The only encounter I’ve had with leeches, prior to my trip to Khao Sok National Park in Thailand, was in Australia of all places. Friends and I were visiting the Barrington Tops National Park, a range of mountains on the east coast, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Sydney. They are supposed to be rather beautiful.
I say supposed to be, because we spent our three days there being rained on, traipsing around muddy puddles, wading across rivers, and learning that Australia is not only home to creatures that want to kill you, it also has a number that are happy to just suck on your blood.
I would say that it wasn’t exactly a high point of our trip – between the leech battles, the never ending rain, and the struggles with leaking tents, it could best be described as character building. Character building with leech lessons.
Fast forward a couple of years, and we found ourselves in Thailand, visiting the Khao Sok National Park for five days. We spent one of those days getting shipwrecked and having adventures in a raft house, which you can read about in this post.
Today though, I’m going to focus more on the rest of the park, looking at what you can get up to beyond lazing in a lake house, plus some logistics for getting there and away and where to stay. And yes, leeches are going to raise their sticky little heads at some point in this post.
Khao Sok National Park is a little bit confusing. There are two distinct parts to it – the lake and the village, which due to the vagaries of road construction and geography, are around ninety minutes apart by vehicle.
Both are worth visiting – the lake for scenery that is just out of this world, and the village for a laid back vibe and all kinds of exciting jungle activities.
What to do in Khao Sok
Hike in the jungle
The main draw of Khao Sok National Park is the rainforest, which is the largest area of virgin forest left in Southern Thailand, and the last part of a rainforest that dates from before the Amazon. It’s stuffed full of flora and fauna, with something for everyone, from monkeys to giant flowers.
Naturally this means that any visit to Khao Sok should involve a trip into this spectacular rainforest, and there are a number of walks that you can access directly from the village.
We did two of the hikes in the park, a 14km trek to a waterfall and an 8km trek to another waterfall. What can I say – I like waterfalls.
The first of these was, I must admit, fairly arduous, and not exactly what could be described as well travelled or well marked, particularly after the first easy 3km were up. It went up and down a lot, had a habit of branching unpredictably, and to be honest it’s kind of a miracle we didn’t get horribly lost.
In addition, it didn’t take long before we noticed our legs were bleeding, and discovered that we had picked up a fair conglomeration of little blood sucking friends between us. Between stopping every ten minutes to check for leeches (read: hop around screaming and flailing a lot) and the baking heat, this was one walk that wasn’t exactly at the top of my must-do walks ever.
I’d love to report that the waterfall at the end of the walk was worth the effort, but other than a quick dip in the pool to cool down, it wasn’t all that.
Still, we learnt a lot about how to deal with leeches, which set us up nicely for our next walk, the shorter 8km round trip to another waterfall. The rainforest wasn’t going to beat us that easily. Vera bought some seriously fashionable leech socks (large white knee length socks that are made out of a thick cotton that leeches can’t bite through). I went for the option of dousing my feet in DEET. Vera’s approach worked better, and is the option I would recommend in hindsight.
The second walk was a lot nicer, being well marked with interesting variations in landscape, from bamboo forests to immense buttress trees. Plus it had a worthwhile waterfall at the end. Of the two, I think it’s pretty obvious which I’d recommend!
If you do plan on doing either of these walks, then I can recommend reading up on my guide to preparing for a day hike, and at the very least carrying lots of water. It’s hot out there! Entry to the National Park was 200 Baht per person per entry.
Take a canoe or tube ride
If you’d rather see the jungle in a slightly more relaxed style, then there are a couple of water based options you might want to consider. We took a canoe ride down a local river, an activity we arranged through our accommodation provider. This slower and quieter transport option let us get up close to wildlife that perhaps we might not have seen during our leech filled jungle tramples, including seeing some fantastic snakes hanging out in trees.
If the river levels are high enough, you can also go tubing from Khao Sok village itself, and most of the guesthouses have tubes you can hire out to do just that.
Wander to see the worlds largest flower
If you are lucky enough to be in Khao Sok at the right time of year, then you might get a chance to go and see the world’s largest flower in bloom. We weren’t so lucky, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be. Our poor luck also means I don’t have a picture to share of it. Here’s some bamboo instead.
At around a metre wide, the Rafflesia is a serious bit of flower. It only grows in a few places in the world, flowers for a few days at a time, and smells horribly of rotting meat. It’s also carnivorous, so don’t get too close.
The easiest way to see it is with an arranged tour, with guides who will know where to find one that is in bloom. Most guesthouses will be able to arrange this sort of tour for you.
Lie in a hammock and compare leech stories
Seriously, all this doing things is quite tiring. Particularly when it involves fending off hordes of leeches. Or the thought of fending off hordes of leeches. So why not do what holidays are designed for, and do nothing. I know, a to-do list with “nothing” as an option. This is mould-breaking stuff, people.
Khao Sok village, and particularly the guest house we stayed in, seemed perfect for a bit of down time. Good food, interesting company, hammocks – what more could you need for a bit of you-time? Add a chilled beer or two and you’ll be set. Who needs to go out the door, right?
Enjoy the local scene
If lying in your hammock isn’t quite exciting enough for you, then you can head out to sample the delights of Khao Sok village. This, I must admit, is a bit of an odd place, or at least it was when we visited, which may well have been the off season. I’m not sure.
The main street has all sorts of bars and places to go have a party, from the obligatory reggae themed bar playing Bob Marley on loop to the, well, other reggae themed bars playing Bob Marley on loop. Ok, so there are some other bars which aren’t reggae themed. Which may or may not play reggae. Still, they are all very nice, and some of them have fire pits to enjoy your beer around on a cooler evening.
The strange thing that we found was that everywhere was deserted, other than the motley crue of travellers we managed to assemble for our night out, which included a Swedish sushi chef and a laid back Californian. It felt like a town on the cusp of being discovered. Or in the off season. Again, I have no idea. Maybe when those flower hunting botanists come into town the place kicks off. Get in while it’s quiet, I say.
How to get there
Getting to Khao Sok isn’t too hard. If you’re coming down from Bangkok, then a good option is the overnight train from Bangkok down to Surat Thani, and then the local bus from Surat Thani, which takes a couple of hours. If you do this, be sure to book the night train well in advance as this is a very popular route and books up early.
We didn’t do this and ended up on a train that got into Surat Thani at 4am. This is not an optimal time to arrive anywhere.
Coming from the south, you can catch a bus from Phuket, which leave fairly regularly. Other towns also have services, but as the bus system in Thailand isn’t entirely scheduled, it is best to check with locals.
Where to stay – in Khao Sok Village
Khao Sok village has a good number of guesthouses to choose from. The trip we were on was arranged by Thailand’s tourism authority, who chose Smiley’s Guest house for us. We liked it so much that when our arranged visit was over, we stayed another four nights on our own budget.
Smiley’s was perfect for us. The on-site restaurant cooked up some of the best Massaman Curry I’ve ever had (I had it four nights out of six!), the wooden bungalows on stilts came with en-suite, jungle view and hammock equipped terraces, as per the photo above, and the staff went way out of their way to help out. On our last day, when we missed our bus, the owner loaded us up in her car and drove after the bus until we caught it. And yes – everyone is smiley!
Prices for accommodation when we were there ranged from 300 Baht to 600 Baht per bungalow per night. Free Wi-Fi was also available in public areas.
Smiley’s can also arrange tours of pretty much everything you might want to do in the area, including viewing the largest flower in the world, tubing down the river, and kayaking. In addition, they offer a lake tour, which brings me to the next point:
Where to stay – at Khao Sok Lake
Staying at Khao Sok lake requires you to stay on one of the lakehouses, of which there were sixteen at last count. These are usually all-inclusive affairs, sometimes including transport to and from the pier, as well as the boat ride, food and accommodation.
The prices for these all inclusive affairs range from the basic 800 Baht a night option, for which you are looking at a simple room with fan, up to well in excess of 10,000 Baht a night for a slightly posher room, likely including air conditioning, which you probably won’t need. Whichever option you go for, you’re going to get an amazing view and have an incredible time.
Well, that’s it for our tour of Khao Sok. As you can tell from the post, part of our trip in Khao Sok was arranged as part of our collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, including some of the activities we took part in. Our opinions remain our own, as always!