A short drive from Phuket, Khao Sok is a protected area of 4,400 square kilometres of jungle and mountains with a 165 square metre reservoir inside as well. It is part of the largest area of old growth in the south of Thailand and hosts a variety of wild animals, including pigs, deer, cats, elephants, tapir and gaur.
This tropical evergreen forest is an impressive reminder of the original rain forest that covered Thailand before the arrival of the palm and rubber plantations. It boasts flora and fauna even more diverse than the Amazon. For example, Khao Sok is home to one of the largest flowers in the world Rafflesia Kerril. The flowers on this plant grow up to 100 centimetres in diameter and weigh up to 10 kilograms. Be warned however, they only bloom from December to April.
Once inside the nature reserve you can choose between birding tours, safari tours and even kayaking tours. You can stay in adobe huts and other places that respect the natural beauty of the surroundings. Our Jungle House is one such guesthouse which offers tree houses or bungalows and prides itself as the original green resort in the area. It overlooks a clear stream and treks and tours can be booked from reception. Arts Riverview Lodge is a similar establishment, with simple but comfortable bungalows and tubing opportunities in the nearby river.
Bird enthusiasts or twitchers will have a field day in Khao Sok. There are numerous birds to search for, including the elusive Rufous-collared and Blue-banded Kingfishers, a range of woodpeckers and forest birds such as the Striped Spiderhunter. Guides are available from the different accommodation options for day tours, but you can also join specific birding treks which take you deeper into the jungle.
These tours will take you right into the heart of Khao Sok and you will have the chance to go elephant trekking and canoeing as well as hiking through the jungle on foot. Experienced guides will point out the different fauna and wildlife and feed you freshly caught fish from the river. The overnight tours are an excellent way of observing the night-time character of the jungle which is very different from during the day. You will see nocturnal animals and can sip a beer as the moon rises over the tree tops.
You dont need to be an experienced kayaker to take part in these tours. Skilled and experienced guides will teach you everything you need to know. This is a wonderful way to experience the jungle, as you navigate along rivers observing the wildlife from the safety of the water. Tours will often include some jungle trekking, mountain climbing and caving for the adrenaline junkies.
One of the highlights of Khao Sok is the Chiao Lan Reservoir. Sheer peaks rise directly from the water and tower hundreds of feet above you. Whole trees grow out of the limestone crags and 60 million years of water erosion has created unbelievable vistas. Wild monkeys, barking deer, kingfishers and other wild animals jostle for position in the surrounding hills and the water itself offers catfish, carp and giant snakeheads. You can ask your guide if a visit to the reservoir is included in your eco-tour.
So while in Thailand, head down south and spend some time in the Khao Sok area. It might not be on the beach, but it does provide an unforgettable experience and a chance to see Thailand as it was thousands of years ago. The guides are knowledgeable and interesting and you are bound to see animals and plants that you have never seen before and are unlikely to see again.