Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
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 apparently home to white handed gibbons and Asian elephants, but the only elephants and gibbons we saw were on cheap t-shirts in town.
Getting to Khao Sok National Park from Phuket
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 kilometres 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).
No Guide Necessary for Hiking in Khao Sok National Park
Our first morning we picked up a bagged lunch of curries and rice and set out to go hiking in Khao Sok National Park. The entrance to the park is at the end of the town’s main strip, only a five-minute walk from Khao Sok Palmview (see Where to Stay below).
Every hotel and person in town, and even signs in the park, will tell you it’s mandatory to hire a guide. It’s not. They just say that to encourage tourists to hire guides. And, in further support of the tour guide mafia, the rangers at the visitors centre are unhelpful and unfriendly and the maps they provide are just as bad. Don’t be deterred, though. 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.
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?
Boy were we wrong.
I had no idea leeches lived on 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, 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.
Ton Kloi Waterfall Hike: Better Than Sip Et Chan
Now leech-free but with bloodstained socks, we returned to the trailhead to start anew. This time, we (I) decided to try the more conventional route. 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 spiralling, long hanging branches which resembled thick ropes. Some of them were over thirty feet long… perfect for swinging!
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 our packed curry and stir-fry lunch to the soothing sounds of rushing water.
After lunch, we explored further up the stream because a couple we’d passed by earlier told us that there was another waterfall beyond Ton Kloi, but we found nothing of interest. We turned around and made it back to the trailhead 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 Ton Kloi and Sip Et Chan my recommendation would be to do Ton Kloi. You won’t regret it.
The Picture Perfect Post-Hike Sunset Spot
Back into town, 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.
Where to Stay in Khao Sok
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 centre 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).