May 17 2012

How to do Khao Sok national park independently

Published by at 9:05 am under Phang Nga


As part of Thailand’s largest contiguous wildlife preserve, the ancient jungles and emerald waters of Khao Sok National Park should be far more than an after-thought while on a Thai island holiday. Khao Sok is a must for nature-loving travellers to south Thailand, but given the sparse info available online (stay tuned for fresh Travelfish.org coverage coming soon), the park is a tricky one for the independent traveller. Yet, we recently explored Khao Sok totally tour-free, and we want to let you in on how it’s done.

Let's go!

Let’s go!

Part of the reason Khao Sok seems such a daunting place to tackle on your own is that the 646 square kilometre park is only directly accessible from two places. The first is the main visitor centre area — or the “land section” — with access to a substantial network of hiking trails at the park’s far west near Khlong Sok village, which is where buses from Surat Thani to Takua Pa (or vice versa) drop those heading to Khao Sok. The second is the launching point for Chiew Lan Lake — or the “water section” — near Ratchaprapa Dam and the town of Baan Ta Khun at the park’s far eastern side.

There are no roads cutting directly into Khao Sok, so these two jumping off points are the only places from which to start your explorations. Seeing as they’re 50 kilometres away from one another along Route 401, the park’s land and water entry points tend to feel like two totally different destinations. While a host of traveller friendly services and guesthouses are found on the Khlong Sok side, the Ratchaprapa Dam area has yet to see any tourist infrastructure arrive.

Considering this vast geography that at first glance leaves travellers scratching their heads, most arrive to Khlong Sok and immediately book a tour of Chiew Lan Lake. Some also hire trail guides or hop on board with elephant treks or kayak river cruises, and many come as part of pre-booked all-in multiple day package tours from places like Phuket and Khao Lak.

There's nothing like a 1.5 million year-old rainforest to make you feel small.

There’s nothing like a 1.5 million year-old rainforest to make you feel small.

The hiking trails and waterfalls of the “land section” are perfectly accessible on your own, so we don’t see any need to hire a guide unless planning some intensive overnight trekking (or wanting a local there to ward off any snakes you might encounter). Just beyond the park’s front gates near Khlong Sok you’ll find friendly English-speaking park rangers to point you in the right direction for free, and we found trails to be clearly marked. Clusters of signs indicate the ways to various sights every few kilometres.

Chiew Lan Lake isn’t quite as simple, but it is very much doable. One option is to take a local Surat Thani bound bus, ask to be let off in Baan Ta Khun and then hitch the rest of the 13 kilometres to the pier (at your own risk of course). Or, if you’re not afraid of motorbiking in Thailand, you can pick up a rented bike at a shack not far from Route 401 along the Khao Sok access road in Khlong Sok. Once you’ve got the wheels, head due east on 401 towards Surat Thani. Enjoy the stunning mountainous scenery en route, but be sure to fuel up before departing as we only saw one petrol station along the way.

Better than the view from the window of a minibus.

Better than the view from the window of a minibus.

Baan Ta Khun will be the first place worthy of being called a town that you’ll see, and as you come into the centre of town some big blue signs point left to “Ratchaprapa Dam”. Follow that road for about 10 kilometres before taking a left at its end. Shortly after that you’ll reach an “official” national park check point, immediately after which you’ll want to take the first right. This narrow road will wind around a bit before emerging on to the back side of Ratchaprapa Dam.

Stay to the right and follow a couple more curves as the road winds downwards before coming out immediately in front of Chiew Lan pier. There’s a good authentic Thai restaurant and a couple of shops here in case you need a bite or that Khao Sok souvenir T-shirt.

And if you go left instead of right towards the pier, you get THIS.

And if you go left instead of right towards the pier, you get THIS.

After parking your bike, walk down to the pier where you’ll find a national park booth collecting a 200 baht entry fee if you haven’t already paid it within the last 24 hours. In this area you’ll find no shortage of private longtail boat drivers ready to whisk you off into the lake. A private boat for one to six people costs what seems to be a standard 1,500 baht for a three-hour excursion, so unless you’re solo this is a cheaper — and far better — option than paying 800 baht to be sardined into a tour boat with upwards of 16 clammy strangers.

Don’t be afraid to sit at the very front of Khao Sok’s particularly elegant longtails as you cruise over stunning blue green waters and past dramatic limestone karst cliffs. The trails and watefalls of the park’s western half are well worth a day or two, but a Chiew Lan cruise is the true must-do activity of Khao Sok. A number of caves around the lake are also worth a peak, but be sure to negotiate this before shoving off as they will increase the price.

You're not going to want to miss this.

You’re not going to want to miss this.

The lake is one of Thailand’s most tranquil and stunning destinations, so you might want to shack up at one of the national park-provided floating rafthouses scattered around Chiew Lan. Tour operators like to make travellers think a 2,500 baht all-inclusive ticket is the only way to stay in a rafthouse, but they can be booked independently — although only in advance — through the Thai Department of National Park’s website.

Out of bed and into the kayak -- brilliant!

Out of bed and into the kayak — brilliant!

Tackling a place like Khao Sok independently isn’t for everyone, but we know there are plenty of you out there who, like us, travel as much for the adventure as the destination. So next time you’re in southern Thailand, don’t miss the chance to take Khao Sok national park by the horns!

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23 Responses to “How to do Khao Sok national park independently” ...

  1. ElfieRoseon 17 May 2012 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for doing this piece! My husband and I will be in Khao Sok at the end of June and have been trying to find ANY kind of information like this, but to no avail. We were starting to worry that we wouldn’t be able to see much of the park without signing up for an overpriced, overbooked tour.

    I’ll let you know how we go!

  2. 9PGon 17 May 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Great write up and i love the pictures. Just wondered is it possible to do this without your own transport?

  3. Davidon 17 May 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for the kind words. Without your own transport (or as part of a tour), you could take a bus or minibus bound for Surat Thani and ask to be let off in Baan Ta Khun, but we didn’t see any songthaews heading to the pier or motorbike taxis about, so you’d have to hitch the rest of the way. You can book a private tour through agents in Khlong Sok, as I recall it was 1,500 baht per person but I could be wrong on that.

  4. [...] more than the bus station, stopping only for a transfer to the tourist hot spots of Khao Lak, Khao Sok National Park, Ko Kho Khao or further south to Phuket, Krabi and beyond. Lucky travellers who take the time to [...]

  5. ronaldon 26 Nov 2012 at 10:21 am

    Dear David,

    Can you tell me which rafthouses look decent for a stay and what will be the name on the DNP wbesite? On this website they ar talking about zones and I couldn’nt find the exact location on the lake. Hope you can clear things out.

  6. David Luekenson 26 Nov 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Hi,

    Yes, they zones are broken into three separate area, all of which are in beautiful locales with very basic huts. The easiest to reach when we last visited was Nang Prai but I’m not seeing it in DNP’s website at the moment. Ton Tert (aka Ton Toey) is the furthest away and most secluded and Krai Son is in the middle. Raft houses are virtually identical at all of them and they’re extremely basic. If you’re fine with that any of them should be fine. This explains a little bit more…

    http://www.travelfish.org/accommodation_profile/thailand/southern_thailand/surat_thani/khao_sok_national_park/all/5215

    And the map at the bottom of this page shows the relative location of each accommodation zone, although I’m guessing the map is dated. As you can see they’re all pretty well “out there”:

    http://www.ourweb.info/01/photos/thailand/003/index2.shtml

    You’ll want to print out any confirmation page you get from the DNP website after reserving and bring it to the park. The main visitor center at the west side of the park might be able to help, but they don’t transport people to Ratchaprapa Dam and the pier so you’ll need to figure that out on your own or go with a tour company. If you go independently, bring whatever confirmation you get and show it to the park official at the booth where they check national park tickets near the pier. Someone there should help you arrange boat transport to the raft house. Khao Sok is a magnificent place – have fun and let us know how it goes logistically for you.

    - DL

  7. Krison 03 Jan 2013 at 9:30 am

    Thanks for such a great write up. You mention getting there by motorbike, but I am assuming car hire from krabi or elsewhere would be fine? Also, any particular tips or warnings for families withe small children?
    Thanks!

  8. sabelahon 17 Oct 2013 at 10:31 pm

    Hi,

    Thanks for this I have been seeking this info for long!

    I have a couple more questions:

    Have you hired the motorbike at the main park entrance, at the NP headquarter, and how much did it cost?
    Would it be more careful to rent it from Surat Thani and how is the roaf from there to Khao Sok with a scooter?

    Is 1500 B the fixed price for a boat ride no matter where you go (even just for a drop off at the rafthouse?) so that would make the return trip 3000 B ??

    Thank you!

  9. David Luekenson 18 Oct 2013 at 3:19 am

    Hi,

    Motorbikes can be rented at a few different shops along the 1.5 km long road that connects Route 401 to the national park headquarters. This is at the western side of the park, some 50 km from the boat piers. The price should be 300 baht for a day. You could rent a bike in Surat Thani, though it’s quite a bit further away so would be a longer ride. If you do that, it would be wise to bring an extra couple bottles of gas with you as the road gets quite remote and there aren’t many filling stations.

    1,500 baht is the price for a three-hour tour of the lake. If you just want a ride straight to a rafthouse, I imagine you could get it cheaper. Note that national park accommodation must be booked in advance through the dnp website linked to in the article. Once your reservation is confirmed, print out the confirmation page and show it to the national park official at the booth near the pier. They (or someone around there) will be able to offer some guidance about arranging private transport to the rafthouse. But it will be expensive for a solo traveler. I’d guess no less than 700 or 800 for a one way to the rafthouse. You also might be able to hop in with a tour boat for cheaper… Again, you’d just need to get to the pier and look around for the best way to go.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes.

  10. sabelahon 18 Oct 2013 at 9:55 am

    Hi David,

    Thank you so much for the tip, so useful!! (I am so grateful this online guide exist!)

    I forgot to mention that we will be 3 travellers. One is a 13 yo teenager. So maybe it is best to avoid the ride from Surath Thani and rent two motorbikes at Khao Sok main entrance. Is the ride easy and suitable for a kid?

    I also forgot to mention that we will be in the area in late december, probably the most crowded period. So I know I have to book accomodation in advance, but I also know that prices can double unfortunately. As this will be peak season, I guess that it will be easy to find other travelleres to share the boat ride, so I hope ;)

    I will let you know how it went for sure!

    Sarah

  11. David Luekenson 18 Oct 2013 at 12:27 pm

    No problem, Sarah, glad to hear you’re finding the site useful.

    I wouldn’t say the ride from the main entrance to the piers is easy. It’s more than 50 km, quite hilly, and a fair number of buses and trucks do pass that way. There are also only tiny villages along the way. Whether you think that’s suitable for a 13 year-old, well, that’s your call.

    The likelihood of meeting other independent travelers at the pier to share a boat with is not very high, because most travelers book a boat tour / rafthouse from one of the travel offices / guesthouses in the main traveler area near the park’s main entrance. Given your situation, that may be your best bet too… It probably wouldn’t be any more expensive and would certainly be a lot easier.

    Hope that helps.

    - David

  12. sabelahon 18 Oct 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the answer.

    What make you think that an organized tour would not be more expensive than renting a boat for 3 persons (if we cannot find any other independant traveller a the Khao Sok main entrance guesthouse where we will spend the first night) for 1500 Baths?

    According to what you say and the information that I have been reading:

    1 day tour for 3 persons = 1500 x 3 = 4500 Baths
    vs
    1 long tail for up to 6 persons (1500 B) + one day 2 motorbikes (600) = 2100 Baths

    Same if we decide to stay overnight:

    2 days- 1 night tour for 3 = 2500 x 3 = 7500 Baths
    vs
    2 days 2 motorbikes (1200 B) + 1 night NP rafthouse (400 B) + 2 short boat transfer (about 1500 return?) = 3100 Baths!!

    Maybe another option if we wanna avoid the bike ride would be coming directly from Surat Thani asking to be dropped at the pier, then after the night on the rafthouse, hopping in a bus from the junction to the park entrance? but it seems a little bit risky, best option is probably renting a bike…

    Well I’ll give it a thought but I think I really want to avoid the tours during this journey, because it is expensive and usually useless in Thailand, and because we will be in an overcrowded season and I don’t feel like being crammed in tours like cattle…

    Thanks to you for your tips anyway!

  13. David Luekenson 19 Oct 2013 at 2:00 am

    Yeah I guess you’re right… I hadn’t done the math. Not sure if you’ll be able to pay less for a “short boat transfer” since it’s not really short… Going to the rafthouses means the driver will have to go as far (maybe farther depending on which area you choose) as they would on a normal tour. So while it would be less time, I think it would be about the same amount of gas. But I’m really not sure on that.

    Buses from Surat would not drop you at the pier because the pier is about 10 km off the main road. They’d drop you in Baan Ta Khun and you’d have to figure out how to get to the pier from there. This is a very small town with no traveler facilities, and there are no songthaews or anything to the pier. I also didn’t see motorbike taxis there. From what I understand, the only way to get there from Baan Ta Khun is to hitch. In that case, there’s a good chance you’d get picked up by a passing tour minibus.

    And yes good chance you’ll meet travelers willing to share a boat at the western side of the park near the visitor center. For some reason I was thinking you’d be doing that at the pier.

  14. sabelahon 19 Oct 2013 at 10:17 am

    ;)

    Thanks David.

    Well, I’ll probably give it a try that way. If it seems a little bit complicated once we are at the park entrance we will porbably still be able to join a tour.

    I will let you know how it went anyway!

    Sarah

  15. Sarahon 23 Oct 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Hi David,

    Just one (few) more questions ;)

    Are the DNP rafthouses fares including the meals, or is there any restaurant of food supply nearby the raft?

    And more important: are there kayak available at the rafthouses??

    In general, which one of the DNP rafthouses would you recommend (in terms of surrounding landscapes, wildlife and facilities?)

    Thank you so much!

    Sarah

  16. Hughon 30 Oct 2013 at 11:15 pm

    This is a really helpful article with some great comments. I’m hopefully not covering too much old ground but my gf and I will be coming from Bangkok so I’m trying to work out the best way to arrange a trip to the floating bungalows independently:

    A. over night train to Surat Thani, bus to Baan Ta Khun, taxi/hitch to the pier?
    B. over night train to Surat Thani, hire car/bike and drive ourselves to the pier?
    C. flight to Krabi, bus to Baan Ta Khun, hire car/bike and drive ourselves to the pier?
    D. flight to Krabi then hire car/bike and drive to the pier direct?
    E. go on an organised tour from Surat Thani or Krabi!

    Bearing in mind we plan to head to Koh Lanta after a night on the bungalows so want to avoid the West side of KSNP if possible I’d love to hear your suggestions.

    I’m not too concerned about price so if the cost of doing this independently is almost the same as a tour, and driving ourselves is neither easy nor part of the fun in its own right, please let me know.

    All comments are very much appreciated

  17. David Luekenson 31 Oct 2013 at 1:56 am

    Sorry for the late reply here… DNP rafthouse rates don’t include meals but the national park has basic Thai restaurants at accommodation zones. Plenty of kayaks available. :) Honestly, all of the rafthouse locations are spectacular when it comes to scenery and they all similarly basic facilities.

  18. David Luekenson 31 Oct 2013 at 2:02 am

    Hi Hugh,

    There are no traveler facilities in Baan Ta Khun at all, so you won’t be able to rent a motorbike there. Personally, I wouldn’t be too keen on being dropped in this little town and then having to hitch to the pier — seems stressful even if you can speak some Thai.

    From either Krabi or Surat, motorbiking to the pier would be a full day affair. Unless you really, really like motorbiking, I wouldn’t consider motorbiking from anywhere other than the western park headquarters area. Even from there, it’s around 50 to 60 km of hilly terrain on a major highway with a fair amount of trucks and buses.

    Driving yourself is definitely not easier than doing a tour. Whether it’s part of the fun would depend on your tastes — I felt it was fun in an adventure kind of way. But I also wouldn’t want to do it if I had tight time restraints.

    Hope that helps.

  19. Hughon 31 Oct 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for the quick reply David – tour it is!

    I would drive from Krabi or Surat Thani as opposed to Baan Ta Khun but it doesn’t feel worth the effort.

    So, have you heard good reviews about any operators other than Smiley (I contacted them last night)?

  20. Zulon 05 Nov 2013 at 2:30 am

    HI David,

    This is indeed helpful. Just wondering,when you went kayaking did you go all by yourself?Do we really don’t need the guide?
    Do they charge the kayak per day or per hour?
    How do you move from one rafthouse to the other(in case you feel like hoping around)?

  21. Maggyon 10 Dec 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Hey David,
    woooooow!!! Really cool and helpful here for us as we are heading to Khao Sok in January.
    I have some questions as well:
    1. Driving by rental from main head quarters in the jungle and park directly at the pier would be no problem I guess?
    2. Can you recommend any guide/boat driver to show as around (by boat and/or walking) in the “water part” with main interest on wildlife viewing (big mammalss) – what dou you think is the best option to view wild mammals?
    3. One day for the main trails in the park are enough (independent, strong and experienced hikers) and you can see the cool flower on your own as well?

    :-)))
    Sorry for these farely “crazy” questions,
    cheers from Germany,
    Maggy

  22. […] google search also revealed that Khao Sok had been written about by a plethora of travel bloggers. Travelfish had covered it. This guy had done it. Nomadic matt had written about it in January of 2012 for […]

  23. Kajtekon 14 Mar 2014 at 2:04 am

    The floating raft houses are what we missed when we went to Khao Sok National Park. We were there mainly to hike and when we asked for those floaters, we were directed somewhere else. We settled in a guesthouse on stilts.
    http://hikecampandtravel.com/thailand.php

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