Khao Sok National Park in central Thailand consists of dense, untouched jungle and a massive man-made lake with towering cliffs and treetops sticking out of the water. Visitors can have the special experience of staying overnight in the park, in accommodation that’s floating on the lake! These are my experiences for an amazing trip into beautiful, haunting Khao Sok.

Hanging around in Khlong Sok village for a very humid, jungley Christmas!
I arrived in Khlong Sok, the little village next to the bus station, around 4pm from Ao Nang beach. The minibus stopped about 1.5km away from town and the driver insisted on charging 50 baht ($1.50) extra to take people into town or get out and take a taxi into town for the same price. When I got off and started to walk, eventually the same minibus driver pulled up next to me and just told me to get in and that he’d take me to town. I stayed at Khao Sok Hostel, the cheapest option, which had a basic 3-bed dorm that I shared with a girl from Tunisia. Since we were both going to do the same tour, we booked it together through the hostel so we would be cabin-mates for the overnight portion.

It cost 2400 baht per person, or $72 (they gave us 100 baht off because we were staying at their hostel). You have to pay an additional 300 baht ($9) for the entry to the national park the next day.

The tour includes breakfast, a boat ride to the floating cabins, lunch, a jungle and cave hike, and dinner the first day. You spend a night on the lake, then get a sunrise boat safari the next day, breakfast, a boat tour with more caving, and lunch before getting dropped off again in Khlong Sok around 3pm.

I Skyped my family that evening because it was Christmas! Then I packed an overnight bag, moved my larger bag to the hostel’s storage room, and went to bed.

Khao Sok National Park's iconic floating accomodation

Day 1 - Floating bungalows and trying not to sprain an ankle in a dark cave

In the morning we were greeted with a wonderful breakfast and presented with a rain poncho in case of rain. We were then put into a minivan that picked up more people around town until we were at max capacity.

Our first stop was a local market. This wasn’t explained to us as being part of the itinerary, but the driver stopped here to pick up fruits for all of us that we were fed for dinner. It gave us a chance to buy some food and snacks for the road too! He told us that it might be a good idea to buy a headlamp here for the part of the tour where we go through a cave, because the tour guides don’t have enough for everyone.

We were then dropped off at the entrance to the park, which is outside a small port for longboats. After we all paid our entrance fee and got our tickets, we helped the guides load some water bottles and the fruits from the market into our 30+ person longboat, and set off on the lake. The geographical formations surrounding us were incredible – the mountains and cliffs stick out so drastically from the deep blue lake, it looks like they were just dropped there.

Though we didn’t start with life vests on, at one point the captain of the boat started yelling at everyone to quickly put them on, because there was a patrol boat in the distance. After the patrol passed, he didn’t care whether we kept the vests on or not.

It took a little less than an hour on the boat to reach our accommodation for the night. Two huge rows of identical bungalows were connected in the middle by a large common area, and everything was floating on the water! When the boat was parked, the captain asked for groups of four or larger (families) to step forward and he assigned them their bungalows. Then he asked for groups of two (all couples, except myself and the Tunisian girl), and he gave us our own bungalows as well.

View from a kayak of the floating bungalows and the common area

We had lunch then a little bit of down time before we went back on the boats for the jungle trek and caving. We were told to wear swimsuits because in the cave there would be some portions where we need to swim. Gulp.

The hike through the jungle was beautiful and there were many sections where the trail crossed  a river or continued for a distance up a river. I was glad to be wearing my Chacos, which are basically open sandals with a hiking boot sole. It was a bit too many people trying to hike at once though, we were a group of maybe 60 people, and other groups just as large were coming back from the other direction. We had to keep stopping and waiting to make sure that everyone was together before continuing on.

Rock Cairns on the jungle trail through Khao Sok National Park
Rock cairns marking the jungle trail across the river in the National Park
Right before the entrance to the cave, the guide at the front of the group stopped and told us what we should expect inside the cave. He told us to leave our bags and clothes we want to keep dry around a designated tree, and that anyone who is nervous about dark, small spaces, should sit this one out. The Tunisian girl and one other man decided to skip the cave, and one of the guides stayed behind with them. We were then given head lamps, there were only enough for about 2/3 of the people, but I was lucky enough to get one. Going through the cave without knowing anyone else to grab onto if I slipped or to follow closely behind, there would have been some portions where I would have been mostly walking blind in the dark.

We descended to the cave, some people barefoot, then followed the little river at our feet into the darkness.

At first the water is barely ankle deep, and the trail the guide was taking us on alternated between being in water and up onto some flatter rocks in the cave. Gradually the light from the entrance to the cave faded away, and the water got deeper. We were trudging through water up to our knees when the river got narrower and the water was moving faster past our legs.

I was SCARED. It was so exhilarating taking each step, not knowing how deep the water is beneath you or how stable your footing would be. Even pointing the headlamp down at my feet, it was impossible to tell how far down I’d drop into the water when I took the next step. I was holding on to the rocks around me for dear life. People were alternating between screaming and laughing as they continually lost their footing with the gush of the river, and the sound echoed all around the cave.

The dry cave we explored on the Khao Sok National Park tour

Occasionally the guide would point something out in the cave – big spider-cricket bugs that were hiding between the rocks, or small bats that were flying in circles above us.

Towards the end of the cave was when the river trail got insane. Outside of Asia there is no way that they would allow people to walk on their own through something like this. There was a small lagoon, where you took a step forward and suddenly there was no footing below to keep you above water, so you splash down. I doggie-paddled five seconds and reached the other end where I saw the people in front of me climb up onto. Luckily the rocks are easy to grab onto, to keep your head above water until you find your footing, then you can hoist yourself up to where the water is only knee-deep again.

The next portion was a descending staircase wide enough only for one person, and luckily there was a rope on one side that we could hold on to. The catch was the river was cascading over the staircase in a forceful waterfall. None of those in front of me had any clue about the best way to go down because the guides were not around to guide, but generally people went down forward-facing. I almost took a serious tumble here when I slipped on a rock below my front foot, and the only thing that kept me from creating a domino effect with the others down the waterfall was that I was holding on to the rope and I still maintained some balance on my back foot.

I do not know how it was possible for 50+ people to go through this dangerous cave-river in almost complete darkness, without one person twisting their ankle or scraping their elbows or shins on the rocks hard enough to draw blood. We were all safe!

Sunset through the clouds at Khao Sok National Park lake
Dark clouds roll in during sunset over the lake

After grabbing our belongings, we took the same trail back to the boat then took the scenic way back to the cabins.

We had a bit more time to swim or take kayaks out onto the water, or relax in the common area, before the buffet dinner was served. They had a vegetarian and a meat version of each curry and they had fried rice as well. They brought around some fresh caught fish that they had grilled, and put one on each table. For dessert there was the fruit from the market!

In the evening some people were buying beers and drinking there, (they even had buckets of alcohol available, because Thailand) but both myself and the Tunisian girl just went back to the cabin. We stayed up chatting for a bit, then went to bed for the early morning boat safari.

Our Thai tour guide on the lookout for wild animals on our morning safari tour

Day 2 - A boat safari, lake ride, and exploring a dry cave

The second morning, before breakfast and as the sun was coming up we were herded onto the boats again. There was a mist floating above the surface of the lake, and I was glad that I had packed a long-sleeve t-shirt when the boat was speeding away from the dock. This boat tour was different from the others because there was a guide sitting at the front with a paddle, looking around alertly at the trees and over the surface of the water. He was the animal and bird-sighting expert.  He pointed out to us some massive toucans, two different species of monkeys, and some other types of large birds. At one point he was pointing to the trees yelling “Lady Gaga! Lady Gaga!” and we were all stretching our necks out to see what in the world he was talking about. Turns out it was a family of monkeys who had a circle design on their face… for some reason to him they were the “Lady Gaga” monkey…?

We had breakfast back at the cabins, then we packed up our bags to head back to the mainland. We went back on the boat and were taken to one last cave, this one a ‘dry’ one that was much smaller so the light from all of the headlamps kept it well-lit. There were stalagmites and stalactites, more bats, and down one rabbit hole there was a pool of water with fish in it. They only appeared in the water after we turned off all the lights and made it completely dark, then we could see them for an instant when we turned the lights back on.

We took an extended longboat ride around the cliffs protruding from the lake

On the way back to the longboat port, we passed by a famous geological structure of the three cliffs that are sticking straight out of the water. The boat circled around there for a bit as everyone took pictures, then returned us to dry land.

We went back in the minivan then were dropped off at one last location for lunch. The guides passed out little pack lunches for all of us that had fried noodles in it, and they gave us some pineapples as well. We had about 45 minutes to wander around the rest area where there were great views of the lake and a Buddhist temple at the top of a small hill.

After this it was a straight drive back to town!

The last stop on our tour: a temple and lake viewpoint

I had a 4:30 pickup for an overnight bus to Bangkok, so I was glad that we made it back to town around 2pm, earlier than planned. I used the wifi to check in with my family (no wifi at the cabins or in the park), then I was on my way to Bangkok!

Overall, I thought the tour was worth the $82 I spent. It’s quite pricey for a budget traveler, but I would never have had the same experience if I decided to just hike around the National Park on my own. Since it was so different from the other activities that I’d been doing in Thailand (mostly scootering around or chilling on the beach with drinks), splurging one time on a tour like this was a nice change and I highly recommend it for those coming to Thailand for adventure!