keeping in mind that there are two sections to the national park (the town and the lake), there are many things to in each section.
Adventures around Khlong Sok town
Hiking in the National Park: There are many hiking trails that will take you by small waterfalls and swimming holes. However, you are technically only allowed to venture 3 km into the national park without a guide. If you want go any further, we highly recommend hiring a guide. The jungle gets pretty wild and we had a hard time figuring out where to go at times.
Hike the western trail to Than Sawan Waterfall: There are many small waterfalls and spots to swim along the trail the is parallel to the river. The first part is nice with huge bamboo trees and if you're lucky you will see monkeys jumping around above you.
About 3 km into the hike is a small shelter that sells water, soda, and fresh pineapple for a snack. After this shelter the trail gets narrower and hard to find at times. If you continue on toward Than Sawan Waterfall, you will have to cross the Sok River. We do not advise to continue across the river without a guide. Total hike one way is 6 km.
Hike the northern trail to Sip Et Chan Waterfall: Similar to the Than Sawan Waterfall, it is not smart to go past the 3 km mark without a guide. The total hike is 6 km one way.
River Tubing: More popular during the rainy season when the Sok River is higher, you can rent intertubes and float down the river. There are a few companies in town that provide transportation to the start and pick up. Duration: 1 - 1.5 hours. Cost: 400 - 500 baht per person.
Canoe Trip: If the thought of dangling in the water while tubing is not for you, maybe you want to try canoeing. You can visit small villages along the river and a short hike to a cave along your 2.5 hour trip. Cost: 800 baht per person.
Bamboo rafting: Get off the beaten path with this guide-led adventure on a floating bamboo raft. You'll float down the river as your guide points out different wildlife and interesting plants. You'll get off to explore a cave and do a little trekking. Duration: 5 hours. Cost: 1200 baht per person
Hiking to see the Rafflesia flower: Blooming only from December to March, the Rafflesia flower is one of the largest flowers in the world, growing up to one meter wide. This hike is lead by a guide into the national park (300 baht per day). The tour includes transportation to the start of the trail and an English speaking guide. Duration: 3-5 hours depending on location of flower. Cost: 900 baht per person
Night Safari: The jungle comes alive at night. Join this tour lead by a knowledgable guide that will show you a whole different jungle at night. Duration: 2 hours. Cost: 600 baht per person
Trip to the Cheow Lan Lake
While we enjoyed our time in the town and exploring the trails, the lake was by far the highlight of Khao Sok National Park for us. If you have only a couple days, this is where you should spend most of your time.
Navigating the lake is a bit tricky.
Basically, you can go to the lake 3 ways:
- Day Tour: Several companies in town offer day trips to Cheow Lan Lake. Prices hover around 1,500 baht per person (though you can probably find cheaper or spend more). This includes minivan transport to and from the lake, meals, a guide and a longtail boat ride.
- Overnight Tour: Many companies in town offer overnight tours to the lake. We would recommend Smileys Overnight Tour to the lake bungalows for 2,500 baht (plus the 300 baht park fee). This includes 5 meals (2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 1 dinner), a lake bungalow, transportation to and from the lake, morning and night boat safaris, and a 3 hour hike and cave trek.
- Independently: You can rent a motorbike in the town of Khlong Sok for around 300 baht per day. You can then make your way over to the dam (1 - 1.5 hours). The stretch of road is 60 kilometers and not difficult if you’ve driven before. Once you arrive at the lake, you can find a longtail boat driver. From the research we’ve done, it seems it is a set price of 1,500 baht to hire a boat and you can fit up to 6 people inside. This means the more people you have, the cheaper it is per person.
Our recommendation: We highly recommend booking an overnight tour, and we’ll explain why.
The day tours seemed really rushed, and it’s likely you’ll run into other groups wherever you go. Considering you’ll need to pay for meals and accommodation either way, the overnight tour isn’t that much more expensive, and it is totally worthwhile!
Why not independently?
We typically like to do things like this independently, as we find it is usually quite a bit cheaper and we like exploring at our own pace. That said, after adding up all the costs, it seems that going to the lake independently would only be about $10 USD cheaper than going through a tour company.
Plus, going with a company means everything is taken care of for you so you don’t need to drive yourself, hire a boat driver, and book the bungalows in advance. Lastly, we drove past the government-run bungalows and they looked, well, a little disheveled. The bungalows we stayed at through Smiley’s weren’t anything fancy, but they appeared much more comfortable than the ones you’d get going on your own.
We did a little research, and from what we found online and by comparing prices in town, Smileys Bungalow offers a pretty good deal when it comes to the overnight lake tour.
Another option: We stayed at Our Jungle Camp and they offer an overnight lake tour as well, but the price was 3,050 baht per person. Also, it seemed like a bit older and more family-oriented crowd than the younger clientele at Smiley's, so we chose the latter.
We had a fantastic experience with Smileys, and we would definitely recommend it. (Note: This article is in no way sponsored; we just want to share our experience.)
Overnight Trip to Floating Bungalows on Cheow Lan Lake with Smiley Guesthouse
I’ll start by saying that while our guide was friendly and helpful, we didn’t always know what to expect. We’re breaking down the schedule of your overnight lake excursion so you have a good idea of what exactly you’ll be doing!
Note: times may change slightly
- 8 a.m. arrive at Smileys for free breakfast (fried eggs, toast, jam and instant coffee)
- 8:30/9 a.m. shuttle departs (makes a 20 minute stop at a 7-11 where you can pick up snacks or take out money at the ATM)
- 10:30 a.m. longtail boat ride to the floating bungalows. The scenery is beautiful, and as long as the weather is clear, it shouldn’t be too bumpy of a ride.
- 11:30 a.m. arrive at lake house and check into your room. If you’d like a padlock and key as well as towels, you must provide a 500 baht deposit. It will be returned when you check out.
- 11:45 a.m. free time to swim, kayak or rest in a hammock
- 1 p.m. Lunch time! Expect rice, curries, fried vegetables, fresh fruit, etc. Vegetarian options are available.
- 1:30 p.m. free time: kayak to nearby “islands”, read in a hammock, socialize with new friends, play cards, nap, have a beer!
Hot Tip: Our personal favorite activity for free time: Diaper Float! Put your life jacket on upside down. (put your legs through the arm holes and buckle it in front). This makes it super comfortable and easy to float in the water! You’ll thank us later for this life hack!
- 5 p.m. Night Safari: This is basically a ride in the longtail boat to observe wildlife and see more of the lake. We saw wild boar, some birds and monkeys.You won’t be getting out of the boat, so don’t worry about having sturdy shoes. All you need is a camera!
- 6 p.m. return to bungalows and relax or freshen up
- 7 p.m. Dinner!
- 8 p.m. Drinks, socializing, games, entertainment!
After dinner, most people stuck around the common area and ordered drinks. You can purchase beer (Chang) for 80 baht, mixed drinks for 150 baht or buckets for 350 baht.
Ben and I shared a bucket (and eventually ordered another!), and we found it to be a good deal compared to getting single cocktails. Bonus/Warning: They make the buckets quite strong! And don't forget your reuseable straw.
The son of one of the workers did a little “fire show” with a stick that had flashlights attached to either end, which was cute. He also changed into a little Muay Thai outfit and showed off a bit. After his time in the spotlight, our tour guide, Guy, put on a quick fire show (with real fire, not flashlights!).
The common area got quite lively, with people playing beer pong, Jenga, cards and jumping into the lake. This lasted until around midnight, when the staff stopped selling beer, and the majority of people went to bed.
Hot tip: Be sure to check out the stars if it is a clear night. And if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even take a kayak out to really see them surrounded by blackness.
- 6:00 a.m. enjoy the sunrise (optional, but we recommend at least opening your eyes and peeking outside!)
- 6:45 a.m. grab a (instant) coffee or tea in the common area if you need some caffeine
- 7:00 a.m. “Morning Safari” – again, this is a boat ride, where you’ll look out for wildlife and see more of the lake
- 8:00 a.m. Breakfast
- 8:30 a.m. pack your bags and check out of your room (get your deposit back). You can store your bags in the common area.
- 9:00 a.m. Nam Talu Cave trek – this is definitely a highlight!
- 30-minute longtail boat ride
- hour-long easy hike through the jungle until you reach the cave
- hour-long hike through the cave
We’ve explored a lot of caves on our travels, but none have been quite like this one! You’ll see bats, TONS of spiders, crickets and fish in this cave. Also, much of the time you’ll be walking through water. Expect water that is chest-deep in some places (if you’re short like me!), and a few narrow areas.
Smileys provides water shoes and headlamps if you don’t have your own.
Tip: Bring a dry bag on this trek!
- 1:00 p.m. return to lake house and have lunch
- 2:30 p.m. longtail boat departs
- 3:30 p.m. minivan ride back to town
- 4:30 p.m. arrive back at Smiley Guesthouse in Khlong Sok.
Smiley Lake House Resort
Smiley Resort is laid out with a central restaurant and common space with walkways on either end that connect to bungalows. There are 4 types of bungalows, and it seems like the type you get depends on who you book your tour through.
If you book directly through Smileys (like we did), you get the nicest bungalows. The other, more basic bungalows are filled with people on longer tours of Thailand for whom this is just one stop on the itinerary.
There are about 40 bungalows in total, and during our stay, there were roughly 80 people staying there, though the tour groups kind of stick to themselves, so it was kind of segregated.
We had 7 people in our group, and another group joined us later. The group was varied, with three solo female travelers from the UK and the US, a middle-aged French couple and us.
The Floating Bungalows
The bungalows are basic, but nice. Ours had two queen mattresses on a platform, a loft and big windows that let in lots of light. We had a toilet (which sort of worked), as well as a shower and sink in a small outdoor area in the back of the bungalow.
If you’re expecting luxury, this isn’t it. But if you’re okay with basic accommodation for a night, we think you’ll really enjoy your stay!
Noteworthy: There were two fans, which kept the room quite cool, but little after midnight the power is shut off. If you don’t have your windows open (like us!), you’ll wake up sweating! Once we opened up all the windows, it cooled down quite a bit. (The bugs weren’t bad while we were there!)
How to book overnight tour to Cheow Lan Lake
You can fill out this inquiry form online and you’ll receive a message back from Smileys to confirm your stay. You’ll pay in cash in person.
You can also call Smileys to make your reservation or show up in person, though you might risk it being fully booked. We were fine booking 2 days in advance, but it might be a good idea to book further in advance, especially during the busiest part of the season.
What to pack to Cheow Lan Lake Khao Sok
It is a good idea to pack a small bag to bring with you to the lake and leave everything else behind in town. Smileys will even store it for you, which makes travel to and from the lake so much more pleasant.
Here’s what you should pack for your overnight trip:
- Dry bag: This is seriously a lifesaver when traveling in the Thai islands, and it was essential while we were in Khao Sok. We were able to stash our phones, wallet, cameras and other valuables inside while kayaking and trekking through water. You can buy one like this before your trip, or you can find all different sizes for sale in the south of Thailand. We have a 10-liter dry bag and are happy with the size (not too big, but fits my big DSLR comfortably) and I believe we paid about 800 baht when we purchased it in Koh Tao 2.5 years ago. It’s still kickin’!
- Playing Cards
- Reusable straw: At night, a lot of people will hang around the common area and socialize over drinks. Enjoy yours with a reusable straw instead of the plastic kind!
- Water bottle: they provide drinking water, so you can simply fill it up!
- Swim suit
- Chacos (or similar shoes – good for trekking and getting wet): Smiley’s also provides water shoes if you do not have your own, but we are always more comfortable in our own pair!
- Bug spray/balm
- Towel: You can use a towel at the lakehouse if you provide a 500 baht deposit, which is returned to you once you return the towel.
- Headlamp: You will be given a headlamp on the cave hike (you need it!), but they were pretty smelly and mine was super tight, giving me a headache. If you have your own and it’s bright, it’s not a bad idea to bring it along!
- Clothes for trekking you don’t mind getting wet
- Swim suit cover up
- Comfy outfit for lounging
- Flip flops
- Snacks: meals are great and all you can eat, but if you like to snack between meals bring your own food since there is nowhere to buy anything at the lake house.
A note on Internet: There is WiFi and 3G (slow) cell service in the town, but you will be out of cell signal while on the lake. On Smileys brochure, it says when the weather is good they can have AIS cell service from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. During our visit, there was no signal even though the weather was great. It wasn’t a big deal for us, since we were happy to disconnect, but we know it’s nice to have a heads up so you’re prepared!
Getting to and from Khao Sok
When you arrive, the minivan will drop you off at the bus stop right on Highway 401. The closest guesthouses are about 1 km away, so it is possible to walk. But if you have bags and it is hot, it might be worthwhile to take a shared taxi truck (songthaew). No matter where you are headed, the price is 50 baht per person.
Tip: Some of the higher end guesthouses may provide shuttle services, so check ahead of time.
Getting out of Khao Sok can be a bit difficult depending on where you are headed next. All transportation leaves from the same bus stop you got dropped off at on Highway 401. You can book public buses to Phuket (220 baht, 4 hours to Phuket Town) or to Surat Thani from the mini mart on the south side of Highway 401.
Where to stay in Khao Sok National Park
We stayed at two different places in Khao Sok. Originally, we booked one night at Our Jungle Camp because we weren’t sure when we’d do the lake tour. But they were fully booked on the second day, so we had to move.
Here are the two places we stayed. We really liked both of them (for different reasons):
- Beautiful location (but 1 km from town)
- On-site restaurant with yummy food!
- Nice bungalow and gorgeous view for enjoying an afternoon drink
- younger crowd
- good food
- located closer to town
Note: Many of the guesthouses in Khao Sok National Park are on the rustic side. If you are very picky and will not be happy in basic accommodation or seeing a bug or two in your room, you may want to choose a higher end hotel.