Khao Sok National Park consists of protected rainforest habitat and the enormous Ratchabrapa reservoir, better known as Cheow Lan Lake. We visited for one night, traversing the lake in a diesel-powered longtail boat, swimming, watching bats emerge for their evening feeding, and crashing in park cabins. Amazing scenery, give or take a little smoky haze, and if you have time, many options for trekking in the jungle.
The park cabins could be described as rustic or even dilapidated. In 2006, it was not unusual to find wooden plank walkways and decking breaking under foot as the result of dry rot. Our wooden cabins featured two large platforms, each wide enough to sleep three or more, with drawers below. A balcony overlooking the lake provided a place to reflect (or dry towels). Lighting inside was limited, and the single oscillating fan provided only limited relief from the heat. After 10:00 PM, when the power turned off, a flashlight or compact lantern would have been very useful to see in the two restrooms. Naturally, the running water is not heated.
Our cabins were reached via a very tall staircase from the pier. This location would not be accessible to people with limited mobility.
Visitors may wish to stop at the top of the dam for provisions, sparkling restrooms, and photo opportunities, before heading down toward the pier. The large "longtail" boat, a wooden boat powered by a diesel engine with a lengthy propeller shaft, accommodated our party of 17 with room to spare. Passengers on the very front of the boat and in the seats in the back generally could avoid being splashed, but those under the canopy got a light spritzing. Given the heat, that was not so bad; it's the noise of the engine that wears you out.
The park sits amidst a range of limestone karsts, towers of limestone pushed up hundreds of feet by the actions of plate tectonics. The karsts feature a variety of vegetation, from spartan to lush, and extremely varied surface textures, from sheer rock to cave-like stalactites, all eroded by the rains. We cruised around the lake for 45-60 minutes, spotting a little wildlife here and there. A lone hornbill flew overhead, and a group of dusky langurs (leaf-eating monkeys) let us photograph them eating and leaping around on the side of a karst before running off.
On another portion of the lake, a series of low buildings known as "the raft" offers easy swimming, Thai beer, and if you're observant, additional views of wildlife. At dusk, you can motor around to an area where numerous fruit bats take to the skies to feed, and photograph colorful sunsets.
Back at the cabins, canoes or kayaks are available for those who prefer a silent, self-powered journey among the karsts.
The park staff is friendly and manages some pretty good cooking under the circumstances. Consistent with national park cooking philosophy, we had large portions of a few dishes. Our fish course was a fried whole garani (a freshwater species) with a garlic-chile sauce on the side. The fish, brought over on our boat earlier in the day, was extremely fresh and tender, and the thin dressing with slices of garlic was delicious. A hot "Southern style" sour curry featured chicken with bamboo shoots. The curry is made sour with tamarind, although some of the unusual flavor may be attributable to fermented bamboo shoots. Did I mention it was hot?! Balance arrived in the form of mixed vegetables with Thai oyster sauce, and a mild soup (one year, winter melon with pork "meatballs"; another year, Napa cabbage and tofu). Triangles of watermelon served with toothpicks provided a sweet ending.
For breakfast, the park served rice porridge with a variety of seasonings on the side, such as toasted garlic, chopped green onions, fish sauce, ground chillies, white pepper, and a strange peppery blend sold under the Tiger brand. A version with ground pork was unusually savory. We were warned to have seconds, as it would be quite a while before lunch.
After a final cold shower, we looked forward to returning to a hotel, a city with many cultural attractions, delicious food and, of course, e-mail. We piled into our boat and headed out for Nakhon Si Thammarat, on the East coast of Thailand.