Ever dreamed of a place hidden from tourist ridden frenzy and where the words majestic and pristine exist in blissful abandon? A place where you can immerse yourself in the lap of nature cheered on by gibbons and where you’d probably have the best swim ever…the answer to your dreams is Khao Sok.
Khao Sok is a national park in southern Thailand, roughly in the middle of the country. It encompasses 739 square km of reserved forests which includes a virgin 165 square km lake named Cheow Larn. After the Ratchaprapha dam was built in 1982, the dam flooded a valley between amazingly tall limestone cliffs that look like crocodile teeth.
The park is a bit hard to get, yes, but that is also one of its advantages. One needs to find “special” vans to get there, and there aren’t many. You can get there from Phuket or Surat Thani, the latter being the closer option. Surat Thani is the land port where one would arrive if coming from Koh Tao, Koh Pha Ngan or Koh Samui (islands on the south east coast). From there the ride would take about two hours, whereas from Phuket it can take up to six hours.
One afternoon I remember I was looking down the middle of the green water lake where I was swimming alone. The rays of the sun disappeared somewhere in the water before they could illuminate anything and my legs where the only thing I could see. I looked up at the beautiful flamingo pink sky and saw the sun setting between the mountains.
The sounds of the monkeys and other animals in the not so distant trees provided the perfect ambient music. I tasted the water and enjoyed the rare flavour of something truly natural. I realized I was swimming in amazingly fresh water that happened to have the perfect temperature and that’s when I thought to myself: “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else”
Khao Sok national park has a tiny village by the entry gate and it basically functions as a guesthouse town that takes care of all the basic needs of the visiting tourists. I took a couple of days to rent a motorbike to go around the area. The highway around the park is very lonely but nice and there are a couple Buddhist temples filled with friendly monkeys and a pretty waterfall close-by that one can trek to.
However, the real attraction starts when one books a “tour” to the lake and the many hidden gems surrounding it. The tour includes a boat ride, a bed in one of the floating huts and all of your meals. There are a variety of tour options and you can choose one based on the length of your stay, the sights visited or the meals. Be warned, this town is pretty lonely during low season and you may need to wait a day or two for a tour. Don’t just turn up unannounced expecting a tour to leave when you would like it to. Remember this is Thailand and more importantly laid back Khao Sak and things move at an entirely different pace here.
The food in Khao Sak was delicious and some of the best Thai food I ate through my travels. The lake is home to some pretty big fish and the young lads at Khao Sok catch them with a speargun, apnea style despite the deep waters.
Even now it brings me great joy when I think of the sweet, sour and spicy flavours of the fish curries and the delicious desserts and the drinks. I had barely digested my first meal and the next would be served already. If there was one bad thing, it had to be the leeches. Those tricky little buggers will find some way or the other to crawl up your shoe and onto your leg. They are like little jungle ninjas, you don’t hear them or see them and they get what they came for. Locals suggestions using tobacco leafs and tobacco water, it reduces the pace of the leech and intoxicates them. However this process just slows down the leech and doesn’t really get rid of them.
I’d suggest using insect repellent from feet and ankles upwards and wear shorts so that your trekking buddies can help you when they spot a nasty leech that you haven’t even felt yet. Don’t get too worried and think of it this way: they were (and in some places they still are) used to treat diseases, so they can’t be that bad, right? If I were you however I’d head to Khao Sok as soon as possible to make the most of all that it is: green, clean, unspoilt and pristine. Just be sure you leave it the way you found it.
Written and Photographed by: Elias Garcia