By Ken Scott
Older than the Amazon rainforest, Khao Sok offers rewarding insights into tropical wildlife and forest diversity. Jungle hiking, rafting, waterfall discoveries, birdwatching, planting trees at an ecolodge with a view, and tasting local southern curries are all part of the Khao Sok experience.
One of my favourite destinations in southern Thailand is Khao Sok national park. Khao Sok is tropical mother nature at its best – wild, beautiful, mysterious, beckoning. You can go deep into the forest with expert guides. Or just do simple half-day or day hikes, which may include some bamboo rafting. One of the big highlights is taking a longtail boat out to floating bungalows on Chiew Larn lake, created by the Ratchaprapha Dam. It’s an Avatar movie-like landscape where islands don’t float on the sky, but emerge sheer from submerged valleys flooded in 1982 to create the awe-inspiring dam. The setting is other worldly.
Towering limestone karst mountains covered with vegetation make a dramatic backdrop to everything you do in Khao Sok.
Getting there is a bit of a challenge. Khao Sok is about 2.5 hours drive north of Phuket, an hour east of Khao Lak and about 1.5 hours from Surat Thani airport, which is the best gateway if flying south from Bangkok. Greener flights to and from Bangkok can be found here.
Weather is mostly dry November to April, with bouts of heavy rain May to October. It’s always humid. It’s never cool like Chiang Mai.
A generous supply of mostly seasonal rain – 3500mm annually – nourishes a great diversity of flora and fauna. There are elephants, tigers, leopards, deer, civets, rhinos, sun bears, gibbons, otters and majestic hornbill birds, to name a few. Spotting big wildlife is, to be honest, difficult or impossible, as they hunt and forage and night.
That said, about 100 elephants are thought to live in Khao Sok and adjoining nature sanctuaries. Elephants consume up to 240 kg of vegetation a day. Hikers may see gaps through the bamboo where groups of elephants have passed through.
Throughout Khao Sok there are around 200 different plant species per hectare, compared to 10 or so in Europe or North America. You’ll be surrounded by rattan, palm, banana, epiphytes, figs, lianas and big dipterocarp trees with buttress roots.
Khao Sok is famous for two species in particular. Thailand’s largest flower, and one of the world’s truly rare plants, the unusual – and occasionally foul smelling – Rafflesia. Its flowers only bloom for a week or so in the dry season, typically January or February. After it blooms with big petals up to 80cm in diameter, the plant then shrivels and dies in a stinking fungal mess.
Also keep an eye out for the Langkow palm which grows to five metres tall and has distinct silver-white undersides on its palm leaves. The langkow palm can only be found in Khao Sok and the greater Phuket area.
Compared to Africa and the Amazon, the Thai-Malay peninsula wasn’t affected by major tectonic plate movements. Species of flora and fauna had more time to evolve in isolation.
A good base camp to stay at while exploring the Khao Sok area is Anurak Community Lodge. It’s a small but beautifully designed and simple sanctuary in harmony with nature. It offers a handful of well appointed comfortable air-con bungalows on stilts, each with a balcony.
The views are even better from the resort’s open-sided Hornbill restaurant, which gives a wonderful vista down the valley which is hemmed in by tall and brooding limestone mountains. The view from the restaurant is so beguiling that no one is in a rush to finish their jungle curry or beer. The restaurant is a nice location to while away the hours.
On food, Anurak Lodge is known for its fresh ingredients: growing them and buying them locally. Sure you can get international meals there. But the best are the local curries, prepared with local herbs and made with love.
Anurak – which means ‘conservation’ in Thai language – is committed to responsible tourism. It prides itself on recycling, reducing and reusing. Food waste from the kitchen is turned into compost and used to nourish Anurak’s herb and vegetable plots.
The resort was initially surrounded by a palm oil plantation. However, the management has started a ‘Rainforest Rising’ project where the oil palms are being replaced by indigenous flowers and trees, which attract pollinating birds, insects and a greater variety of wildlife, such as civets and badgers.
The type of trees being replanted were chosen after consultation with the Forest Restoration and Research Unit of Chiang Mai University. Guests can pay a few dollars and plant a tree near the lodge and receive a tee shirt to show that they have been part of the rainforest rising project.
Anurak’s conservation work was recognised by the Pacific Asia Travel Association in 2020, when it won the PATA Grand Award for Sustainability.
The lodge was also included in Nat Geo Traveller UK’s list of 36 eco-friendly hotels around the world that are leading by example in responsible tourism.
Anurak was Travelife Gold certified in 2019.
If you love nature, learning about it, experiencing it and being part of it, a trip to Anurak Lodge and the greater Khao Sok area should be on your southern Thailand wish list.
Find further details at AnurakLodge.com.
And to really dive deep into the flora and fauna of Khao Sok, look for two books by conservationist and author Thom Henley: Waterfalls & Gibbon Calls, and Reefs to Rainforests, a guide to southern Thailand’s natural wonders.
Now based in UK, Ken Scott was for 25 years a travel journalist and travel industry communications expert in Thailand. Ken was manager and then head of communications at the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Bangkok, 2000-2006. He set up ScottAsia Communications as a specialist PR company for travel brands in 2006. He returned to UK in 2013 continuing to serve travel companies from there. Further information at ScottAsia.net.