Header image courtesy of Tomas Malik (via Unsplash)
The ultimate jungle experience that will strip away your impurities and humble any city-dweller can be found right in the core of Thailand, at Khao Sok National Park. This is one of the most popular spots for young travellers who want to live simply, yet be filled with joy. This national park will provide you with an enriching experience that you’ll never forget, and is also one of the most affordable vacation destinations in South-East Asia.
Like any hidden gem and worthwhile experience, it is a trek to reach it, but it will be very well worth your time. You can get there by flying to Phuket and then travelling overland in mini-buses from Phuket up north to Khao-Sok. One will witness the daily comforts being stripped away, with the gradual loss of their mobile phone signal.
After a two-hour bus journey, there will be a one and a half hour “longtail” boat ride to travel into the stunning heart of Phuket. The length of the longtail boat ride will differ for everyone depending on your chosen accommodation within the national park. Check out the Khao Sok official website to book your preferred transportation from the airport.
As you cruise between half-submerged mountains covered in lush primary and secondary jungle, you’ll instantly notice how the ride is extremely picturesque and deserving of a few snaps. Remember to bring some water-proof gear for your tech gadgets, as it's going to be a very water-oriented trip!
The classic accommodation in the Khao Sok national park is in a floating bungalow on the dazzling Cheow Larn Lake, where one’s swim and shower is just a dive away. You’ll spend most of your time here relaxing, reading, floating, and swimming—the perfect spot to engage in the art of doing nothing.
We recommend exploring the national park with Khao Sok Tours, founded and led by Dave Williams and his team. Dave is a jungle expert with over 20 years of experience, and served as an advisor to the Discovery Channel on jungle survival. All guides in Khao Sok are personally led by him as well as his all Thai crew, making it a truly authentic experience. You’ll be spoiled with home-cooked Thai food for every meal of the day, for a truly immersive cultural experience.
To step out of your comfort zone—another cultural experience you may be able to indulge in is having a taste of some crispy insects! To foreigners, it would definitely be considered an exotic snack, but worry not—it is perfectly safe to consume bugs in Thailand because they are raised to be eaten rather than caught in the jungle. One will have a selection of crickets, grasshoppers, bamboo worms, and more, deep fried in fish oil—you won't even notice you're eating bugs. Insects are actually very nutritious and protein-packed, so don't be afraid to have a couple more!
One of our personal favourite activities is trekking through the rainforest on foot. The national park is home to one of the oldest rainforests on the planet, and has numerous trails so each and every one is unique in its own way. If you’re delicate and quiet enough on these treks you’ll be able to see the countless animals and birds the rainforest has to offer—ranging from hornbills to clouded leopards. The park has spurs of high elevation, providing a home to a variety of species.
Another notable attraction is the Nam Tu La Cave. This attraction is definitely not for the faint-hearted, nor the claustrophobic. The cave is 10 to 50 metres wide, with a stream flowing through, forming a watercourse of 700 meters. The cave has stalactites and stalagmites, as well as unique rock formations caused by water erosion. One can expect to waddle waist-deep through the water in order to explore the cave, equipped with a head torch to navigate some points which can get pitch black. Don’t be surprised if you encounter some fish swimming beside you and bats flying above! It is definitely a unique experience worth trying, though it is highly recommended going with an experienced and trusted guide because caving, in general, can be quite dangerous.
The Cheow Larn Lake is one of the more notable features in Khao Sok. Not only are you going to be living on it, it will also be your main source of leisure activities! What’s amazing about this lake is how safe it is to explore, whether it is a clear or rainy day. The best way to explore the park is on canoes or kayaks. We recommend starting in the early morning before sunrise, so that as you cruise through the lake, you’ll be able to listen and watch the rainforest wake up. You’ll hear the birds chirp and the monkeys cheer—the perfect way to experience the intricate network of the wilderness. It is also very safe to swim in the lake almost anywhere, but make sure to check with your guides beforehand, and have your swimsuit at hand.
However, some interesting challenges one should expect when going on this trip are getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and watching out for leeches left right and center. At the end of the day, this is a national park, whose biodiversity is believed to be higher than the Amazon, so the wildlife here really do thrive. The geographic terrain is also ideal for leeches to grow and therefore they will be around especially during the hikes. However, don't fear them! They aren’t lethal and can be easily removed, your helpful guides will prep you thoroughly on how to handle any of these new and unknown situations. Make sure you have the proper gear and clothing, and you'll be good to go.