Discovering Thailand’s Southern Jungle Haven, Khao Sok

The stereotypical attractions that spring to mind in Thailand are island hopping, elephants, and Pad Thai. Many think of life by the water or standing atop of the hills in the North and simply can’t decide on where to go. How about all of the above in one locale? It is time to get your inner Tarzan or Jane out and head to the jungle for one action packed adventure filled with trekking and island hoping bliss.

Khao Sok National Park makes for the perfect jungle book setting. It is home to one of the world’s oldest evergreen forests and set against a backdrop of towering limestone cliffs. Located in the centre of Southern Thailand, it is easily accessible to the sands of Phuket, Krabi and Surat Thani – the gateway to island hopping havens Koh Saumi, Koh Phangan, and the scuba diving mecca of Koh Tao. Despite its close proximity to the coast, it is anything but a beachside destination. Forget the waves – the calm waters of the man-made Cheow Lan Lake are the centrepiece of this park, which is best experienced by boat.

Think Halong Bay without the hordes of tourists: here it is quite common to make a day trip around the lakes on a boat safari ride to spot tree-swinging gibbons and play bird bingo with its plethora of bird spotting opportunities (over 180 species including giant hornbills). Be astonished by the razor sharp eyes of a local tour guide spotting these rare bird species from seat of an authentic Thai longtail boat. After all, this one of the best places in Thailand to see wildlife. On land, Khao Sok is also home to an array of exotic mammals including wild elephants, bears and boars. If you are lucky enough, you may be able to spot a tiger too! The jewel of the crown by flora standards in this national park is the Rafflesia, the world’s biggest flower.

Make a night of it with an overnight stay to get a real feel for life in the Thai ‘outback.’ Forget the camping gear as authentic Thai raft houses and bungalows dot the bays of the lake and provide a unique way to embrace the scenery. Here it is all about enjoying life’s simple pleasures while a world away from the craziness of Thailand’s biggest cities with a feeling ever so placid and secluded – rest assured you would be happy to be stranded here if it was for the TV show ‘Survivor Thailand!’ This remote location provides great opportunities to enjoy relaxing swims in the lake, star gazing at night, and taking in the tranquil nature of the park.

If you want to live out a real life Goosebumps thriller, embark on a guided hiking adventure into the ancient jungle. Treks are not just under the sun as you trek into the depths of its hidden caves including Tam Nam Lu and Diamond Cave. This is not one for those who are afraid of not-so isty bitsie spiders and the squeals of bats – you have been warned! Get the torch out to spot the hundreds of bats that hang off the roof of the caves. Some of the treks in the park can be intense with full clothing required to swim through the cave – sometimes neck deep so it is certainly entering at your own risk. Scary as it may sound, its not all impassioned thrill seeking activities with viewpoints, waterfalls and swimming holes to be fond of.

Time to get away from the creepy crawlies as the ultimate way to lap up the sweetness of this natural spectacle is by donut. Cruise on down the Sok River under the natural arches of the jungle and in the shadows of soaring cliffs floating on a donut. It is an innocent float down the river (no its not anything like the former floating tube and often controversial party town, Vang Vieng in Laos) but one that allows you to truly appreciate the moment and sheer beauty of Southern Thailand. This slow-paced ride offers cheap thrills with the occasional small rapid and the greeting of colourful dragon flies flying around you and landing upon your leg. It is also an opportunity to sometimes witness locals hunting for fish in the river.

Its time to swim against the flow and go to a place that is untainted with Thailand’s mass tourist numbers. Khao Sok National Park offers an adventure straight from the playbook of Tarzan and Jane – just make sure you are the one that gets to relive it.

Where to stay

I couldn’t recommend Khao Sok Riverside Cottages (and no, girl is not getting paid to express this opinion!) Just on the outskirts of town, its wooden cottages (some equipped with a hammock) sits along the riverbank with views of lush jungle and peaceful surrounds.

It food is well priced and the curries are a dream so please do order one for me! It wasn’t the inclusive breakfast that sold me, more it was the free tube hire and have the river solely to myself – just watch out for the little bites in the river, harmless but they may give you a decent fright!