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Khao Sok National Park

One of the largest unspoiled areas of rainforest in the south, Khao Sok is known for its stunning scenery, caves, and exotic wildlife. The park is a convenient stop between Surat Thani and Phuket, and the main east-west road (Rte. 401) passes the park headquarters.

The park is some 646 sq. km (249 sq. miles) in area and is traced by jungle waterways; steep trails climb through underbrush, and thick vines hang from craggy limestone cliffs -- imagine the jutting formations of Krabi, only inland. Rising some 1,000m (3,280 ft.), the dense jungle habitat is literally crawling with wildlife, such as tigers, leopards, and even elephants, but you may be hard-pressed to actually spot any. More commonly seen are guar, Malaysian sun bears, gibbons, magur, macaques, civets, and squirrels, along with more than 200 species of such birds as hornbills, woodpeckers, and kingfishers. As for the flora, it is equally varied. This is one of the rare places where you may come across the stinking "rotting flesh" odor that typifies the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world. (The largest blooms are up to 1m/3 1/4 ft. wide.)

One of the best ways to get up close with the varied fauna of the park is by kayak, along the nether reaches of a large reservoir, about an hour from Surat Thani on Route 415. At Rajaprarabha Dam, you can go boating, rafting, and fishing among the limestone cliffs that appear as islands, or stay in beautiful floating bungalows and explore this pristine jungle on elephant back.

Farther west, the park area (off Highway 401, at kilometer 109) has several bungalow resorts in the jungle off the 1.5km-long (1-mile) entrance road, some set as treehouses. There are several Internet cafes, too. From here, well-marked trails lead you through the park. The park office can provide camping equipment, and guides will offer their services and help plan your itinerary.

Caution: It's important to know that waterfalls and caves pose real risks during rainy season. Both Thai and foreign tourists have lost their lives when flash floods inundated caves in this very park. Chiang Rai made headlines in 2018 when a group of young soccer players and their coach were trapped for more than two weeks after flooding trapped them in a cave. Whether visiting the caverns and waterfalls, or considering a jungle hike or tubing down the River Sok, always book through a reputable travel agent so that help is at hand if you run into trouble.

Guest houses abound near the park and owners can arrange guided tours for a fraction of the price of tour agencies in nearby cities like Phuket. Art’s Riverview Jungle Lodge (www.artsriverviewlodge.com; tel. 090167-6818) has a jungle riverside setting and a swimming hole with pretty great views. Stilted wood-and-brick bungalows start at 1,200B a night.

For a real Thai jungle experience that’s high-end “glamping,” book a luxury tent at Elephant Hills (www.elephanthills.com; tel. 07638-1703). The resort offers several soft adventure tours; most popular is an all-inclusive jungle safari, which includes one night at the ethical elephant camp where you’ll bathe, feed, and bond with rescued pachyderms (no riding). Guided hikes, canoe tours, and meals are included for 18,500B per person for 3 nights or 12,580B for 2 nights.

Contact the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Office (www.dnp.go.th; tel. 02561-0777), or the TAT offices in Phuket Town or Surat Thani, for maps and info. Alternatively, contact Paddle Asia, in Phuket (www.paddleasia.com; tel. 07624-0952), for details on their soft adventure trips.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.