Call me spoiled, but after almost two weeks of this..
I thought: Enough. I can only lounge on a beach and read a book for so long. I need some exploration. Adventure. Excitement. And besides, if I drink anymore cocktails on this beach I’ll turn into the drunk that passed out on the shore and washed out to sea.
I want to see more than the beach. I want to see a part of Thailand no one else dares to explore.
I want to go to the jungles of Khao Sok.
Khao Sok made it into my itinerary mostly thanks to the word of my well-traveled Italian friend:
“You must go to Khao Sok. I have been to all the beaches in Thailand, but I still think the Khao Sok jungle is my favorite part of the country.”
With a review like that, I was sold. I started googling photos of Khao Sok and was absolutely blown away by the scenery. I had never been to the jungle and I was filled with anticipation to go somewhere exotic.
After hopping on the local bus from Phuket to Khao Sok (it’s only 60 baht!) I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere. I was immediately greeted to this:
Khao Sok Town
The village of Khao Sok is literally in the middle of the jungle with houses built right smack in forestation, fully equipped with creepy animal noises and alien insects that lurk in the night.
I definitely wasn’t on the beach anymore.
If you want bed in breakfast, air conditioning and a five star spa service–then don’t come here. There is no nice hotel here, period. It’s all local in Khao Sok. Although there is new ‘development’ in progress, most establishments are still family run and only offer the most basic of necessities. A good place will have hot water and a mosquito net. The most ‘luxurious’ offering here will have a room with air conditioning–and it’s going to cost you at least 1000 baht a night.
After browsing one crap room after the next, I settled on The Bamboo Inn, a small guesthouse that offered a semi-decent bungalow room at a killer price: 300 baht a night.
Khao Sok was also the only place in Thailand where I actually talked and connected with the people. I got chatting with the manager of The Bamboo Inn and he told me about the history of Khao Sok, the corrupt Thai government and the spike in jungle tourism.
After playing badminton with his kids and finishing our chat, I shared a few beers with my fellow female solo traveler and then we hit the bungalows–after all, we had to do a jungle trek in the morning.
I booked a one day adventure tour (they’re everywhere in the town) and deeply regretted not doing the 2 day 1 night deal they had. Really. I had time constraints, but if you can manage it I highly recommend to do the overnight raft set up. It’s amazing.
Before I go any further, I just have to say:
GO TO KHAO SOK AND EXPLORE THE JUNGLE. JUST DO IT. IT WILL BE YOUR HIGHLIGHT OF THAILAND.
After being on the beaches of Thailand and experiencing tourism at its worst, it was extremely refreshing to go somewhere real, wholesome, and somewhat unspoilt by the masses. Khao Sok jungle is in a national park that is clean (look at that water in the picture up there!) and feels like some locked away and preserved piece of heaven. If you’re going to Thailand, please, just drop by here for a day or two.
Anyway, to actually get to the jungle you have to cross a gigantic lake filled with limestone karsts. The trip is jaw dropping. It’s quiet, peaceful, and resilient. This is nature untouched in its full and majestic beauty.
After that, it’s right into the jungle baby.
I was afraid I would be too much of a wuss for the jungle trek, huffing up hills and screaming at insects flying into my eyes and other worries crept into my mind–but I fretted for nothing. The jungle is quite an easy hike and, unfortunately, I didn’t see any crazy critters. I was hoping to see exotic birds or animals, but since it was dry season and this jungle isn’t as moist or lush as, say, a rainforest in the amazon–wildlife was limited.
So I was on this hike and I thought–pff, this jungle tour is for sissies. This is nothin. I bet Paris Hilton could do this hike without a sweat or whimper.
That is, until we got to the cave.
This cave is a deathtrap. The tour guide told us that it was pitch black inside, to get our flashlights, and to restrain from touching anything in the cave. Not only are there stalagmites that could tear open your hand in an instant, but there’s poisonous spiders and other critters in the cave you simply don’t want to touch.
The cave was intense. Pitch black with only our tiny little flashlights to light the way. Bats wallpapered the ceiling, their feces absolutely everywhere. Spiders the size of my head were crawling all over the rocks, the tour guide warning us not to touch them due to their lethal poison. There were jagged rocks below me and stalagmites inches away from my head, which meant that if I slipped in the pitch black cave I could quite easily crack open my skull and die a horrible death.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention this was a knee to waist high wade through black, murky cave water. I try not to imagine what was actually in the water.
Toward the end we were fully underwater, swimming through crevices and tunnels so narrow most Americans probably could not fit through them. I had to stick my hand-held flash light in my mouth and swim on all fours to traverse the cavern, feeling hardcore like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
After almost breaking my neck ten times, dodging stalagmites as I swam through viet-cong-like tunnels and avoiding bat poo that was falling from the ceiling–all in the dark–I emerged from the cave victorious. I had conquered the cave. I survived. And it felt good.
The Beauty of the Jungle
The jungle of Khao Sok isn’t for everyone. If nature isn’t your thing, then this place definitely isn’t for you. There will be bugs, there will be strange noises in the night, and you will be locked away in a village far, far away from the civilized world. But for those that crave something off the beaten path, Khao Sok is the best place in Thailand to drop everything and really experience the country. Here, you can lose yourself in nature. Talk to the locals. Explore the jungle that is right in the backyard of your hotel. Really see nature, how it works, and just how exquisitely beautiful it really is.
Khao sok doesn’t have pina coladas, a hip happenin bar, or even a local beach where you can lounge around and ask the server for another mai tai. Khao Sok is down and dirty, but it’s a place where you can really connect with nature and–it’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s true–yourself. In Khao Sok, it is possible to lose yourself in the quiet of nature, explore a piece of jungle that may soon be gone, and truly become drunk in the moment of being in one of the most beautiful places to grace this Earth.
Khao Sok has everything I love about traveling: Pristine Nature, excellent cuisine, and friendly locals.