Khao Sok National Park Dos and Don’ts

Khao Sok National Park is 160km north of Phuket on the mainland of Thailand. It’s a stunning area with impressive karst geography and lush tropical rainforests full of giant bamboo and liana trees. While hiking in Khao Sok you’ll hear cicadas humming, encounter giant praying mantises and spiders, and get close to cheeky monkeys going crazy for fungi.

The park is also reportedly home to white-handed gibbons and Asian elephants, but the only elephants and gibbons we saw were on cheap t-shirts in town.

We came to Khao Sok to go hiking and swim in jungle waterfalls. We succeeded in doing so, but it wasn’t without its challenges, which I’ll share with you here. If you’re thinking of hiking in Khao Sok, here are 3 things to do, and 3 not to do.

insect you'll find hiking in Khao Sok National Park
This huge, super cool leaf bug was one of many crazy insects we encountered while hiking in Khao Sok.

3 Things Not to Do in Khao Sok National Park

  1. Don’t pay for a taxi from the bus stop

The journey from Phuket to Khao Sok takes about 2.5 hours by local bus. From the bus stop you’ll want to get a ride for the last couple kilometers into town. Avoid unnecessarily paying for a taxi, as we almost got suckered into doing. Instead, tell them you have a reservation and ask for the truck there that’ll drop you off at your place for free (… for you. The hotel owner will pay).

downtown ready to go hiking in khao sok
“Downtown” Khao Sok
  1. You don’t need to hire a guide for hiking in Khao Sok

Every hotel and tout in town, and even signs in the park, will tell you it’s mandatory to hire a guide.

It’s not.

They just say so to support guides and take a cut for themselves. And, in further support of the tour guide mafia, the rangers at the visitors center are unhelpful, unfriendly, and give you borderline useless maps meant to confuse you. Don’t be deterred. If you prefer to explore on your own and don’t mind getting a bit lost from time to time, you’ll have no problem hiking Khao Sok without a guide.

Tip: Use Maps.Me to follow the path with GPS. The app is free and works offline. In the comments below, Melissa mentioned she used it to successfully get to Sip Et Chan and back.

  1. Don’t be a blood donor to the leeches in Khao Sok

After paying the 300 baht park entrance fee (avoid paying guides if you wish, but don’t try avoiding to pay this), we decided on the shorter but more challenging hike to Sip Et Chan Waterfall. It seemed like an easy, adventurous day hike.

But we didn’t finish it.

Chris had read that leeches were abundant during the wet season. Since it was technically the dry season we didn’t think it would be a problem. It’s only a couple leeches anyways, right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

I had no idea leeches lived on the ground. My only memory of leeches were those in water, and mainly from movies. The leeches along this trail were small, quick, and had an uncanny ability to get into our shoes and under our socks. Take it from me: they’re unavoidable.

I don’t know if I’m particularly sensitive when it comes to leeches but I couldn’t handle the constant stress of wondering if another was on me sucking my blood. It was miserable, so I turned back. If I want to donate blood, I’ll do it back home for a good cause. Not here in Khao Sok.

Chris, disappointed to give up on Sip Et Chan Waterfall, followed me back. He didn’t see the big deal. Then he took off his shoes and socks and found at least 15 little suckers on his feet. He nonchalantly plucked them off. Big mistake!

Don’t rip leeches off of you! 

It’ll leave you like Chris, suffering from super itchy wounds that won’t stop bleeding for weeks. Follow these instructions instead.

3 Things to Do in Khao Sok National Park

  1. Do hike to Ton Kloi waterfall instead of Sip Et Chan Waterfall

Leech-free but with bloodstained socks, we returned to the trailhead to start anew on the more conventional Khao Sok hiking path to Ton Kloi waterfall.

The 4.5 km walk to the first waterfall, Bang Hua Rat, was moderately flat and easy. It was also a bit slippery and muddy but, most importantly, it was leech-free.

From Bang Hua Rat to Ton Kloi the path was decidedly less well marked and more difficult to navigate (i.e. we got turned in circles a couple times). Much of it is walking up a stream. Don’t bother trying to avoid getting your feet wet. You’ll have more fun and move faster slosh along in the water. Just wear shoes you don’t mind getting soaking wet.

Speaking of fun, there are impressive Liana trees with spiraling, long hanging branches which resembled thick ropes. Some of them were over thirty feet long… perfect for swinging!

Gif of Kim swinging on a vin on the way back from Ton Kloi waterfalls

It took us about 2 hours to hike the 7 km to Ton Kloi waterfalls.

The waterfalls exceeded our not-very-high expectations. They are in a sunny spot with nice big flat rocks to lounge on.

Chris went for a dip and had little fish biting his legs, just like they do at the fish foot spas. These little fish were hungry. And so were we. We ate the bagged curry and stir-fry lunch we’d picked up from a street stall before the hike while enjoying the soothing sounds of rushing water.

After lunch, we explored further up the stream in search of another waterfall beyond Ton Kloi that a couple we’d passed by earlier had told us about. We found nothing of interest, though, so we turned around and made it back to the beginning of the trail within 1.5 hours.

It was a fun hike with a rewarding waterfall, very few others on the trail, and, again, almost no leeches. Because of the last point, if you’re trying to decide between hiking to Ton Kloi or Sip Et Chan waterfalls our recommendation would be Ton Kloi.

[2019 Update: In the comments below, Melissa shared that she hiked Sip Et Chan and it was “amazing” and that they were the only ones on the trail, so don’t completely write it off as an option, especially if you go later in the afternoon, when she says the sun scares away the leeches.]

Ton Kloi waterfall in Khao Sok national park
Ton Kloi waterfalls. A perfect picnic spot, for you… and the little fish that nibble your dead skin.
  1. Enjoy a brew and bath at the picture-perfect post-hike sunset spot

Back into town after hiking in Khao Sok National Park, we grabbed a couple large Singha beers and walked 10 minutes or so to Art’s Riverview Lodge. Art’s sits right on the river, where there’s a little swimming hole with an impressive limestone backdrop. The place is open to the public, so we sat on the rocks and watched local Thai kids rope swing into the water and play some bizarre game that involved spitting on each other.

It’s an awesome place to rest your legs after a long day of hiking, drink some refreshing beers, and take in the sunset.

  1. Stay in Khao Sok Palmview if you’re looking for cheap, convenient, and comfy

Khao Sok Palmview
Khao Sok Palmview Resort. Not our bungalow but ours was similar (but half the size).

We stayed in a private bungalow Khao Sok Palmview, which we’d booked in advance for a cool 750 baht/night ($21 US). The long, bumpy truck ride in had us worried that the place was inconveniently far from the center of town, but the manager showed us a shortcut that got us to the main drag in town in under 5 minutes walking. It’s unmarked and unlit, so bring a flashlight!

Khao Sok Palmview was moderately clean and quiet. It’s in the middle of an isolated palm plantation, which for some reason made us feel we were in an eery scene from True Detective. If you can stay for the price we did, don’t bother looking elsewhere.

While they serve food at Khao Sok Palmview, you’re better off heading into town to eat. Our favorite place was Lad Roi-Et (ask around for directions).

Update: Reader Andrea shares in the comments that Coco Khao Sok is another great option, with A/C for $6 per person. Check it out, too, if you’re looking for a cheap place.


Now It’s Your Turn

Enjoy your time hiking in Khao Sok! If you found this guide helpful, please make it even more helpful by sharing your own experiences in the comments below. Or ask us questions so we can improve it.

And if or whenever you head back to Bangkok and are looking for some exercise, consider going to Lumpini Park’s outdoor gym. Then afterward go to eat at one of our favorite restaurants for exotic food in Bangkok.


Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use special links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we'd recommend anyway. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to.

20 comments

  1. This is great information! We just arrived today and hope to check out the waterfall by ourselves tomorrow. The leeches are something we need to inquire about too, and love the linked info! We’re planning on wearing legging pants despite it being hot.

    1. I guess by now you’ve already done the hike! Hopefully our info helped and you had a non-sucky, leech-free adventure! I’m not sure leggings help, btw. The leeches are incredible at sneaking into and under anything. Only a haz-mat suit, full waders, or a dry suit could keep the buggers out.

  2. Hi Chris & fellow non guided hikers.
    Cal & I hiked to Sip Et Chang waterfall today. The 4km there took us around 2.5hrs going back, only 1.25hrs. While the walk itself is neither long or steep we walked slowly and found it not to be a popular track (no guided hikers) and the last 1km is not so well defined. We used the app maps.me to help us out.
    The track is marked with yellow arrow markers (nailed to trees at eye level). Leeches were around morning but less in the afternoon when the sunlight hits the track.
    We recommend it, it’s technical but the track is mostly obvious. We had Sip Et Chang to ourselves, it was amazing.

    1. I wish there was a way to reward people like you who go back to blog posts after the fact and leave their own valuable tips. I’ve updated the post with what you’ve shared. On behalf of all fellow non-guided hikers who read this, thanks so much Melissa!

  3. Hey, I don’t like some of the things you’ve said here – you recommend travellers to disregard taxis and basically scrounge ones for a hotel that you’re not even staying at? WTF?
    Also, to shun guides? These people make their living from tourism (some of them) and this is still a poor country and they provide some rich knowledge. So, it should be an option to get a guide, not a bad idea.

    1. Hey Royston, thanks for the feedback. I suppose what I wrote wasn’t clear.

      No hotel will pay for your taxi unless you stay with them, but they all will pay if you do. If you pay the taxi yourself you’re either double-paying along with the hotel or you’re paying an expense for the hotel.

      As for guides, you’re right that they should be an option. Indeed, for some they are the best option. But, contrary what they and the companies that take a cut from sending them hikers claim, they aren’t the only option.

  4. I have to say the Guides I took here for my trips were all very knowledgeable and accomodating. By asking for tours at my hotels (I had to stay at different places because of the peak season) they told me I could take a guide but its also okay if I go by myself and the one day they even just dropped me off at the park when I die a trip by myself. Also I don’t think an extra 10-20 bucks for a guide is that bad, even students can afford that easily. Overall I have to say that I cannot agree with the comments you made here!

    1. Great! Maybe things are changing and they’re not being so pushy about making people take guides anymore. Thanks for sharing your experience Jens. Hopefully you enjoyed your time hiking in Khao Sok, with or without a guide!

    2. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for all the info, super useful!

      Btw I didn’t get the impression that you were trying to convince people not to get a guide, you just offered an alternative way of hiking in Khao Sok for people who prefer to do things independently. I agree that hiring a guide supports local economy, however, if you’re travelling on a budget then $20 can be a big expense.

      Happy travels

      Alena

      1. Hi Alena, Thanks. And I like the “lasange for breakfast” name of your blog. Sounds like you and Anton are our type of unconventional people!

  5. Hey! I wanted to thank you for all the info you provided! We just got back from our visit to Khao Sok and I don’t think we would have made the trip out of the way if not for you! We weren’t able to afford the extra money and I was hesitant to wander around without a guide but your post gave me the confidence to do so. A guide will take you on the smaller trails and can probably point out animals and bugs that you would otherwise miss but we saw 3 different monkey species, tons of birds, small snakes, and lizards without one too. The first part of the main trail (Western Track) is large enough for a vehicle and pretty impossible to get lost on. It’s also where we made all our monkey sightings. Also, on the trail to the Ton Kloi waterfall, we saw zero leeches! For more reference: we stayed in the Coco Khao Sok Hostel with AC for $6 per person and loved it! They also offered the free pickup from the bus stop (but we forgot to arrange it again of time haha) Thanks again and Happy Trails!

    1. Hey Andrea, after the previous couple of commenters criticized me for suggesting it’s possible to not get guides, I really appreciate your comment that backs me up! I’m glad to have helped you enjoy your time in Khao Sok. And that’s amazing how many animals you saw!

      Thanks also for the Coco Khao Sok recommendation. I’ve updated the post to share it!

      All the best.

      1. I think people forget that when you write a travel page, it’s your personal opinion – you aren’t ordering people to do certain things, just providing options. Keep up the good work!

  6. Interesting article, especially about the distances and times for your hike.

    I think taking a guide is a personal choice. If you want to just hike alone and navigate you way in Khao sok that’s perfectly fine.

    If however you’re more interested in seeing rare and illusive wildlife then a good local guide is absolutely necessary. As a film maker, I often use expert guides with local knowledge about animal behavior and habitat to improve my chances of spotting rare and endangered species.

    Hiring local guides is an important pillar of community-based tourism, supporting local families and creating ground-up support for wildlife and habitat conservation in countries you visit. As others have noted in their comments, hiring local guides is a win-win-win for hikers, local communities and the conservation of wildlife.

    1. Totally on point, Roberto. A good guide at a fair rate is almost always a great investment. The trick is finding a good one and ensuring the rate is fair, which can only really happen with healthy competition. One excellent source of such competition is having the option to not hire a guide at all. When we were there everyone tried to convince us that wasn’t an option, so we wrote this post to state otherwise.

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