Khao Sok national park is one of the most beautiful national parks in Thailand. It is located about 100km west from Surat Thani and makes it great “next to” destination after beaching at Koh Samui island. The park is full of limestone karts formations raising from flat land like tower guards of two main parts – forested hiking part with entrance gate connected to the village where most of the accommodation is located and 60km away lake part which is probably the main reason why you want to visit this area.
As the park becomes more famous and influx of tourist (and their money) is raising, amount of tours available and pressure to take them is on the raise as well. We are not fan of group tours or overpaying for experience you can do cheaper and more comfortable by your own taste, so we explored how to visit both parts of park by yourself.
Cheow (Chiew) Lan Lake
The lake has huge area of 165 square km and was created artificially in 1982 by construction of Rajjaprapha Dam as the source of energy. That creates unique scenery where steep karts walls are ascending straight from the water surface reaching hundred of meters heights.
If you are staying at the village close to the park headquarters, basically every place will offer you plenty of tours to the lake. Day tours start at 1000 baht per person (more likely 1500 for good one) and entrance fee to the park is not included (another 300 baht).
On your own:
First you need to rent motorbike in one of the many rentals around park headquarters (considering you are staying there). We inquired several rentals and they all claimed the price 300 baht per motorbike per day which is above average in Thailand, but it seems they keep kind of oligopoly to make more money. Just pick one which offers good motorbike. Don’t forget to ask for helmets and drive with international driving license or you are risking fine / bribe for driving without it.
Pier of the Cheow Lan Lake (8.977402, 98.820607) is 65km far away from HQ and can be easily reached by motorbike. It is actually really beautiful ride with incredible karsts formations all around, just be careful about the traffic.
Once you parked your bike and entered the Pier building you can see the pricing board on the wall next to the toilet.
On the left side are the prices for smaller 10 people boat and on the right side for the bigger 20 people boat. It is good place to talk to other travellers (there will be plenty around) and share the boat with them to get better price.
If you check the following map, you can see all different destinations and create the plan of places which you want to visit.
Be careful because nobody will offer you fair price as stated on the boards (and we didn’t notice the prices until we came back from the trip so we overpaid as well), so you will have to bargain and point it out.
We met another group of people there and shared a trip to Guilin and up to the Plern Prai and Prai Wan. You can also go to Cave north of Prai Wan, but you will need to change the boat to the raft for the last piece (and paying extra for that and entrance fee for the cave), so we skipped that and enjoyed just scenery of the lake. We felt it was just enough. The price for big boat (20 people) we paid was 3300 baht, divided by 8 people it makes 400 baht per person.
Before you board the boat you will be asked to buy day ticket to the national park (300 baht).
The boat we rented was big and we had plenty of space to move around and take pictures. Only disadvantage is that engine of boat is really loud, so better take earplugs or prepare for party-like shouting to your neighbour talk.
The scenery of the lake is really breath-taking and was definitely worth the money. It reminds us much more famous Halong Bay in Vietnam and the experience was not so different.
During the tour we stopped at some floating restaurant / resort to have a lunch. Of course it’s not a cheap place to eat (to our backpacker standard). We didn’t expect the restaurant anyway, so we bought some packed lunch during the motorbike ride from HQ earlier in the morning. For 30 baht we had tasty green curry on rice. We walked 50 meters away on the pier and enjoyed our lunch with the lake view.
Then we cruised bit more around the corners of the lake and started our return to the pier. The whole boat trip took around 4.5 hours.
After that we set on the motorbike and rode 2 hours back to our accommodation close to park HQ.
Price of the whole trip for 2 people:
motorbike – 300 baht
petrol – 150 baht
boat – 800 baht
park entrance fee – 600 baht
lunch – 60 baht
Total – 1910 baht for 2 people = 955 baht per person
Even despite overpriced boat we paid for we still saved 800 baht per person in comparison with official tour. And we had big boat just for ourselves, kept our freedom, stopped on the way at the market to buy fruits and lunch or to take pictures whenever we wanted to.
Hike part of Khao Sok NP
As mentioned before the entrance gate and the park headquarters are attached to the village which serves as starting point for hikes and accommodation for most of the visitors. Good thing for backpackers is that there are many affordable bungalows starting at 8 euros per night for double room.
The ticket to the national park is 300 baht and is valid for 1 calendar day only (not 24 hours). So if you plan to go 1st day for hike and 2nd day to visit the lake, prepare to pay those 300 baht twice.
After crossing the park gate you need to go to the visitor’s office, buy ticket and check recent info about the hikes. You can hike in the park without guide, but only until certain point (around 3.5km from gate). After that you officially need a guide.
Honestly those first 3.5km are not that interesting. You will hike on wide gravel road under arches of bamboo trees and descend down to the river few times to see waterfalls and take a swim. It is pleasant walk, but in our opinion the real beauty starts after the point where you can go alone.
We didn’t have a guide, so we took a risk and hiked further on our own. The trail became narrow and forest more dense. After few minutes we saw monkeys playing in the trees. The trails are not well marked and several times we needed to choose a direction on crossroad. We enjoyed the feel of real jungle for half an hour more, dipped in the river once again and started to go back.
The whole trek was about 10km long and in hot humid environment was just enough for 1 day. This part of NP is serene and with possibility of swim in the river makes it very pleasant trip. But the real beauty of Khao Sok lies in our opinion in Cheow Lan Lake.
Where to stay
There are many options where to stay just meters from Khao Sok NP. We stayed at Khao Sok Island resort. 400 baht for 2 people bungalow was more than reasonable price. It is nothing fancy, but the bungalows are clean and nested in the jungle. You can often be visited by monkey family and their all-eating inspection. It was fun for sure!
Owners are very nice there (maybe bit pushy towards their tours), but onsight restaurant makes it up for it. Cheap (40-60 baht) food is very tasty and there is a good choice. Free water and coffee is also pleasant. Only disadvantage is that wifi doesn’t reach the bungalows.
If you want to stay somewhere more comfortable, we had a chance to peak into this beautiful resort. Air-con rooms with amazing views and outdoor swimming pool. Location cannot be better. And it is a steal for the price – .
How to get there
There are many buses every day passing the NP village from both directions – Surat Thani and Phuket.
From Surat Thani the bus costs 100 baht and takes almost 3 hours.
Around Surat Thani city operate the worst kind of tourist touts. They will lie to your face (or at least lied to ours) without hesitation. That you must go to the bus station out of the city (not truth although the bus stops there as well) unless you book with them. Just walk straight to the bus station HERE (9.143709, 99.330557) or take an uber and buy ticket there from the counter. Last bus leaves at 16.00 or 17.00.
Once you step out of the bus at Khao Sok, it is about 1,5km walk to the village. There will be many taxi / tuk-tuks offering you ride to the town. Up to you if you accept, we walked it without problem.
Another way how to get there from Surat Thani is to accept the offer of tourist touts and get a minivan ride all the way to the village (so you don’t have to walk those last 1.5km and looking for bus station at Surat Thani). It will cost you around 250 baht and might be an option to consider if you are too far away from the bus station. Just make sure you settled the conditions and time so you won’t end up in the same bus as mentioned in previous paragraph and walking to the village from the Khao Sok bus stop.
We met german couple who got traped into this scam, waiting for hours to have a van full, later circling around city get all the passengers. They claimed it took 8 hours to reach the Khao Sok. Scamming in Surat Thani is really a big issue, so be careful.
Khao Sok is pearl among Thai national parks. Especially the lake is something you will remember for long time. 300 baht entrance fee for 1 day is bit overkill, but that’s how it is with all NPs in Thailand.
Just brace yourself for the double pricing of foreigners and constant offering of tours or anything which can bring money into local’s pockets and enjoy the natural beauty around.