Sah wah dee khrap! When I asked a friend that is now an expat living in Phuket about places to go in Thailand while travelling solo, backpacking in Khao Sok National Park was one of the first ones he mentioned.
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This green patch of land in Southern Thailand has a perfect location whilst you’re moving across the popular destinations of Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui or making your way north to Bangkok after the southern islands.
I spent two nights backpacking in Khao Sok and even afterwards I have mixed feelings about this beautiful place.
Nowadays is very popular to go backpacking in Khao Sok so you will find buses coming from almost any large town in Southern Thailand.
I took a mini-van from Ao Nang (with a change in Krabi) after spending a glorious week Backpacking in Tonsai.
The buses will drop you at the town of Khao Sok, which is right by the entrance of the National Park.
One of things that makes me have mixed feelings about this place is that the options available for solo hiking are quite limited.
With just a couple of short hikes available with no guides. After talking for a while with the park rangers, where they charge you a 300thb entry fee, I was told by themselves (and by friends on the previous days) that those hikes were not going to be really exciting.
I decided to just look for a lake tour which I was told was the thing to do, this is technically possible to do it on your own by renting a motorbike and then a boat.
However, it will be a lot more expensive than a tour and doing it by yourself it’ll not be an overnight trip, I’m not a big fan of organised tours, but seems I had to do it that way…
The tours are normally with a one night stay on the lake in floating huts. There are one day options as well if you want to return back to town instead, although I don’t see the point on these ones, as yes, you save a bit of money but you miss out on the most beautiful parts of the park.
Before booking something I stayed for a while chatting with a nice couple at the hostel and when I realised it was getting late I rushed out to book the tour.
I was a bit surprised that even with the amount of tour agencies around every single one was already sold out for the next day (!!!) and only though persistence I managed to organise something with an agency as I told them that I was happy to camp with my own tent (which also helped me bring the price down).
As a reference, the prices in Jan ’19 were starting from 2500thb for the overnight tours (not cheap for sure…)
Learning story, do not leave it until too late to book a tour, the day before is fine, just not in the evening before.
Early in the morning you get picked up by a mini-van that will drive to the beautiful Cheow Lan Lake by the Ratchaprapa Dam. This takes about 90min.
It’s worth pointing out that this lake is man-made, created in the early 80’s as the result of the Thai government pushing for hydroelectric power generation for the south of Thailand.
A number of villages were evacuated and an entire new ecosystem and landscape formed.
Once the van drops you off, it’s time to take a boat towards camp, there are quite a few of these “floating huts hotels”, it took us about 1 hour to get to ours.
The place itself was actually quite pretty, the bungalows are basic, mine had a plug but didn’t work so don’t count on external sources to charge your phone/gadgets.
When we reached the camp, the organisers realised that either someone cancelled or was left behind, so there was an empty bungalow that they let me take without having to pay more.
Once everyone settled and had about an hour for swimming and relaxing we had lunch (which was abundant) and then prepared for the cave hike.
First we took a 2 min boat to the start of the trails and here is when you see all the groups from all the other “floating villages hotels” grouped.
The hike is not long, but it took us about 2 hours to finish at a painfully slow pace. Make sure to bring shoes that you’re happy to soak as there are many river crossings.
This was the least enjoyable part of the entire trip. On one side, the scenery is cool, the walk has different terrains and involves some small river crossing and the cave is pretty awesome. But when you have 22 people of all ages and abilities, you can certainly guarantee that it will be a really slow walk.
Putting the pace aside, the park actually has the ingredients to be one of the best places I visited in Thailand.
The cave had some great caverns full of bats and spiders, we even saw a python! huge stalactites and stalagmites, and the internal river is powerful at times and quite deep at others, there are some crossings of just a few meters that you have to float-swim, bearing in mind that you can’t soak your head because of the head torch.
All in all pretty cool. But yes, there will be crowds.
On the way back to camp we still had couple of hours to kill before dinner so I took one of the Kayaks available, there are not many so you need to be quick to grab one!
Dinner was good again, you can repeat as much as you want so I made sure to get a bit of my money back there! 🙂
The following morning I woke up pretty early as I wanted to enjoy the place while it was still quiet.
Sitting outside my hut, seeing the sunrise colours changing and the entire camp in peace was one of those moments I truly enjoy.
The first thing we did in the morning was a “boat safari”, I can only laugh at that name as the most we managed to see were some macaques, after seeing hundreds of them everywhere in Thailand this was not really an exciting thing.
The really annoying bit was actually the guides breaking the most basic rules of a “safari” as they were constantly making lots of noise and shouting/talking loudly with other boats.
You can of course count that no animal will ever show its presence with that much noise.
Back into camp it was breakfast time, a couple of hours to relax and another boat tour around what they call “mini Halong Bay”, it was a pretty sight but nothing extraordinary.
A quick lunch followed and we went to take the mini van back at around noon.
All in all, there were cool things on this trip. For the sort of things I like to do I’d have actually skipped it if I knew the size of the groups as that was the painful bit. But if you don’t mind hiking very slowly then go for it as only the cave hike is already worth doing.
Feel free to drop up any questions if you’re thinking to go backpacking in Khao Sok National Park! or have a look at my others posts while solo backpacking in Thailand for more ideas on your trip!