7 Reasons Khao Sok Should Be Added to Your Thailand Itinerary
Thailand is stunning. From swimming in bioluminescent waters in Krabi to feeding magnificent rescued elephants in Chiang Mai to partying until sunrise at the world-famous Full Moon Party, it's no surprise this beautiful country is on the shortlist of so many young travelers.
But there's another side to this popular tourist destination that many people don't think about: the age-old jungle. Only a few hours north of Phuket sits the Khao Sok National Park, an unbrushed wonderland of lush vegetation, hidden caves, staggering limestone cliffs, exotic wildlife, and so much more. And bonus: since it's not on everyone's agenda (although it should be), it's substantially less crowded than Thailand's more popular spots.
My fiancé and I spent two days in a tree-house resort inside the jungle parameters, nestled in the canopy of the evergreen rainforest. It turned out to be our favorite stop of the entire trip, and we wish we would've dedicated more time to it. These photos will show you why.
Hike a jungle older than the Amazon
Touted as the oldest evergreen jungle in the world, Khao Sok is home to a staggering amount of tree and wildlife species and is arguably older and even more diverse than the Amazon. Because of its depth and intensity, you must hike with a guide. We did an incredible full-day hike, and even though I could barely bend over to touch my toes the next day (or the day after, if I'm being honest), it was absolutely worth the sweat and day-after soreness.
Tip: I always travel with a muscle-relieving essential oil blend. Our guide was fantastic; he took us on a beautiful tour of only one little corner of the sprawling park, and we even met some extremely friendly locals along the way.
Even if you don't consider yourself the outdoorsy type, I highly recommend getting the chance to bear witness to a jungle of this magnitude. There is a wide range of hikes offered, from a quick 45-minute jaunt to a full overnight expedition, so you can choose your own adventure. It's truly amazing to see what will grow over the course of millions of years when it's let to.
Watch the monkeys play right outside your front door
Khao Sok is teeming with wildlife, from Malayan sun bears to barking deer, but what perhaps drew us in the most was the opportunity to see wild monkeys from our tree-house porch. We didn't see any the first day and were a bit nervous that a monkey sighting might not be as common as we'd hoped. But on the second morning, at 5:45 a.m., I was awakened by a sharp and strange chatter outside our window. We ventured outside to find at least 20 macaques cavorting in the trees all around us, some as close as only 15 feet away. They stuck around for hours, eating fruit, swinging from the vines, and wrestling with one another. We sat back in our balcony chairs and watched them for hours; in fact, we missed breakfast. Worth it. It was an amazing experience.
Tip: Guard your stuff! Our resort actually reminded us to put away our toiletries before leaving for the day, because the local monkeys have quite a penchant for playing in shower gel and shampoo.
Relax in the Khao Sok village
Famed worldwide as a traveler's oasis, Thailand caters to tourists in many parts of the country. Khao Sok is no exception (activity offices and bars serving Western drinks abound), but it's not dripping with tourists like many of its surrounding neighbors. After fighting the crowds of Thailand's magnificent yet very cramped beaches, it was so refreshing to walk through a town with lively yet uncrowded streets, actually make connections with restaurant and shop owners, and relax with an ice-cold Thai beer (Tiger was by far our libation of choice). The local village harbored some of the kindest people we met the entire trip, even opening early for us when a rogue thunderstorm came through.
Explore the depths of a cave
You can channel your adventurous spirit and explore one of the many pitch-black caves (with a guide, of course) of varying intensity levels within the jungle. Some are milder — not as deep with very little climbing — while others warrant a vast amount of physical exertion and even some swimming. There is no artificial lighting whatsoever, but your guide will provide the headlamps.
Be warned: you will likely see some creepy-crawly creatures inside the depths of the cave, namely giant spiders and bats. I personally found the bats adorable, but the six- to eight-inch spiders made me squirm, much to the amusement of both my fiancé and our guide! Luckily, Khao Sok's cave spiders actually glow in the dark, allowing you to spot them right away.
Stand in awe of the famous limestone cliffs
Khao Sok is famous for its staggering limestone mountains (also called karsts), and some rise as high as 3,000 feet tall! They're incredibly unique, a result of a vast geographic shift in tectonic plates over 60 million years ago that lifted and folded the limestone formation. And trust me, we're grateful to Mother Earth on this one, because they are absolutely stunning — pearl white crystals that reflect in the sun, covered with dense vegetation, and jetting steeply from the jungle floor or river straight into the sky.
Take a bamboo raft down the river
The jungle is a river-rich landscape, with multiple waterways running through the park. You can rent a canoe or, if you don't mind getting a little wet, a bamboo raft to float through the beautiful scenery. Again, you will need a guide who knows his/her way around the jungle, and many of them are experts at spotting wildlife during your journey. They might even bring you fish food and make pit stops to brew fresh coffee served in a bamboo cup. We brought the cups home with us and still drink tea out of them today.
Drink in the powerful moments
Most of the hiking "trails" (if you can call them that, as they are definitely not manicured) are not super easy; there aren't any precarved walking paths or laid-out foundations. It's just you, a steep mountain, and a few rocks, vines, and branches to cling to for support. But once you've reached the crest, looking back at all the ground you covered is incredibly powerful!
Here, we had just concluded about three hours of hiking, primarily uphill, and our guide requested we stop to take in the moment before venturing into the pitch-black cave. We looked outward and studied the colossal trees that appeared to be growing up, down, and even sideways, with branches that were five times as tall as the average man and vines as thick as telephone poles. We were mesmerized. Neither one of us had ever seen a landscape so raw, so Jurassic, so teeming with life. It was a moment that somehow felt bigger than others, and we'll carry it with us for the rest of our lives.