Welcome to Surat Thani ProvinceWhen you think of Thailand do visions of white sand beaches, a nightlife that won’t quit, and those insanely crowded (albeit, exhilarating) walking streets dance across your mind like a couple of sugar plum fairies? If so, you’re likely dreaming about the alluring southern provinces of Phuket and Krabi. While these popular tourist destinations warrant a visit of their own beachy merit, not to be overlooked is the understated, yet enchanting neighbouring province of Surat Thani. A nature lover’s paradise, Surat Thani is home to not one, not two, but six national parks, including 739 km2 of jungle forests, limestone mountains, and Cheow Lan Lake (made by the construction of Ratchaprapha Dam) that comprise the astonishingly aesthetic Khao Sok National Park…
An Introduction to Khao Sok National ParkEstablished in 1980 as Thailand’s 22nd national park, Khao Sok National Park appeals to the adventure seeker and self-professed “glamper” alike. Whether you want to work up a sweat with an arduous trek through the jungle or take it easy with an afternoon dip in the impossibly teal water of Cheow Lan Lake, opportunities to immerse yourself in nature are endless. The park encompasses some of the oldest rainforest (part evergreen and part tropical) in the world and is an area with a dense and intriguing ecosystem that’s high in biodiversity. More than 200 floral species per hectare have been observed in the park, as well as an interesting array of wildlife. Nearly 50 different mammal species, more than 300 birds, at least 30 species of bats, and a staggering number of reptiles and insects have made their home in the park! Aside from the virgin rainforests, perhaps the park’s most well known landmark is the stunning limestone mountains, known as karsts, rising out of the teal waters of Cheow Lan Lake. The tallest karst stands a towering 960m high and makes for a stunning photo opportunity while gliding across the water in a long tail boat. EXTRA INFO: Wondering the best time of year to visit the park? How to get there? Where to stay? Open up our full Travel Guide to Khao Sok National Park and read it later!
Khao Sok Floating Bungalows Tour – 3 Day Adventure!When planning a trip to visit a national park as big as Khao Sok, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out where to begin. Should you stay in a hostel or pitch your tent and camp? What kind of food is available in the park? Is there a bar!? Where are the best day hikes? Are there places to rent a canoe or kayak? You could spend your precious time researching these questions and more to eventually come to your own conclusions. However, a much easier alternative that’ll save you both time and energy is booking a multi-day tour package instead! When my fiancé, David, and I decided to explore Khao Sok National Park for the weekend, we thought it wise to leave the logistics to the locals and booked a three day tour through the charming Coco Hostel. Coco Hostel is a family run, multitasking operation that somehow manages to make you feel right at home almost instantly. Part hostel, part restaurant/bakery, and part tour provider, it’s a one-stop shop kind of deal with friendly, English speaking staff to assist you in arranging your tour in advance or even on the day of if you’re feeling spontaneous!
How Much Does a Khao Sok Tour Cost & What’s Included?The cost of a three day, two night Khao Sok tour arranged by the Coco Hostel is 3,600 THB per person ($115.00 USD). Your tour package includes the following:
- A one night stay at the Coco Hostel (Day 1)
- Canoe ride along the Sok River (Day 1)
- All Meals (Day 2)
- Entrance fee to Khao Sok National Park (Day 2)
- Tour activities including transportation to the pier (Day 2)
- A one night stay at a floating bungalow (Day 2)
- Breakfast and lunch (Day 3)
- Tour activities including transportation back to the pier (Day 3)
But What’s It Really Like?
3-Day Khao Sok National Park & Cheow Lan Lake Tour
Day 1 – Morning Flight from BangkokOn Friday morning we caught an early flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani, the closest airport to Khao Sok National Park. We touched down around 11:30 AM and made our way towards the exit, where we were immediately approached by several eager cab drivers, ready to whisk us away to the park! At that point, we had worked up a bit of an appetite from traveling and decided to catch a ride to Surat Thani town for some lunch, before embarking on the two-ish hour trip to the park (you can catch a bus or minivan from Surat Thani town to Khao Sok. (See our section on How to get to Khao Sok National Park for more info!). 500 THB ($15.77 USD) and a 30 minute cab ride later, we found ourselves in Surat Thani’s “downtown”, a hub of shops and traffic with a beachy kind of vibe.
Day 1 – Lunch in Surat ThaniWith a quick Google search, we made our way to a highly regarded hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Tip Pa Rod, and joined a handful of locals in hungrily wolfing down a couple plates of Pad See Ew. Afterwards, we headed to Phantip bus station to figure out the best way to get to the park. We ended up buying two seats in a silver, minivan for 200 THB each ($6.31 USD) that dropped us off at the entrance to the park about two hours later. We disembarked the van to a few taxi drivers inquiring about our final destination. Much to our delight, when I mentioned we were heading to Coco Hostel a sweet woman offered to give us a ride for free since she was heading there anyway! Thai generosity never ceases to amaze me!
Day 1 – Arrival at Coco Hostel in Khlong Sok VillageA brief, 5 minute ride later we had pulled up to the enchanting Coco Hostel. We couldn’t help but smile as we caught sight of the welcome sign advertising, “A Nice Place for a Nice Price”. Eager to confirm the advertisement on said sign, we added our shoes to the pile in front of the entrance and approached the front desk located in the hostel’s restaurant, where a handful of backpackers were chatting over coffee. We were greeted by an exceptionally friendly concierge who checked us in, showed us to our shared room, and provided us each with a towel for bathing. The room was simple, clean, and practical. There were five single beds spread across the room and several mini lockers for storing valuables. The concierge graciously lent us a couple of locks and keys for stowing away our things. At the far end of the room, a door led to an open area with a staircase (leading to the balcony), an enclosed bathroom, and a “shower room” with about 8 separate, private showers. The staff at Coco Hostel made sure we had everything we needed for a comfortable night’s stay.
Day 1 – Afternoon Canoe Tour on Khao Sok River!Once we were checked in, we donned our bathing suits and prepared to begin our 3 day tour with a canoe ride along the Sok River. Around 4PM a friendly Thai man fetched us from the hostel in a white pickup truck, loaded with two canoes in the back. After a short 10 minute ride through town, we reached the spot where our canoe excursion would commence. I took the front seat of the navy blue inflatable canoe (prime seating for photography!), David sat behind me, and behind him sat our canoe “conductor”, a young Thai man with impressive steering skills. For the next half an hour or so we leisurely glided through the water, soaking in the sights of the sun sparkling off the karsts and the cheerful choir of local kids swinging from ropes and splashing into the water. Part way through our ride, a local woman hopped off her motorbike, excitedly called down to us, and tossed a bag of coffee and tea to our canoe! It felt quintessentially Thai and we had a good laugh about it. Shortly thereafter, we put our bag of caffeinated goodies to proper use! We joined two other tour goers for an afternoon cup of joe in a quiet alcove off the river, delicately prepared for us by way of warming the water in bamboo cylinders over a fire! We sipped our tea and coffee from bamboo mugs, which were later gifted to us as souvenirs (score!). Post coffee break, we went for a dip in the water before climbing back aboard our canoe for the remainder of the scenic ride.
Day 1 – Evening Meal at Coco HostelAt the conclusion of our canoe trip we hopped back in the pickup truck to return to the Coco Hostel. We headed to our room to freshen up a bit before dinner and were delighted to find our three temporary roommates chatting amongst themselves. One of my absolute favourite parts of traveling is the interesting people you meet along the way! Hostels tend to attract an adventurous crowd and the backpackers we met at Coco Hostel were no exception. We chatted a good bit about traveling, where we were from, where we had been, and where we were headed. Through our conversations with a Swedish backpacker, we even learned about a half-day batik class in Ubud, which we’re looking forward to dabbling in when we visit Bali at the end of the month! For dinner, we walked a few steps to the conveniently located hostel restaurant, next door to our room! The menu was expansive offering both Thai classics and western food for average prices ranging between 80 – 200 THB ( ~ $3-7 USD). We shared fried pork, Penang curry, and stir fried vegetables with a side of white rice. We were pleasantly surprised when the entirety of our order arrived to our table at the same time, which we’ve noticed is somewhat of a rarity in our Thai dining experience! The portions were generously sized and the flavour was excellent. We polished off our hearty dinner with a dessert of banana fritters (the would be result if a banana and a funnel cake had a baby…) and some homemade ice cream drizzled in chocolate sauce and honey. After our delicious feast, we were stuffed to the brim and in dire need of some movement! We wandered down the road to acquaint ourselves with the surfer town vibes of “downtown” Khao Sok, a cute strip of restaurants, casual bars, and happy travellers.
Day 2 – Setting Off to Cheow Lan Lake in the MorningOn the agenda for day two of our tour was a stay at an Instagram worthy, floating bungalow perched atop the impossibly teal water of Cheow Lan Lake! In the morning, we grabbed a light breakfast from the hostel restaurant – a bowl of fruit, muesli, and yogurt for David and a cappuccino for me (I was still plenty full from the previous night’s feast!). We packed up our things and bid adieu to the hospitable staff at the Coco Hostel. Around 9AM a charismatic tour guide named Lek, (somehow managing to pull off a mullet, might I add) collected us in a silver minivan. We hopped aboard, joining a half dozen other tourists visiting Thailand from places like Canada, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Lek informed us we had about an hour’s drive to the pier, where we would catch a long tail boat to the bungalows.
Day 2 – A Stop at a Local Thai MarketAlong the way, we’d make a pit stop at a local market where we could purchase headlamps that we’d need for future cave explorations – exciting! Local markets are at the epicentre of life and community in Thailand, and are perhaps the only place in the world where you can purchase a competitively priced case of fish sauce while nibbling on some gooey fried bananas in your newly purchased elephant pants! At any given Thai market, you’ll find a wide range of fresh produce (including exotic fruits and veggies), meats (namely pork and chicken), seafood, sauces, seasonings, ready to eat snacks, clothes, and the odd knick-knack or two. Along the way to Cheow Lan Lake, we stopped for a brief 15 minutes at a local market where we picked up a couple of head lamps for 50 THB ($1.58 USD) each.
Day 2 – Glimpsing Cheow Lan Lake for the First Time!A half an hour later we reached the pier and feasted our eyes on the absurdly blue water of Cheow Lan Lake. We grabbed our bags and joined our tour group in shuffling onto a long tail boat, eager to catch a glimpse of our dreamy bungalow accommodations for the evening. A breathtaking hour’s ride atop the glistening jade water, past magnificent limestone karsts, the long tail docked at the centre of a picturesque strip of bamboo huts lining the edge of the lake. Lek guided us along a wooden plank pathway, showing us each to our accommodations for the evening. The one room bungalows were exquisitely simple housing only the necessities for a comfortable night’s stay – a bed, a blanket, and a pillow. Each bungalow had exactly one room and one “porch”. We plopped our backpacks inside our hut, stripped off our t-shirts, and joined our neighbours in jumping into the deliciously warm lake. Wrangling our life jackets into makeshift floating devices we merrily bobbed along, chatted with our new friends, and swapped turns on canoes painted like the Irish flag. Around 1PM we gathered for lunch at the dining area near the dock. We shared a couple of chicken dishes and of course, the standard Thai fare of rice and noodles (vegetarian options were available upon request). For dessert we nibbled on freshly cut, juicy pineapple.
Day 2 – Khao Sok Caving ExpeditionAfter lunch it was time to don our 50 Baht headlamps for some cave exploration! Our tour group loaded onto a long tail boat for a quick 5 minute ride to the forest we’d traverse through in order to reach the opening of Nam Talu Cave! As we off boarded the boat Lek explained that we’d hike an easy 3km around the cave to enter through the back. Then we’d explore our way through 800m of the cave’s mysterious, spider-ridden interior to come out on the other side. As we approached the opening, we ditched our clothes, forming a pile of t-shirts and shorts at a spot in the woods we’d later return to on the way back to the boat. About a dozen eager tour-goers faced the mouth of Nam Tulu, ready to follow Lek’s lead into the darkness as we clicked on our headlamps. David and I fell in line behind Lek, which proved to be quite convenient for us given the weak light emanating from our headlamps (for 50 THB, what could we expect!?). As we waded into the cave we looked up to see a ceiling of sleeping bats! Lucky for us, they seemed to be content just where they were. We saw a good amount of crickets and one intimidatingly large white spider, which Lek jovially picked up and demonstrated as if we were at a primary school show and tell. As we meandered deeper into the cave, shimmying past the stalagmites and stalactites, the water rose higher. In several places we had to swim! It was a three hour, adrenaline pumping experience that we will never forget. When we made it back to where we’d deposited our clothes, we took a few minutes to gather our things and Lek handed out a celebratory snack. A gloriously fried ball of sticky rice and banana, this mouthwatering combo might surpass fried bananas as my favourite dessert in all of Thailand!
Day 2 – Evening Canoe on Cheow Lan LakeA few minutes later we made it back to the boat and returned to the bungalows. We had about an hour to kill before our next activity so we jumped right back in the lake and took the canoe out for a spin. Around 5:30 PM we grabbed a couple cans of Chang from the dining area and shuffled back on the longtail for an evening safari (the best kind of happy hour!). For the next hour we cruised along the lake, stopping to observe the Khao Sok wildlife in action. We saw a couple of black, furry animals fighting over a toucan, which we could have sworn were monkeys, but Lek assured us were some kind of bear (even pulling out his phone to show us the translation)! For the next few minutes, we watched a game of cat and mouse between the bears and the bird, before moving onto the next “exhibit” of the show – a couple of mischievous monkeys! Our twilight cruise was a fun outing, though it may have been a bit of a stretch to refer to the experience as a “safari” in my opinion. When we arrived back to the dock we gathered in the dining area for dinner. We enjoyed chicken and veggies, flaky white fish, a Thai style omelette, and white rice. Fresh pineapple was served for dessert. For the rest of the evening we got to know our fellow tour-goers including an interesting couple from Switzerland, a trio of backpackers from the UK, and several others all of whom seemed to be in the midst of their own multi-month treks across Southeast Asia. After dinner we parked ourselves on the path in front of our bungalow and gazed at the stars, as we listened to the strum of Lek’s guitar and the laughter erupting from a nearby game of cards among new friends.
Day 3 – An Early Start!Day three of the tour began with an early wake up call at 6:30 AM! We had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee (or tea) before returning to the longtail for a morning safari. We cruised through the water of Cheow Lan Lake, stopping to observe a family of playful monkeys as they swung between the branches of the forest. Post safari, we were greeted at the dock by the scent of thick, fluffy pancakes (my favorite kind of welcome)! We topped off our pancakes with a drizzle of of honey and a few slices of banana. Afterwards, we had one last hour to revel in our bungalow leisure. We dove into the lake for a swim, packed up our belongings, and changed into some dry clothes. By mid morning we were back on the longtail with our baggage in tow, headed to explore another cave. This adventure, Lek told us, was much less intense than our trek through Nam Talu and could even be done in sandals. Pra Ka Pelch Cave was much shallower than Nam Talu, but still warranted a headlamp! Unfortunately, David and I had tossed ours after our first cave experience, not realszing that another cave exploration was on the docket. However, Lek kindly lent David his headlamp and I kept close by. We traversed through the cave in about 25 minutes, seeming like a cinch in the wake of the previous day’s adventure at Nam Talu! We left Pra Ka Pelch Cave and shuffled back onto the boat for a final look at an impressive cluster of ferny karsts rising from the blue depths of the lake. We joined a few other tour groups in gawking and picture taking as we soaked in the natural beauty surrounding us.
Day 3 – Swimming in the LakeOur final stop on the tour was a secluded section of the lake where we paused for lunch and a last bit of swimming. A serene nook of land and lake, this spot looked like a postcard and felt a bit like we’d gone “off the grid”, although I doubt it felt that way to Lek! A shallow patch of forest provided just enough shade for us to stay covered, as the tour guides doled out parcels of yummy fried rice and packets of Oreos (leaving us a bit nostalgic for home). As we nibbled on our lunch, Lek and friends chopped up some deliciously refreshing watermelon and pineapple – the perfect compliment to our sun kissed afternoon. Around 12:30 PM we languidly shuffled back onto the boat for our return trip back to the pier. As we pulled into the dock, we readied ourselves to offboard and took one last sweeping look around the glittering lake. We gave our thanks to Lek, wished our new friends good luck in their travels, and greeted the driver who would drop us off at the Surat Thani airport, our fairytale weekend coming to an end.
What Should You Pack for A Khao Sok Lake Tour?The Coco Hostel’s three day tour package blends the best of both worlds in an exciting mix of activity and leisure. Over the course of your time in Khao Sok, you’ll stay plenty busy! Therefore, it’s best to pack for a spectrum of activities ranging from outdoorsy adventures (think: cave explorations) to lakeside chilling (think: casual swimming). Along with your normal toiletries and clothes, consider bringing the following items to Khao Sok National Park to ensure your visit is a comfortable one:
- Sunscreen – You’ll start to feel the sun creeping up as you leave the pier. Don’t worry the refreshing water of Cheow Lan Lake awaits you!
- Bug Spray – You’re in Thailand. At a National Park. There will be bugs. Prepare accordingly. PS – there are mosquito nets over the beds in the bungalows, fear not!
- Activewear – A good bit of experiencing Khao Sok is getting out into nature! Consider bringing clothes you can hike in and sweat in. Perhaps something that you’re not afraid to get a little wet or dirty.
- Bathing Suit – There’s no doubt you’ll want to jump into the beautiful lake or take the canoe out for a test drive. Be sure to pack a swimsuit!
- Headlamp – Learn from our mistake and bring your own headlamp (If you have one! If not, it’s no biggie) instead of settling for the 50 THB ones we bought at the market.
- Water Shoes – You’ll be thankful you brought your water shoes when you’re timidly stepping your way through the unknown floor of Nam Talu Cave.
- Towel – You’ll dry off pretty quickly just by sitting on the path when you step out of the lake, but we didn’t think to bring a towel with us and we wished we had! A microfibre towel is a great lightweight choice for the backpacker.
- Waterproof Bag – Between the boat and the cave there’s a chance your stuff can get a little wet! Bring a waterproof bag for stashing those precious devices like your camera and phone.
- Camera – You’ll want to take ALL of the pictures. Bring your camera. Trust me on this one.
- Lock/Key – There are no lockers at the bungalows, but there is a locker at the Coco Hostel for storing your valuables. If you don’t have your own lock/key you can borrow one from the concierge like we did.
So… What Are You Waiting For?Although we were a bit depressed to bid farewell to the friendly staff at Coco Hostel, our floating bungalow, and the effervescent teal water of Cheow Lan Lake, we were very impressed with our 3 day tour experience! Upon our arrival to the Coco Hostel, everything was taken care of, which alleviated any stress we might have faced, it being our first time visiting Khao Sok. The tour experience was incredible from our leisurely canoe ride, to our adrenaline inducing cave trek, and the time we spent swimming in the lake. We enjoyed it all, all the while getting to meet some awesome people and hearing about their backpacking tales (note to self: if you’re going to crash your motorcycle don’t do it in Vietnam!). As for the bungalow…I still can’t get over how surreal it was to wake up to that view. Sure, the bungalow was simple, but it was all a part of the experience. Since we were happily preoccupied exploring nature, swapping travel stories with interesting people, eating delicious Thai food, and sipping on Changs, we didn’t even have time to miss our precious WiFi (…so much so that David accidentally left his cell phone at the hostel! The staff was extraordinarily helpful, however, and his phone was waiting for us at the pier when we returned on Sunday!). With an opportunity to experience a breathtaking part of nature where adventure meets luxe, at a price point that doesn’t cost nearly as much as the pictures may lead your friends to believe… what are you waiting for!? Book the Khao Sok National Park Tour with Coco Hostel here!
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