Khao Sok NP (from July 2009 newsletter)

>Extraordinary, stunning Khao Sok National Park is composed of 400+ square miles of rugged limestone mountains and lush tropical rainforest. One of Thiailand’s hidden treasures; its relative remoteness helps insure its status as an off-the-beaten-track, undiscovered treat. The centerpiece is vast Chiaw Lan Lake. Over 100 miles long, it was created by the Ratchaprapha dam in 1982. Often called Thailand’s Guilin for its karst landscape, it is characterized by limestone outcroppings, similar to those in more famous Phang-Nga bay. However, these reach a height of over 3000 feet, more than triple the size of the Phang-Nga formations. The dramatically vertical peaks, draped with verdant jungle vegetation provide the visual backdrop for every breathtaking vista as well as create over 100 islands in the lake. Many waterfalls splash over limestone cliffs, adding to the visual splendor. One guidebook describes it as stepping into a “George of the Jungle” movie.
The park offers several engaging activities. Hiking is the most popular with trails leading to Sip-Et Chan, Than Sawan, and Than Kloy waterfalls (3-6 miles). Several lake-side caves can also be reached on foot or by boat. Possible wildlife spotting includes Malayan and Asiatic black bears, leopards, serow, banteng, civets, loris, wild boar, guar, deer, and even wild elephants and the occasional tiger. One is almost sure to see langurs, gibbons, hornbills, and flying lizards. KS is also home to an additional 150+ species of birds. Fauna includes lianas, bamboo, ferns, rattan (including giant rattan), and the famous Rafflesia kerrii (or wild lotus), the world’s second largest flower. The “blooms” can reach a staggering 32 inches in diameter. Boats can be hired for exploring the coves and caves along Chiaw Lan’s shores. Bikes and motorbikes can be rented for those wishing to explore further afield. A variety of guided tours and treks are available and elephant trekking has a good reputation here.
Khao Sok is remote enough to be off the usual tourist track. Small roads and rustic accommodations keep commercial tour companies away and less than convenient public transportation keeps the flow of independent travelers light. Even so, there is a visitor center with an exhibition of KS highlights and rudimentary trail maps for hikers. Most hiking trails originate here. There is also a tourist village with several bungalow operators, mini-markets, email centers, laundry, message center, and bike/motorbike rentals. The best time to visit is during the dry season, late December to May.
The amazing natural wonders of southern Thailand should be on everyone’s Southeast Asian list of can’t miss sights. If you’d like to enjoy them without the tourist crush of Phang Nga bay or the parks of the northern peninsula, Khao Sok is perfect for you.

Imprint Tours is one of the only tour companies that takes its hardy tour members to Khao Sok. We organize a jungle trek with a local nature interpreter, take a bamboo raft excursion, visit a lake-side cave, and do a sunset cruise on the lake. But the highlight by far is staying at a floating lodge in the middle of the lake. Step off your bamboo porch directly into the refreshing water of the lake, paddle around in the free kayaks, or just relax on a Thai ax pillow in front of your bamboo bungalow. However, the real magic begins after nightfall when the silence becomes absolute except for the occasional calls of the living jungle and complete darkness reveals the milky way in all its glory. The towering karst formations bathed only in starlight are a sight never to be forgotten. Midnight swim anyone?