Located in the south of Thailand, Khao Sok National Park has always held my imagination. It’s constantly rated as one of the best parks in Thailand, with amazing trekking, camping, limestone karsts, cooling rivers, and a beautiful lake. Ever since I’ve been coming to Thailand, I’ve been trying to visit Khao Sok, but the road bends in mysterious ways, and for one reason or the other, I’ve never been able to make it.
But this time, I used my visiting friends and my job as “tour guide” as the excuse I needed to finally push myself to this park. And I’m glad I did — I’ve been to many wonderful national parks in Thailand, but this is one of the best.
I spent three days surrounded by dense jungle, animals, and cooling air. The highlight of my trip was the day-long jungle trek I took. Starting out late in the morning (9:30), my friends and I met our guide, bought our park entrance tickets, and drove to the far end of the park. Instead of doubling back on the main trail, we would explore another trail, hike 400 meters to see some giant flowers, head toward a waterfall, eat lunch, and then walk back to the main park entrance.
It all seemed easy enough. I envisioned a well-worn trail and a mildly strenuous day hike. We were doing 11 km in the jungle, so it wouldn’t be a cake walk, but I didn’t anticipate that this trek would be much of a challenge, especially since the last half was on the park’s main road.
I was wrong.
This hike was stressful, challenging, leech-infested, and exhilarating all at the same time.
It started out easy enough — we hiked 400 meters to visit giant parasitic flowers, which attach themselves to vines, then sap the life from them to grow. After nine months, they blossom, spray their seed throughout the jungle, and die within four days. However, while in bloom, the flowers are a sight to see.
The hike to the top wasn’t very tough. The trail was well worn and had amazing vistas from which to view the surrounding jungles, and I didn’t break much of a sweat. On the way up, we caught sight of a troop of gibbons making their way through the treetops. Gibbons in Khao Sok are rare to see, so it was quite amazing, especially since I love monkeys, though they moved too quickly to be photographed. By the time I clicked my camera, they had moved on, so instead of fruitlessly capturing a photo, I just watched them in their glory.
When we got to the top, our guide told us we would hike down to the waterfall. I assumed he meant we would be heading down another trail.
Again, I was wrong.
Our trail had opened up at the top of the waterfall and our guide looked at us. “OK, we’ll eat lunch, but first we have to get down. It will be no problem. We have ropes, and I go first.”
My friends and I looked at each other hesitantly. To get to the base of the waterfall, we were going to have to embrace our inner Indiana Jones to rappel down the side. As you may know, heights make me extremely uncomfortable, and I opted to go down last as I worked up the courage to never look down.
However, we didn’t encounter too many steep drop-offs, and soon I was vying to the lead the way. We would rappel down ropes. When there was no rope to guide us, we scaled the rocky sides of the waterfall, holding on to vines as we made our way down to the base.
But the waterfall was not the worst of it. After lunch, we had to hike downriver, following the river, which sounds pretty simple. Walking along a river bed is normally not a challenge, but not here. There was no trail or easy path. Sometimes we had to walk on large, wet rocks, climb up the narrow embankment, or scale down vines again when the river became impassable.
And the leeches only made it worse. By the time I walked out of Khao Sok, I had taken seven leeches off my legs, and a few even found their way onto my arms. Luckily, unlike the leeches in northern Thailand, most of these leeches were small and easy to grab off. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t notice one until the end, which by then had enlarged so much, it left a scar on his foot.
After the river and subsequent leech removal (cue The Life Aquatic jokes), we were in the home stretch — it was now an easy walk through a bamboo forest back to the park entrance. On our way out of the park we were given a farewell by another troop of monkeys. These weren’t gibbons (I forget their proper name), but they jumped around for a while, playing in the trees, and gave us one last exciting thing to remember.
When it was all said and done, our hike had lasted a little over eight hours. Back at my guesthouse, I took the hottest shower of my life, scrubbed myself clean, and collapsed on my bed.
Though tiring, this jungle trek was the most exciting in my recent memory. I left Khao Sok with a sense of rawness. Here the lack of people and trails let you feel as if you are exploring the jungle for the first time. I love the moments when you travel that make you feel as if you have unearthed a hidden gem. As though you had found somewhere or some place long forgotten by man. That may not be the case, but that sense of wonderment, adventure, and exploration are what drive me on my travels.
And in Khao Sok, it was just me, the jungle, and that sense of adventure.
But I could have done without the leeches.
- You can get to the park via Surant Thani or Phuket. Most hotels will offer you private transportation for 2,000 baht, though you can hire a taxi from either place for around 1,500 baht. If you are with a group of four, this can be a good deal as it’s much quicker and far easier.
- If you go by public bus, the minibus is 250 baht each way from Surant Thani town and 300 baht from Phuket. It will drop you off on the main road leading up to the park. You’ll have to walk the rest of the way.
- The park entrance fee is 200 baht (100 baht if you are a student).
- Hiring a guide from one of the tour operators or guesthouses (very recommended due to the lack of marked trails) costs 1,000 baht per person and comes with lunch.
- There is only one ATM in town.
- You can find cheap guest houses for 300 baht per night with very basic accommodation and cold showers. Rooms get better at around 600 baht per night and luxurious around 1,400 baht per night.
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Thailand travel isn’t all beaches, beer and fiery food – this fascinating country has the most beautiful jungle just waiting to be explored. I am no trekking professional, I am a novice to say the least. However, I look back and remember my trek in Chiang Mai as one of the best and most exhilarating things I did on this trip.
Thailand Travel - Trekking in Chiang Mai
Unless you are a seasoned pro and have battled many climbs in stifling humidity, most of you will be like me, excited by exploring the natural landscape, but not knowing what to expect. Here are a few suggestions to make your trek inifinately more enjoyable.
Tips for Trekking
Roscoe and I trekked with a group of ten people and out of ten only six of us had proper footwear. Thankfully I was one of the prepared ones with sturdy waterproof hiking boots. A few had trainers that were too low on the heel and unsupportive, offering little protection from the rain that came down in buckets regularly throughout the weekend. One poor soul only had a pair of flip flops and I honestly don’t know how many times she feel over and slipped. Whether you’ve planned for a trek in advance or do it on a whim, buy some proper footwear.
Thailand Travel - Good footwear
Bring the biggest bottle of water you can carry. You will need it. Dehyrdation is the biggest risk and we sweated buckets the entire time. Even though it is heavy it’s the one real essential.
Thailand Travel - Amazing view in Chiang Mai
Bringing a camera is essential but without proper waterproofing you’re in trouble. Humidity, rain and dirt are all part of the deal with trekking in Thailand so make sure you not only bring a waterproof camera and/or case but extra carrier bags to further protect.
Thailand Travel - Taking photos at the top
Believe me, after a day of serious exercise and sweat you’ll be dying to get clean and washed. Our trek lasted all day on a steep incline until we reached our tiny village where we were to sleep on the first night. A cold shower was the only option but it was just what we needed! Utterly freezing but cleansing and refreshing. I only brought one set of dry clothes and though they were useful to change into on the first day, I really could have used something else to wear on the second day as my clothes hadn’t dried out.
Thailand Travel - Kiri trekking
Carry as lightweight clothes as you can, but ensure you have more than one set. Depending on what trek you do, there is almost always a waterfall or stream to take a dip in so swimwear is essential too. We were lucky enough to find a natural slide during our trek!
Thailand Travel - Natural slide in Chiang Mai
While trekking always make sure you look after the environment, take all rubbish away with you, have respect for the wildlife taking care not to damage beautiful plants and trees. Visiting an elephant sanctuary is often part of Thai treks. We stayed at a wonderful sanctuary where we could ride them and bathe them. Just ensure that the company you choose to trek with is responsible and treating these magnificent creatures with the respect they deserve.
Thailand Travel - Feeding the elephants
There is so much to love about Thailand travel and trekking is absolutely one of the best things you will ever do.
Thailand Travel - A well deserved drink after the trek
All Images Copyright © Roscoe Duncan 2012