Khao Sok National Park comprises 60,000 square kilometres (or about 140,000 acres) of spectacular limestone cliffs, rainforest, and bamboo jungle.
Located in the central mountainous spine of southern Thailand (view map), Khao Sok is home to a wide variety of animals, plants and birds. Elephants, tigers, tapirs, hornbills, Asiatic black bear and wild deer still exist in harmony with nature in this pristine natural wilderness.
The animals most often seen in the park include: gibbons, with their haunting mating call; long-tailed macaque and sleek black languor monkeys; wild boar and wild elephant. In addition, at certain times of the year, it is possible to view the giant Rafflesia flower, which is unique to the area and can grow up to 80cm in diameter.
The park abounds in streams and waterfalls. In addition, since 1982, the park has been home to the 28 kilometre long Cheow Lan (also spelt as Chieow Laan) lake, which at the time, formed behind the newly constructed Cheow Lan Dam.
When the dam was built, there was a major effort to save the animals whose habitats were flooded. This was achieved by evacuating them by boat and truck to other parts of the park.
Today, the edge of the reservoir provides one of the best places to spot wild animals such as hornbills, gibbons, barking deer, wild elephant and boar. The lake and dam are known by two names – Chieow Laan and Rachabrappha. Staying at one of the floating rafthouses at the lake is an experience not to be missed.
The majestic limestone cliffs (also called karsts), so emblematic of the landscape in this part of Thailand, were formed about 50 million years ago. They are also found along the sea coast of Krabi, in Phang Nga Bay, and inland in Surat Thani.
In China, karst formations are the main attraction of the Guilin region, the most visited part of the country because it inspired the famous Chinese mountain water scroll paintings.
At Khao Sok, these cliffs (known by the Thai people as the Guilin of Thailand) are adjacent to freshwater streams and rivers, and since the dam was built, they jut out dramatically from the water all over Chieow Laan Lake.
In recent history, settlement at Khao Sok began 200 years ago, when Thais fled into the jungle to escape invading Burmese armies. The settlement was an inaccessible mountain village, with abundant fish and wildlife – more than enough to support the small enclave.
During the 1970’s, Khao Sok – with its cliffs, caves, streams, and concealed valleys – also became a hideout for Communist insurgents.
Because of these activities, the area escaped the ravages of development, and in 1980, when developers proposed a project to haul logs out of the forest by cable, the Government instead chose to establish the area as a national park.
As in many of Thailand’s National Parks, wildlife is threatened by poachers. The Government and others who value the natural habitat are currently engaged in a serious campaign to prevent this illegal, destructive activity.
Since the 1980’s, many of the villagers in Khao Sok have made a living working for the National Park, however, others do so by poaching plants and animals from the jungle. These villagers grew up with an abundance of wildlife and forest and therefore tend to take it for granted.
Having just emerged from subsistence farming, they are primarily concerned with meeting immediate needs and making some money for what they perceive as the luxuries of modern life.
Poaching of wildlife, wood, and other jungle products will occur when and where the prohibition is not strictly enforced, or until people become more educated.
Controlled, low impact tourism is seen by many as the best means of reducing the poaching, and of transmitting a sense of value to the local people for the natural flora and fauna which is their heritage.