Perhaps the most popular nature reserve in Thailand, Khao Sok National Park scores quite a lot of medals. The primary rainforest it is mainly comprised of is one of the oldest forests in the world. It is the best place in the country to see rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. It also has nepenthes, the flycatcher plants, and a full array of Thai tropical fauna that inevitable draw for nature lovers: elephants, tigers, some interesting primates, a few species of hornbills, et cetera. It includes a big lake with karst rocks in and around it, looking like a miniature version of Halong Bay in Vietnam. And finally, it is a rare national park that is adjusted for leisure as much as for exploratory activities and wildlife tracking. Floating and onshore guesthouses by the lake take care of this, providing a fair bit of luxuries and recreational facilities. Venturing into Khao Sok National Park is something you do not want to miss.
One of the main reasons to visit Khao Sok is to see rafflesia. This parasitic flower without leaves or roots, the largest in the world, imitates raw meat in appearance and smell to attract flies that pollinate it. Its natural areal mainly lies south of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, making Khao Sok the only place in Thailand where one can guarantee a sighting. It is still not automatic, do not expect to wander into the jungle and end up surrounded by rafflesia. First, this far from the equator, rafflesia only blooms in January and February. And second, it is still rare enough to essentially nullify your chances of stumbling upon one of the flowers by accident. The only choice is either to take a guide, stalk a tour group at a distance, or follow a trail with the most recent footprints if you are a good forest tracker. Otherwise, the secondary attraction, flycatcher plants, can be found easily in moist, swampy lowland areas.
Khao Sok National Park has the usual assortment of South-East Asian fauna. There are about 200 heads of wild elephants roaming here. Rangers will know if a herd gets close enough to be accessed on foot. Some elephant camps with domesticated pachyderms are also found in and around the park if you would rather ride than view them. Tigers and leopards inhabit the more remote parts of the jungle, but as usual, the odds of seeing one are infinitesimal. Primates are much easier to find - the most interesting species here are gibbons, and they usually make distinctive calls in the morning. Birdlife is abundant, with great hornbills swooping over the canopies. Bring good optics.
What makes Khao Sok unique is that, unlike in most terrestrial national parks, the activities in one of the world’s oldest rainforest are not limited to nature hikes and wildlife tracking. Cheow Lan Lake in the middle of the park is quite an attraction in itself, with a maze of karst formations and transparent freshwater. At one side of the lake, there is a cluster of resorts, some built on the shore, some floating. It is a popular destination among honeymooning Thais. Staying here for a while doing nothing much, swimming or reading a book on the terrace of your raft-house could be tempting to the more leisurely kind of tourists. More active types can try out kayaking, stand-up paddling or rock climbing. And of course, forest hikes and venturing into the jungle are always a good idea.
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