At 160 million years old, Khao Sok ranks as one of the oldest rainforests in the world and experts claim the biodiversity found here surpasses that of the Amazon. You may be surprised to learn the key reason for this lies in Khao Sok’s role as a stronghold for communist insurgents between 1975 and 1982, which meant the Thai government left the virgin jungle untouched when the logging industry was at its peak.
Today, Khao Sok National Park spans 285 square miles and its ancient forest, towering karst formations, labyrinthine caverns, fairytale cascades and abundant wildlife are fiercely protected. Fauna favorites include the slow loris, mouse deer (the world’s smallest hooved animal) and acrobatic long-tailed macaques, while megafauna such as wild elephants, tigers and clouded leopards may leave tracks, but usually remain elusive to human visitors. Botany enthusiasts will be enthralled (or appalled, judging by the stench) by the infamous and endangered Rafflesia kerrii – the largest and most pungent flower on the planet, lovingly nicknamed the “corpse flower.”
Tucked inland between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, just a couple of hours north of Phuket, Khao Sok’s secret garden could well be the country’s wildest and most underrated destination.
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Manmade Chiaw Lan Lake covers 63 square miles and is populated by gigantic limestone karsts up to three times the height of those found in neighboring Phang-Nga Bay or Vietnam’s Halong Bay. The lake can be explored by boat charter and the local fisherfolk know the best coves and canals, or you can paddle at your own pace in a canoe.
The rainforest’s indigenous inhabitants are the prime draw for Khao Sok and encounters are available on both day and night safaris. Camps of flying foxes take to the skies at sunset, tarantulas weave intricate funnel nests into foliage, Malayan sun bears scratch at tree trunks, while the air is filled with whooping gibbon calls, the hissing of insects and competing birdsongs from over 300 avian species.
Khao Sok is best navigated on foot with a guided hike during the dry season (December to April); though this is the rainiest region in the country, so rainforest showers are still expected. If you’re visiting during the wet season, you’ll be treated to seeing the waterfalls in full flow. As a rule, the deeper you venture into the park, the greater the wildlife encounter rewards.
Khao Sok is renowned for its caves and two of the best for spelunking are Tham Nam Thalu with its subterranean streams and Tham Si Ru, which was used as a hideout by communist rebels in the 1970s and early 1980s.
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