Khao Sok is a huge national park in Thailand. From what we’ve gathered, a group of communist insurgents set up their headquarters in the caves of Khao Sok in the 1970s. Because of this, the area was protected from those who may have adversely impacted it (loggers, miners, etc.). Soon after their departure, the area became a national park. Then, a few years later, the river was dammed up to create Cheow Lan Lake (I think it was really dammed to create bunches of electricity, but I’m sure the tourist industry was happy with the lake it created). There was an effort to move many of the animals in the area as the lake was filling in; however, we understand that there were quite a few species (mostly fish?) and plants that still met there untimely demise (there are still dead trees all around the lake even 40 years later). But.. I can’t say that we didn’t enjoy the lake.
The main entrance to the park (and where the bus dropped us off) is on the south end of the lake. The extent of this area is a bunch of guesthouses, touristy friendly restaurants, and an entrance to the park (for 300 baht a person, or around $9) where you can do a few hikes. And from what we read, the hiking is limited without a guide. Plus, we are on a budget, and we decided to do something a heck of a lot more expensive. Naturally, right?
One of the popular attractions of the park is staying in floating lake houses on the lake. Literally, houses floating in the water. IT WAS AMAZING, but I’ll get into that a bit later. We bought a package through the bungalow where we stayed for a (guided) one night (two day) stay on the lake. It blew our budget (about $80/person), but it was completely worth it.
As always, here is a video summary of our time in Khao Sok.
- New category alert! Transportation to, from, and around towns can be confusing and time consuming. As such, we wanted to write down what we did in case it helps anyone else save some time in the future.
- High level – As Sam mentioned in the last post, we were very wary of scammers on the way out of Surat Thani. We hopped on what we thought was the right bus, and hoped for the best! My impression is that this is not the last time we will jump on a mode of transportation and hope it takes us to the right place. In this instance it worked out wonderfully, although, we were anxious we had missed our stop at one point. Either way, we got off the bus at Khao Sok National Park.
- Detailed – Bus #465 from Surat Thani to Phuket. Ours was a red bus, but I’ve read that others are blue. Cost 100 baht per person. Starting at Surat Thani Bus Terminal #2 (just past Surat Thani Bus Terminal #1) in downtown Surat Thani. The walk from the main road to the bus terminal is a bit long (we thought we were lost) but it is back there. A minibus at the same terminal would cost 400 baht or so.
- Smiley Bungalow. We stayed in these bungalows the night before and the night after the lake house. They are somewhat basic in nature – no air conditioning, somewhat rundown, and not well maintained. For example, the fans were pretty loud (as in, if you wanted to turn on the fan you needed to supplement with ear plugs) and duct tape was liberally applied to the window screens to prevent mosquitos from getting in (whatever it takes I guess!). However, they had a fan, hot water, a private bathroom, and a kick ass hammock on the porch providing a view of the amazing limestone cliffs, so they sufficed. It seemed that the ‘guy-in-charge’ when we were there was a bit…disinterested…in his work, but he booked everything we asked him too, so again, it got the job done.
- Smiley Lakehouse. So freaking cool. Smiley Lakehouse is made up of a row of small floating “houses” on the lake. And when I say “houses”, they are really just a one room structure with a mattress on the floor and a small bathroom. However, they were super clean. Much cleaner and nicer, in my opinion, than Smiley Bungalow. They had running water and plumbing. I can’t remember if there was hot water for a shower.. I don’t think I showered there. There was no air conditioning, but a fan, and we had a nice lake breeze. At the end of the row of lake houses was a central area where the kitchen is located and a bunch of tables. This is where we had meals, where people could order drinks, or just sit around and chat or play cards.
- Terrible road side food stands. As much as Sam and I like street food, it was terrible in Khao Sok. Granted, it wasn’t really “street food” in this super touristy area, but we tried to find legit Thai food (and not the food directed at tourists that it seemed was in all the restaurants). We found a lady in an open air restaurant with a bunch of metal tubs of different Thai food. Seemed legit. Turns out BAMBOO IS DISGUSTING. And it was really spicy (so hey, maybe it was legit!). I couldn’t finish mine. There was also one noodle stand (which is basically noodles in a bunch of broth with some kind of meat or vegetables). We both really like noodles, but this one was terribly sweet. Ick.
- Food at Smiley Lakehouse. This was SUPER delicious. Maybe it was cooked to be more appealing to tourists, but I don’t have any complaints. They also made versions of everything vegetarian. The pad thai on the second day was the best we’ve had since we have been in Thailand. Again, maybe it wasn’t legit, but it was delicious.
- Pawn’s. We opted for a ‘tourist’ appealing restaurant when we got back to Smiley Bungalow on the third night. It was pretty good, so we stand corrected on the whole ‘I’m not eating at a tourist restaurant dammit’ thing. We’d rather pay a little bit more for delicious food than save a buck or two for something we can barely eat. We had the massaman and panang curry. We still don’t quite know what the definitions of these dishes are, as everywhere seems to make them a bit differently, but they were delicious.
- Chilled in our hammock. We didn’t do much in the Khao Sok area outside of Smiley Lakehouse except chill out in our hammock. Worth it.
- Smiley Lakehouse overnight package.
- Cruised around on a long tail boat. We had to take a long tail boat from the pier to the lake houses. The lake is full of these huge limestone cliffs everywhere. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Also, for those of you that don’t know, a long tail boat is one of the main water transportation mechanisms used in Thailand. It’s a boat shaped like a very large canoe so 10-ish people can fit inside and it has what looks like a car motor hitched on the back. Then, a long metal pole extends from the motor into the water with a propeller on the end. The driver moves the long metal pole around to direct where the boat goes. I feel like every time I’ve seen it in pictures, I’ve romanticized it.. but it turns out the motor is not appealing. It’s very loud. You get used to it after awhile, but it’s nothing like getting rowed around in Venetian boats like I had pictured in my head.
- Swam. Swimming is kind of a must do when it’s 5 feet from your front door in a gorgeous lake and I have reached my melting point.
- Monkey safari. Basically, this involved riding around on a long tail boat and looking up at trees for signs of monkeys. We did see some. They were mostly far away, except for some close ups in the morning. It was cool just to cruise around the lake on the boat.
- Side note – in the ‘I never thought this would happen category’.We were looking for monkeys. In trees. And there was a group of French speakers and their interpreter in our boat. Watch this video to understand why this is hilarious (especially if you know French) – click here. If you don’t like watching videos, I can provide a cliff note version. When you learn foreign languages, you learn ridiculous phrases which you are never quite able to slip into a conversation (such as “the monkey is on the branch”). However, for the first time in my life, I heard a French speaker say “the monkey is on the branch” in real conversation. Life goal accomplished. Sam and I couldn’t stop giggling.
- Hiked. Our guide took us on a little hike through the jungle to the cave that we explored (see below). I really enjoyed the hike. But the most fun part was chatting with our guide about his life in Thailand. He worked in a Unilever company for 6 years, and then switched to being a guide for the last 6 years. He said that it pays better, and he likes being outside. It is amazing to me that he didn’t go to college but learned most of his English while tour guiding. He also was doing this hike in the jungle and the caving adventure all barefoot. Badass.
- Went caving. Caving was a huge highlight of the trip. It was a fairly large cave, and it took us about 45 minutes to walk through it all. We saw TONS of bats and some cave fish. At multiple points, there was water up to my neck (and at one point I just swam for a few feet because I couldn’t easily touch the bottom). You definitely had to use your hands to guide yourself over and through rocks while water was rushing all around you. In the dark (with headlamps). It was a great adventure! We now have a new goal: become spelunkers (a fancy word for going caving).
- We have decided to change the “Run” section to “Fitness” instead, since we have ended up doing much more than just running to stay active!
- One run. This was probably the most difficult place we’ve run so far, but you can make it happen. You cannot run at the lake house, since the only part of it you can walk on is the ramp connecting all of the houses and the kitchen area. We squeezed a small run in in the other part of Khao Sok. The distance between the road where the bus drops you off and the national park entrance is about 1.9 km. You could also do a few off shoots to get more distance. We easily got in a 2 mile run. Strava data HERE.
- One swim (Sam, not me). He “only” went 800 yards (or so) and was terrified he was going to run into a poisonous snake (irrational fear much?) for most of the time, but he said the water temperature was great and the fresh water felt amazing!
- Smiley Lakehouse. Expensive (for us on our budget) but completely worth it. It’s one of the most fun (and beautiful) things we’ve done so far.
- Bunches of bananas for 20 baht (around $0.50). Sam and I are trying to maintain our healthy lifestyle while traveling as much as we can. It can be quite difficult when you aren’t preparing your own food (and don’t even know what you are ordering some of the time). We have learned that even the same dish can be drastically different when prepared at different restaurants. However, fruit is everywhere here. We have easily been able to find fruit on the street in every place we’ve been. There is a fear of food safety issues when you don’t cut the fruit yourself (that’s gone out the window for us by now, but I can understand why it wouldn’t for some people), but bananas are super cheap and you peel them yourself, so you don’t have to worry as much about safety. We buy a bunch every few days. I think we’re going to put another post together on how we are trying to stay healthy while on the road, so stay tuned.
- Bamboo in delicious Thai food. Just gross. The smell now nauseates me.
- Nescafe. What’s the deal with all of the Nescafe?! All of the coffee we had in Khao Sok (Khao Sok and Cheow Lan Lake) was of the Nescafe variety. Sam asked the folks in our group (two Brits, two South Africans, and a Swede) about this matter, and they didn’t seem to be concerned by it. Apparently Nescafe is a completely acceptable version of coffee in other parts of the world.
- Spirit houses. I have noticed these doll house sized intricate temples all over Thailand, and I was super curious about them. Finally, I asked good old Google. Google said that some Thai people believe that spirits live in these houses. The spirit is said to watch over and protect the area around the spirit house. In order to keep the spirit happy (and prevent them from causing chaos because they are “finicky and mischievous” if they don’t get their way), the inhabitants of the area put out food, drink, incense, etc. offerings in front of the house to appease the spirits. These are found both in houses and public land (such as restaurants and other businesses, parks, caves, etc.). I love seeing these differences in cultures. If you’re curious, you can learn more HERE.
- It ain’t all glamorous. We realize that a lot of the Instagram posts and videos show what an amazing time we are having. And we are having an amazing time! But nothing can be amazing all the time. Except Chipotle. If anyone makes an e.coli joke, we won’t be friends anymore. We want to make a point to show the bad with the good in our adventure. That’s why, in the video, we showcased Sam doing laundry in the sink before we left for the lake house and the less than ideal boat ride back from the lake house when it started to pour and we all got soaked. One of our goals is to show more of these nitty gritty details of everyday life we encounter on this adventure. So hold us to it!