You glide off in a kayak on water hued like molten emerald as mist shrouds immense towers of limestone. A grey-headed eagle launches from a crag, honing in on a school of fish whose scales shine scarlet in the chalky light. Welcome to dawn on Chiew Lan Lake, where rafthouse lodgings run by Khao Sok National Park and local families float amid the breathtaking scenery.
At least 17 rafthouses offer accommodation on Chiew Lan, also known as Khao Sok Lake or Ratchaphrapa Reservoir; see orientation for an overview. Also check out our primers on exploring Khao Sok with tours and independently for details on how to explore the lake and reach the rafthouses on your own. The closest are a 20-minute ride from the pier, while the furthest flung, Khlong Saeng Rafthouse, takes half a day to reach.
Most travellers arrange rafthouse stays as part of package tours but this is only necessary for certain privately run floating resorts. Park-run rafthouses can be booked online if you’re willing to battle the awful Thai DNP website. In theory you can also book a park-run rafthouse in the park visitor centre at the Khlong Sok village end of the park, but when we last inquired there, staff told us to arrange our stay upon arrival at Ratchaphrapa Pier.
Electricity is switched on only from 18:00 to around 22:00 at park-run rafthouses and can be sporadic elsewhere on the lake, although some high-end spots provide air-con, hot water and 24-hour lights. WiFi is not available at park-run rafthouses and we’d not expect it anywhere on the lake. A torch is essential, and don’t forget to stock up on mozzie repellents. Cell phones may not work in the remote reaches so best to call mum before you set out.
The most popular park-run rafthouse is Nang Prai, set near the centre of the lake with a grand outlook to the cliffs that shelter Little Guilin. It’s often hit as the rafthouse stop on day trips, but those who stick around can join park-provided trekking and kayaking activities throughout the day. As with all Chiew Lan rafthouses, you can swim and kayak directly from your porch.
Near the far corners of the two largest southern bays, the park-run Khlong Kha and Ton Toey rafthouses are both worth a look if you find Nang Prai too central and want to see more of the lake. Set amid fluffy green hills rather than cliffs, neither of these boasts the dramatic outlook of Nang Prai, but their surrounds make up for it with exceptional kayaking and caving.
Towards the distant west end of the lake, park-run Krai Son Rafthouse is a good bet for an adventure into remote terrain. The same goes for one lonely rafthouse set way up in the wilds of Khlong Saeng (or Khlong Yah) Wildlife Sanctuary.
Floating in rows on plastic barrels that can shift with wind and current, all park-run rafthouses are cramped bamboo or wood deals with mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets and maybe a bare light bulb hung from the roof. All guests use shared cold-water bathrooms, and facilities get rough at remote rafthouses. Food comes from park-run canteens and includes Thai standards like tom yum and stir-fried morning glory. You can buy a beer out there.
While the posted price for park-run floating huts is 400 baht per night at the visitor centre, we were quoted 1,000 baht including three meals and kayak on our most recent stop at Nang Prai Rafthouse.
Moving on to the privately run rafthouses, Smiley is a long-standing tour and lodging outfit shuttling patrons to its basic shared bathroom raft huts near the belly of the lake. Also including a full spread of activity options, the 2,500 baht price bags a lot of foreign backpackers. Many of them also stay a night at Smiley’s old bungalows back in Khlong Sok village.
All other privately run rafthouses fall into the flashpacker to upscale range, some of them focusing mainly on domestic travellers. Keeree Warin looked comfy when we cruised past on Khlong Long, where you’ll also find pod-shaped rooms at the popular Phutawan Rafthouse. To the west, 500 Rai is one of a few spots offering more luxury.
So far we’ve only checked out a few of the rafthouses because accommodation research on the lake is expensive and very time consuming. This Khao Sok Lake site has a solid rundown of most rafthouses with photos, although it’s not true what they say about needing a guide to stay in one.
500 Rai Floating Resort: T: (077) 953 013 ; email@example.com ; https://www.500rai.com/eng/
Keeree Warin Chiewlarn Resort: Khlong Long T: (086) 475 8368
Khlong Kha Rafthouse: Khlong Kha ; T: (092) 545 9212
Krai Son Rafthouse: Khlong Yee ; T: (087) 264 0890
Nang Prai Rafthouse: Khlong Long ; T: (097) 994 9366
Phutawan Rafthouse: Khlong Long ; T: (081) 606 9007 ; (086) 281 9655 ; http://www.phutawanrafthouse.com/
Smiley Bungalow & Rafthouse: Khlong Pey and Baan Khlong Sok ; T: (089) 871 5744 ; https://khaosok-smiley.com/
Thai National Parks accommodation booking: http://nps.dnp.go.th/reservation.php?id=21
Ton Toey Rafthouse: Khlong Pey ; T: (087) 264 0890
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
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Our top 10 places to stay in and around Khao Sok National Park