"What to do in Surat Thani?" You will be wondering why I didn't go to Krabi or Phuket instead. Apart from the popular Koh Samui and neighbouring islands (Koh Phangan and Koh Tao), there is a nature reserve in Surat called Khao Sok National Park. It has the oldest rainforest in the world, beautiful limestone formation, man-made lake and home to floras and faunas. Khao Sok is a popular one-stop destination for tourists from and to Phuket, Krabi, Phang-nga, Khao Lak and Koh Samui. It is a perfect getaway for those who are nature loving, adventurous or simply seeking an escape from bustling city.
After researching for the modes of transportation to Khao Sok, we decided to take the train from Hat Yai as there is no direct flight to Surat Thani International Airport and we want to save the hassle of travelling by minivan. Sitting in a van for 5-6 hours can be uncomfortable when you have limited place to put your bags. Other than that, this is our first experience of being traveling on a long distance train in Thailand.
We arrived at 10.30 pm because of train delay. You can choose to get to Khao Sok directly by private chartered van or stay for one night in Surat town and get to Khao Sok by minivan on the next day. The minivan service departs every hour from 7.30 am to 5.30 pm daily. For more information on Khao Sok transfer, please refer here: http://www.khaosok-tourism.com/khaosok-transfer.htm
Along the streets leading the way to Khao Sok National Park, there are many choices of accommodation you can choose from. We stayed at Khao Sok Riverside Cottages which is located about 5 km from the park. This accommodation features a traditional Thai style wooden house. You don't even need an air conditioner here as the shelter provides natural cooling effect. We found ourselves shivering in the blanket as it is very cold in the morning.
One cannot afford to miss out on Cheow Lan lake trip as it is the highlight of Khao Sok National Park. You can choose from one day trip to visit the cave, do some trekking, swimming and kayaking at raft house. For a complete experience, go for overnight trip where you will sleep in the floating raft house and wake up to the breath-taking sunrise over the mist. You can also join the jungle trekking, night safari, elephant trekking, river tubing and etc.
After having breakfast, we departed from the cottage with other tourists. Along the journey, the driver will stop at the local market in Ban Ta Khun. We had the opportunity to see the local people's way of life and shop for some snacks as well. Then, we continued on our journey to the boat pier.
Before the boat tour, we are required to pay 300 baht at the ticketing counter in order to gain admission to the lake as it is a part of the national park. Don't forget to apply sunscreen to avoid sunburn under scorching hot day. The tour started with a cruise through the gigantic limestone cliffs and small islands.
After about one and half hour cruise, we landed at one of the islands to do jungle trekking. The most interesting part is hearing the sound of gibbons amidst the jungle. Too bad, we didn't get the opportunity to see the gibbons. We learnt a lot about the animals and plants from the guide. Then, we took a raft to visit the cave. The cave is full of beautiful stalagmites and stalactites. After jungle trekking and cave exploration, we were totally hungry and exhausted. We departed to Plern Prai Raft House to have lunch, relax, swimming and kayaking before ending our day trip.
Coincidentally, we had the opportunity to take part in Khao Sok Ecotourism Valentine's Festival in conjunction with Valentine's Day. The highlight of this event was the showcase and free sampling of delicious street food presented by accommodation providers of Khao Sok.