One interesting tourist spot in Surat Thani province, known for its rain forest and nicknamed the Guilin of Thailand, is Khao Sok National Park. The park hosts the largest and most important tropical rainforest in the southern part of Thailand thanks to its high biological diversity which includes many rare species of plants some of which are endemic to the area, such as Bua-Pood – or Rafflesia, the largest flower in Thailand with 70-90 centimeters in diameter.
Amazing limestone mountains stand above the water near the Ratchaprapa Dam, a multi-purpose dam that was built over the Pra-sang canal. The dam is 65 kilometers from Khao Sok National Park and is opened all year round. However, the recommended travelling period is during dry season, December to April. Within the dam area there are hundreds of limestone islets that created the beautiful scenery which earned it its nickname.
The whole park area provides accommodation for tourists who want to be surrounded by mountains and water. Rafting houses are owned by both private owners and the Khao Sok National Park. Each of them has its own unique environment, with some situated among the best scenery. Some quite isolated and very quiet suitable for those who love peace and tranquillity. To reach the rafting houses, we took a ride on a longtail boat from the deck at Ratchaprapa Dam. The price varies depending on the travelling distance. Traveling times are on average less than 40 mins.
One of the interesting spots in the Ratchaprapa Dam area is the view point. To get there we hired a boat and a guide and reached the beginning of a walking trail 40 minutes from our accommodation. We then walked another 45-60 minutes along a fairly easy trail. The limestone rocks along the last 50 meters of the trail are sharp, so visitors should at least wear hiking shoes and possibly hiking gloves if they plan to visit the view point. The effort is well worth it as the view of the limestone scenery and the small island in the lake are breathtaking from there.
The second place I recommend is Pakarang Cave (meaning coral in Thai) which is located to the west of Khao Sok. After a short walk and a boat ride we boarded a raft to cross the river and reach the entrance to the cave. The cave in itself is not large but its stalagmites have shapes of corals, hence the cave name.
Not far from there, there is a tourist spot where three giant limestone cliffs and the Na-Yak Mountain form the valley in which the lake sits. If you clap or yell at that point, you will hear an echo.
We had heard from our travelling friends that the Rafflesia plants were blooming. This plant of the Raffiesiacoae family survives using water from other plants, and has flowers that grow from the ground during the rainy season when humidity is high (from May to December). To see Rafflesia one should consider a steep 45 minute walk. We did, and were lucky to find a Rafflesia with a diameter of 50 centimeters although a fully grown flower can reach 70–80 centimeters in diameter. Apart from specific local plants, Khao Sok National Park has a variety of wild animals that can be spotted; hornbills, monkeys, langurs, and even bulls.
If you have the opportunity to visit Surat Thani province, a stop in Khao Sok National Park or Ratchaprapa Dam would make an excellent side trip. I guarantee maximum enjoyment with various activities such as hiking, canoeing, swimming or simply enjoying the beauty of nature.
Getting there: There are 2 ways to reach Khao Sok National Park; one is taking off from Amphur Muang in Suratthani province or Amphur Takua-Pa in Phang-Nga province on highway number 401 (Suratthani-Takhupa) and turn off to enter the park at 109km marker. Follow the road for another 1.5 kilometers to reach the office of Khao Sok National Park.
To get to Ratchaprapa Dam: Use the junction to the National Park Division, Protected Area Regional Office 2 between 57th and 58th kilometer markers and continue for another 12 kilometers to reach Ratchaprapa dam. Visitors can continue on boat to another 3 Protected Area Regional Offices located in the dam.