Exploring Khao Sok National Park, Our Jungle House and Khao Sok Paradise
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost. We visited many sides of Thailand from idyllic island of Koh Tao, to island hopping in the Andaman Sea, to bike trekking down the coast, to temple visits in Bangkok. However, no trip to Thailand would be complete without visiting the rain forests of the jungle highlands. For most travelers, this means Chiang Mai, but don’t overlook Khao Sok. It is the path less traveled, and that makes all the difference.
Compare and Contrast Khao Sok and Chiang Mai
|Khao Sok||Chiang Mai|
|Highest Monthly Rainfall||447 mm||216.9 mm|
|Proximity to jungle||You’re in it||Hour drive out of town|
|Temples and history||no||yes|
|Thai Massage||Small huts||Flash spas|
|Waterfalls||½ hour walk from hotel||Two hour car ride|
|Chow Larn Lake||Yes||no|
|Overland transportation to beaches||yes||no|
|CDC Malaria warnings||yes||no|
|Hill tribe villages||no||yes|
|Pharmacy||yes (verified 2016)||yes|
You can see that Khao Sok is wetter and wilder than Chiang Mai. You could supplement your Khao Sok trip with temples, markets and massage elsewhere or you could venture out of Chiang Mai and reach into the northern jungles. In the end, if you choose Khao Sok, it’s the road less traveled and that will make all the difference.
History of Khao Sok
The name ‘Khao Sok’ is derived from the word ‘Ban Sop’, which means ‘house of the dead bodies’. It is uncertain if this moniker was given based on the ghostly shape of the area’s karst towers or something else. Human habitation first began in this area very late in history, around the 1800’s. However, the taming of Khao Sok took a hit when, in 1944, a large number of inhabitants were stricken with a deadly epidemic and the rest fled the region. Was this epidemic the region’s’ namesake?
Modernization renewed in earnest in 1961 when route 401, was built to allow for increased logging in the area. Route 401 runs from Phun Pin in Surat Thani Province to Takua Pa in Phang Nga Province and was expanded into a modern four-lane highway that provides excellent road access to Khao Sok.
The area was poised for massive logging and deforestation, but it never happened. Instead, in 1970’s, radical communist students from Bangkok took refuge in the area’s caves. Over the next decade, their insurgence kept any large scale logging down.
It wasn’t until the 80’s when national attention returned to the region. Instead of forest, they were interested in the rain. A massive plan was constructed to dam the watershed for fresh water and hydroelectric power. It was during this planning phase that the unique biodiversity came to the fore-front and Khao Sok National Park was established December 22, 1980. Despite the park’s relatively young age, a series of events aligned to protect the region before legislation could.
Restorative value from eco-tourism
Khao Sok had a radical transformation in the 80’s. Logging came to halt and Chow Larn Lake was filled which completely erased five villages. Behind these changes came a future of sustainable eco-tourism. The Mahouts took their elephants and started to provide elephant encounters.
The elephants no longer toiled moving logs and now live a life a leisure being fed and washed by tourists. The villagers, who lost their homes from flooding the lake, were given exclusive license to operate tours on the lake. Instead of being a target for logging, these forests now provide continued tourism income for their new found stewards.
Staying in Khao Sok Village
Khao Sok Villages sits just outside the gates of its namesake national park. Coming here felt like going to mountain town USA. Tourist bars offered fire dancing and reggae music. Small shops offered jungle trekking and mountain bike rides. Groups of travelers procured inner tubes for rides down the river. When you close your eyes, you can see Colorado.
When you open them again, you’re in the jungle baby. You aren’t going to find tower temples but authentic Thailand surrounds you. We ate dinner at the Busy Bee Cafe, a place so new it isn’t on the internet (until now). They offered farm to market produce and fresh curry. Most curries are made in bulk and kept for up to a week. They make theirs fresh daily and it showed. You can even go to cooking classes there to see how the magic is made.
After dinner, we checked out a the pharmacy in town to get some decent sinus medication for Jenn. (The first batch we bought in Koh Tao was decidedly disappointing.) Not only is there are a pharmacy in Khao Sok Village (contrary to some internet reports), but the pharmacist was top notch. She spoke excellent English and found the exact medication we were looking for. How do you say Guaifenesin in Thai? With a full belly and proper medication, We strolled back to our room at Khao Sok Paradise. This place was so cute. Every room was a tree house. Some were on stilts and others, like ours, was a yurt-shaped like a jungle tree stump. It was delightful, quaint and just a stone’s throw from town.
Heart of the Jungle
It has been said that if you want to see how animals live, you don’t go to the zoo. You go to the jungle. For some reason, I was thinking this as our taxi bounded down the dirt road to Our Jungle House. We thought that name was a bit pretentious. How much jungle could they really have?
Our taxi bumped down a dirt road for what seemed like ages, and finally dropped us off the front desk. A chalkboard behind the desk boasted group activities like hikes, elephant encounters, and cooking classes. The front gate of Khao Sok National Park is only a short hike away. Nothing really if you’re going to hike in and see the waterfalls or Rafflesia flowers. Even though we were just outside of town, we felt like we were in another world.
The path to our room meandered through gardens and banana trees, underneath sheer limestone cliffs, past the riverside huts we almost choose and finally terminated at our tree house. Not really a tree house per se but a hut elevate 30’ or so on metal stilts. It was a decent little climb up to our new home.
Our room was just as we might have imagined a tree fort bedroom to be, complete with covered indoor/outdoor bathroom and a comfortable balcony. The location couldn’t be beat. The balcony looked out into the forest canopy and could even see the river and cliffs we passed.
We would have loved to stay out here longer but the mosquitoes were swarming. We tried donning our deet soaked long clothes but they still found their way to any exposed skin. We were just about to head in when we saw the treetops shaking around us. A troop of monkeys had come to visit.
Monkeys in the trees are cool. Monkeys in your room, that’s a problem. Ed was feeling a bit shagged out, with a side note of starving, so he broke into a bag of peanuts from Elephant Hills for a pre-dinner snack. Two peanuts in, we had a visitor.
Ed and the visitor locked eyes briefly, then, without any comprehension that he was the smallest creature in the room, the monkey aggressively charged forward towards Ed and the peanuts.
Ed’s brilliant plan to toss the bag over the monkey and out the door fell short (literally). Luckily, Jenn had a pair of pants in her hand she snapped, towel in the locker room style, at our little intruder. Finally, she succeeded at shooing our uninvited guest out, with no other casualties. He took his booty and left. We grabbed our camera and followed. We followed the ballsy little guy all the way back to the hotel restaurant by the front desk.
We were planning on hiking, but the sinusitis was still kicking Jenn’s ass. Instead, we drank tea, played with the hotel’s cats and read all about the fascinating and unique facts about Khao Sok:
- Rafflesia Flower – The world’s largest flower with single blooms over 3’ wide. Sounds beautiful but it also smells like rotting flesh. (perhaps another namesake for Khao Sok?). This rare flower is Khao Sok’s most famous plant. From the maps at the front desk, it looks like there are trails to both flowers in the park.
- Waterfalls – There are dozens of waterfalls in Khao Sok National Park but the crown jewel is Tan Sawan or paradise falls. Our Jungle House has a seven-hour tour take will take you see the rafflesia and Tan Sawan.
- Size – Khao Sok National Park and the adjoining protected areas of Kaeng Krueng, Sri Phang Nga, Khlong Phanom, Khlong Saeng, Khlong Yan and Khlong Naka form an area over 3,500 square kilometers which is more than half the size of Bali!
- Leeches – We bought leech socks to go hiking here. We didn’t need them sipping tea and compiling this list. Perhaps we didn’t need them at in in dry season….
- Mosquitoes – These guys were more active here than anywhere else in Thailand. It made us glad we got our travel vaccination
We stayed for dinner at the restaurant and wandered back to our room quite late. The trail was moist with the evening mists and the slugs were racing around (for slugs anyway). We walked slowly with our headlights to make sure we didn’t hurt anybody.
Back in the room, we discovered our tactical error from before. We should have deployed the mosquito net before leaving the room. An amazing assortment of bugs had hit the net while we had the lights on and were now littering the bed. The good news is, that once we turned the lights off and crawled in, we were bug-free the rest of the night. The jungle does not tolerate frailty of the mind or body.
Over breakfast at the hotel, Jenn and I made the executive decision to book a private taxi to Phuket. It wasn’t too much more than we would have paid for a bus and a taxi to the bus stop. It also allowed us to explore Phuket Town’s cat cafe and night markets but that is another story.
Speaking of Breakfast…
Our Jungle House is off the main road into the park, a little over ½ mile to be exact, which does feel like a bit of a distance driving slowly over dirt roads. When we arrived we joked that the restaurant had better be good, and we were not disappointed! We had outstanding meals for both dinner and breakfast. Our Jungle Home blended so naturally into the scenography of the jungle, we did literally feel like we had found a little jungle home.
We really enjoyed our stay at Our Jungle House and Khao Sok Paradise. Our only regret is that we did not allow the time in our jam-packed itinerary to spend a few days decompressing and exploring the wonders of this lush and biodiverse jungle of Khao Sok. A parting thought for the road…
“Look for chances to take the less-traveled roads. There are no wrong turns.” –Susan Magsamen