Nature, red in tooth and claw – experiencing Khao Sok national park
As we waited for breakfast to be served, sat in the outside restaurant in the Khao Sok jungle in the rain, the snake slithered through the trees towards the nest, stuck it’s mouth in and pulled out a struggling baby squirrel. We watched in interest and horror as its jaws clenched down on the baby.
The parent squirrels, in hearing the baby’s shrieks, came running down the branches towards the snake and started dive bombing it from above and below. It seemed they were trying to push it out of the tree, away from their other babies, and perhaps hoping it might drop the other one on its way down.
That was our first morning at Khao Sok national park.
Nature red in tooth and claw.
Khao Sok is the second ‘jungle’ in Thailand we’ve been to this year, after Kris’ birthday trek in Khao Yai. I use inverted commas for ‘jungle’ for the pedantic ecologists out there. Jungle isn’t actually an ecosystem, you see. There are different types. This jungle is a mix of evergree and deciduous rainforest.
Anyway, Khao Sok is in the south-west of Thailand, near the Andaman coast by Surat Thani and Krabi. Like Krabi, as well as Vang Vien in Laos, and Palawan in the Philippines (among other places), Ko Sok has lots of karsts – huge vegetation covered rock formations that seem to burst out of the ground all around. In fact, that’s what happened, millions of years go when tectonic plate shifts caused the limestone rocks created when the area was a coral reef, to thrust upwards.
A mixture of these karsts and stretches of evergreen rainforest, Khao Sok covers an area of 739km². It is part of the Khlong Saeng – Khao Sok Forest Complex which covers a total of over 5,000 km. This complex includes several other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
The rainforest in Khao Sok is said to be one of the oldest in the world, older even than the Amazon. Not affected by the ice ages that cooled other major rainforest areas, it was left it intact for millions of years.
As Khao Sok has been designated as a national park, people are not allowed to live there, but that you can pay an entrance fee (in this case, 300 baht a day) to go and take part in various activities.
In Khao Sok you can trek, either by alone or with a guide. The self-guided routes from the visitors centre are short and mainly on a maintained path to several waterfalls. If you want to go longer distances or off the track a bit, you have to hire a guide. With a guide you can go deeper into the forest and even stay overnight there it seems. Some places were offered up to 5-night treks in the park.
Alternatively, if trekking isn’t your thing, you can go tubing or kayaking down the river. Slow moving even when we were there in rainy season, you pass through the jungle relatively peacefully. There’s also the option of elephant trekking through parts of the forest.
Ratchaprapha Dam and Cheow Wan Lake.
On the way between Surat Thani and the entrance to the national park is Ratchaprapha Dam, which has created Cheow Lan lake. We didn’t go, but it’s supposed to be stunning. On the trip there you can take a long tailed boat across the lake, swim, trek to some caves and stay overnight in some raft houses.
The story of Ratchaprapha Dam is quite sad, despite its beauty. Formed in 1982 to create a reservoir to provide water and electricity to the southern provinces, it meant the flooding of a huge area of rainforest and disruption of the river flora and fauna. While some species were relocated before the flooding created the lake, it is unknown what species have been lost.
Khao Sok Good View resort
We stayed at the Khao Sok Good View resort, chosen based on reviews on Booking.com and Tripadvisor. A group of rooms on stilts linked by raised walkways, the small resort is built in the forest with amazing views over towards the karsts. Each room has a big bathroom, comfy bed, TV and air con and a huge terrace with armchairs for you to sit out and admire the landscapes. We had the ‘family’ room, which was actually just two double rooms with a shared balcony. Great for staying with my parents.
The resort is family run. Bao acts as host, while his wife cooks fantastic food. Bao does everything to make you feel at home from your arrival, giving advice on what to see and do in the area, chatting about Thai culture and history and giving ad hoc Thai lessons. He even got my dad to speak Thai, and I’ve rarely heard him say a word in a foreign language. While the resort is a little way away from the national park entrance and therefore the other restaurants and bars, Bao will drive you in and pick you up if you need him to.
Bao’s wife cooks great Thai food. They will recommend things you should try. Breakfast in the morning is included and is a choice of several sets: rice porridge, omelette, fried eggs and some other things. Each comes with fruit juice, coffee and fruit. Bao and his wife were constantly asking if we needed more, so I’m sure they will fill you up, should you be hungry.
Bao can organise various tours of Khao Sok national park for you. His brother, Chai, is a guide and does his own treks – both full and half day and the night safari. As he is a guide himself, your tour is likely to be private, or only shared with a couple of other guests. This means you can arrange specifically what you would like to do.
Exploring the rainforest
We only had one full day in Khao Sok, having flown from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani to take a car there to previous day.We chose to split our day into two parts. In the morning, our host – Bao’s brother – Chai, took us on a half day trek. We were driven to the entrance, paid our fee and then walked about a 6 km route to a waterfall and back. It was almost a private tour, it was just us, my parents and one Swedish girl who was backpacking after visiting a Muay Thai training camp.
On the way out, Chai took us ‘off-road’, scrambling down paths off the main track and jumping from rock to rock to cross streams. On the way, he pointed out the forest trees – cinnamon, galangal, curry leaf……..letting us smell and taste and guess what it all was. We saw the buttress roots and liana plants, which wrap around other trees for support to grow higher and higher.
We spotted a couple of spiders and lizards, and a snake. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife, probably because we were on a main trail and there were a lot of other people around. However, it was just interesting to be in the jungle for a while.
Night Safari in Khao Sok National Park
At lunchtime, we headed back to the resort for some food and then chilled out while we waited for our night safari. At around 5 pm Chai picked us up again and took us back to the national park. As we had already paid the entry fee once, we could go back in on the same ticket.
We walked up the same road we had walked up that morning, but this time in darkness. Equipped with torches, we shon them around, looking for eyes to be reflected in the light. As you may have gathered from our Khao Yai blogs, I’m not the bravest, and I wondered whether walking around a rainforest at night might be a bit scary, but there was enough light to see clearly enough and we kept on the road for most of it.
Using the torch to reflect eyes meant we saw lots of things we perhaps missed in daylight. The number of spiders we spotted was amazing! Their little eyes were everywhere. The light of Chai’s torch caught a banded linsang, a small carnivore that looks like a small cat. I managed to see it before it disappeared into the forest, but everyone else missed it. The animal of the night that everyone got to appreciate was the frogmouth, a bird that looks like an owl, but is actually related to the nightjar.
If you go on a ‘jungle’ trek – will you please SHUT UP!!!
If you have read our other blogs on visiting national parks, you may remember a slight rant about some very loud tourists disturbing our gibbon spotting. Unfortunately. it seems that this trend of visiting incredible wild areas to have very loud conversations is not restricted to Khao Yai. As we walked back towards the end of the night safari in silence, still shining our torches around looking for the reflections of eyes, we bumped into a couple of other small trekking groups. One group contained about 6 people, trekking in flipflops and having really loud conversations. When we got close we could smell the booze on them. They weren’t looking at anything their poor guide was trying to point out to them, instead engrossed in each other.
I don’t get it. These treks are not free. You could stay in a bar or restaurant and have a loud chat. You could walk around the streets and discuss politics or whatever it is. You don’t need to do it in a national park. Other people are there to try and see wildlife, which has heard you guys coming from miles away. Why spoil it for others?
If you want a loud conversation, don’t do it on a national park trek. There are places and times.
Between Khao Sok Good View and the national park entrance, there is a small Buddhist temple with a shrine built into the karst that looms above it. As it is basically part of the forest, a troop of macaques regularly come to visit and can be found hanging out in the temple grounds. For about 10 baht, you can go in and watch the families play and fight.
Some tourists were bringing food for them too. We’d advise against that, for two reasons. First, they are wild animals and can easily forage for themselves. Getting them to rely too much on food from humans goes against their nature. Second, macaques are big, potentially aggressive animals. If you walk in with a bag of bananas, they are not going to just line up politely to take one each, followed by a polite ‘thank you‘. Every monkey in the group wants those bananas, and they will jump on you and harass you to get them.
Just turn up and watch the macaques for a while. It’s lovely. If you have a bag, they may curiously come and see if you have anything yummy for them, but just firmly move it away and they’ll get the picture.
Our Khao Sok visit was brief, but great. We’d love to go back and do a longer trek sometime, and definitely visit Cheow Wan lake. A good thing about national park trekking is that you can do the same route many times and see different species.
Oh, you are still worried about the squirrels?
Ok, getting back to the snake and the squirrels. Bao and his brother caught the snake and moved it away from the nest. One baby squirrel was quite clearly in the snake’s stomach, but the other babies were soon found to be safe. The next morning at breakfast we saw mum and dad squirrel bringing food for their little ones.
All of the photos on this blog are our own. They’re not that great, but if you do use them, please mention us as the source. Ta.
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