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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.

Green 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. It won’t be as fuzzy in real life.

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
Figuring out our plan of attack in Downtown Khao Sok.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Exploring outside of Khao Sok National Park
Renting a motorcyle and exploring was a fun half-day trip in Khao Sok.

3 Things to Do in Khao Sok National Park

1. 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 that 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.]

Khao Sok National Park river views
On our way to Ton Kloi waterfalls.

2. 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.

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

Palmview Khao Sok Hotel Interior
Khao Sok Palmview Resort. Not our bungalow but ours was similar (but half the size). Photo: Hotels Combined.

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.

Bonus Tip: Get on a bike and explore.

Chris and Kim on a motorycle wearing plastic raincoats
Color coordinating as explore outside of Khao Sok.

If you’re tired of hiking in Khao Sok, rent a bike in town and explore. We got unlucky with the weather which made for a pretty wet ride as you can tell, but we still enjoyed our day out.

We drove up to Cheow Lan Lake to take in the views. We didn’t think it was worth spending money on the boat tour, but on a nice day with friends, I’m sure it would make a lovely afternoon.

We also took the back route back to town passing by local villages and a ton of rubber tree plantations.

Be sure to stop by the limestone cliffs as well, which are hard to miss right off the highway as you make your way to Cheow Lan Lake.


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.

24 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.

  7. We did the Sip Et Chan trail on December 2nd 2019.

    We drove in, parked up and then were waved over to pay the 300 bhat entrance and a car park fee of 30 bhat and to sign in.

    The park was very quiet, few people and most of the few staff around busy preparing for high season crafting some pretty cool stuff from cement (you’ll know what I mean when you get there!).

    We had decided to do the Sip Et Chan trial sans guide. The trail head is up behind the information centre and shop, dont go over the bridge to your left, keep walking up the slope towards the campsite and you’ll see the entrance to the trial, its massive with loads of the aforementioned cement animals, walkways, and signs, you cant miss it once you see it.

    There is a hut at the start of the trail which I guess in busier times they might be checking entrance tickets here and also might be giving you the hard sell on the guide, neither was present.

    At the end of the first part of the trail which is all concrete walkway, there is a second hut and a bridge. The bridge loops back via a viewpoint to the park entrance. The hut might be a spot where the guide pressure is applied but again deserted at this time of year.

    The trail starts properly after this point and you need to start paying attention. It’s pretty easy to follow in most parts and you get occasional yellow arrows nailed to trees, especially where you cross the main river (4 times). These were sometimes broken and lying on the floor.

    We used the free Hiking Project app that has a gps trail map. It’s not accurate enough to follow exactly, but where the path gets indistinct and you end up following the wrong bit it let’s you know you are veering away and you can back track and try again. The google satellite info is useless as it’s just trees of course and the terrain view is just green, so you cant even see the river on the map.

    I imagine in busier times the trail is much more clear.

    We got a little lost a couple of times as the path become indistinct or some bamboo had fallen over the way, just relax, check your map, back track to a known good point and try again. You are never more then 20 odd metres from the main river when on the path.

    The trail is beautiful and opens up occasionally so you can see further than 10 metres! The waterfall is small but lovely and you get a great view up and down the river. The glade was full of butterflies and insects and fish in the pools. Most importantly there were no people! We past one couple with a guide that had stopped to have lunch and passed them again on the way down. The place was deserted.

    Leeches, you cant get away from them but they dont hurt. Long white socks help because you can see them easily and can flick then off. Leeches respond to vibration and heat, if you walk up to a spot and then stop they’ll come out of no where and start navigating to your heat. My advice is to where tough ankle height shoes, long white socks and just pause every once in a while to flick them off your shoes and socks and carry on. We used an eco friendly bug spray liberally kn our shoes and ankles and refreshed often and it seemed to stop them latching on too readily. They are ground leeches and are much less common on the rocky bits and no where to be seen in the actual river bed and edges, so dunk those feet every chance you get for some heat and leech relief!

    Leeches release anti coagulent into the wound to keep it bleeding, the longer they are on there, the more anti coagulent you end up with. So check frequently and have a proper shoe and sock strip down at the waterfall and het them all off. Spit on the wounds and get your socks back on. The spit and pressure of the sock will help counter act the anti coagulent effect and stop them bleeding. I missed one and it had a good old time to suck and that one didn’t stop bleeding for a few hours though the blood thickened up. Bug gloves of spit and a plaster, sorted.

    There is nothing inherent in the bite that will cause it to become infected. If you have a bite that wont stop bleeding after the hike, clean it out, use anything anti bacterial on it (savlon, zinc, zit cream, sudocreme, even sugar if you cant find anything else) and COVER it.

    1. Holy smokes, Rolf! It’s so informative that we should make your your comment is the post and our post is the comment! Future readers will appreciate this enormously. And next time we’re going to go with you. You should be a guide! Thanks

  8. Hi, great post! I plan to do Khao Sok in the next 2 weeks and found so many valuable info here 🙂
    Did you also go to the lake? I see that the only option to see the lake is to buy an organized tour. Any advice? Is it possible to do it on my own, in the low-cost backpacker way?

    1. Thanks Marta! Kim and I rented our own scooters to get to the docks, where you can negotiate with the boat guys if you’d like to do a ride. We decided against it, in favor of exploring more on our bikes, so can’t give any advice on prices, unfortunately. It’ll be cheaper than a tour, that’s for sure. Enjoy your trip!

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