Most first-time visitors to Thailand focus on a few popular areas. For instance, many chose to go to Bangkok or Phuket. These crowded tourist favorites are a lot of fun to explore. However, it has been many years since these locations were considered “off the beaten path.” For this reason, I wanted to create an itinerary that would combine some of Thailand’s less explored gems into a convenient and family-friendly vacation. In this seven day, Thailand itinerary will explore two national parks in the south of Thailand – Kao Sok National Park and Mo Ku Surin National Park. Will also cover how to get around the area and all the practical considerations for your holiday.
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Thailand Itinerary – Day 1
The closest airport to the two national parks we will visit (Kao Sok and Surin) is in Phuket. Upon arrival in Phuket, you have a few options. The first is to spend one night in town and explore the crowded tourist favorite. I chose to go directly to Kao Sok the night I arrived.
If you chose to stay in Phuket for a day, there is no shortage of things to do in Phuket.
Where to Stay in Phuket:
There is no shortage of incredible hotels in Phuket. And because Thailand is so inexpensive, you are going to get great deals on 5-star hotels in Phuket. Even if you are on a budget, you might be surprised. For instance, you can stay at the 5-star
Things to do in Phuket:
- Explore the many Phuket beaches. Although you will later have time for off the beaten path beaches, if you are craving more of a party scene, Phuket beaches are a great choice. Karon, Patong, and Kata are the most crowded beaches with the best scene. Here you’ll find great restaurants, plenty of services and places to hang out in luxury. Later on you’ll discover beaches few humans ever visit – but for now, enjoy the party scene.
- Visit the Big Budda. Phuket’s largest cultural attraction, the Big Buddha is a center of religious worship and a beautiful place to spend a few hours. The statue is located high above the city, which makes it a great spot for pictures, especially at sunset. The road to Nakkerd Hill is curvy and your best bet is to either take a taxi or hike up to the location. There is also a great restaurant on the hill – a terrific place to have dinner after your visit
After Phuket, its time to move to the village next to the first national park – Khao Sok village.
How to get to Kao Sok from Phuket
- You can take a small van with a group of other travelers. To get to the van take a bus (or a taxi) to Bus terminal station 2, and then take a van to Kao Sok. The vans run a few times a day from 7.30 to 6 pm. The upside of taking a van is that its cheap, the downside is that it is not always convenient and you need to get to terminal station 2.
- Alternatively, you can take a private taxi. To arrange for a taxi your best bet is to contact your hotel in Khao Sok a few days before your trip and ask for them to coordinate a driver. Your driver will meet you at the airport upon arrival, and you won’t need to negotiate with taxi drivers who may not speak English. Of course, they can also pick up at your hotel. Cost is about $70.
Thailand Itinerary – Day 2
Welcome to Khao Sok National Park. This breathtaking national park is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world. In fact, 5% of all the world’s species live here – and the Khao Sok jungle is older than the Amazon rainforest. By visiting the park and engaging responsibly in tourist activities, you will help Thailand maintain this natural treasure.
Where to stay in Khao Sok:
Right outside Khao Sok National Park, you’ll find the village of Khao Sok. There is no shortage of hotel options here. Most hotels are fairly simple and comfortable – there are no five-star properties in this area. I chose to stay at the very well-reviewed Jungle Hostel. The proprietor, Sunny, is famous among travelers for being kind and helpful – and he did not disappoint. If you’d like Sunny’s WhatsApp information please send me an email and I will respond with his number.
What to do in Khao Sok:
Start your vacation by exploring some low key activities in Kao Sok.
- In the morning, consider a visit to the Khao Sok elephant rescue sanctuary. During my visit, we had a chance to bathe, feed and play with one of the elephants (the second elephant was free roaming the jungle at the time). Established in early 2018, this is a real rescue center that allows the animals to live in the most natural conditions possible. In addition to supporting the elephants currently at the center, your contributions (about 1200 baht for 1 hour) will help with the costs of purchasing more animals. A working elephant ready for retirement will cost about 1 million baht, and a younger animal would be several million baht depending on the age and condition.
What should you look for in an Elephant Sanctuary?
It’s always good to be selective about which elephant rescue centers you chose to visit. Often “rescue centers” are actually elephant riding parks, trying to attract more tourists by promoting themselves as a rescue organization. Here are a few things to look for in a real rescue center: The elephants should not be alone. Elephants are social animals who like to live in groups. The only exception is wild males roam the jungle alone – but they will always be too wild to approach. The elephant should be as free as possible. They should not be tied up and they should have a large forest as their habitat.
The caretakers should not be issuing commands to the elephants unless in case of emergency and they should never be using hooks (a stick is ok but only in case of emergency). Khao Sok Elephant Rescue sanctuary included all the items I am listing so I encourage you to visit this center instead of riding elephants while in Thailand.
- After the rescue center, check out the monkey temple located a short walk away from the village. At the temple, wild monkeys come down from the mountains for peanuts provided by locals and tourists (you can buy peanuts at the entrance). You’ll notice an old staircase on a side of a hill. Although not well-maintained locals use it to walk up to a cave. My host Sunny and I decided to climb up as well. At the top of the stairs, you’ll see a great view of Khao Sok and a bat cave – the first of many. Take care not to climb without a local guide – the staircase is not well maintained.
- Enjoy a leisurely lunch in town and spend the afternoon in the national park, you’ll find the entrance at the end of the village road. In the park, you’ll have the opportunity to explore a little piece of the jungle. After you pay the entry fee, walk on easy, flat trail to swimming holes and waterfalls. Pay attention and you’ll spot many new species including monkeys, lizards, birds, and insects. The trail is safe to take on your own to the second marker (a few hours from the entrance). Once the road starts getting narrow its time to turn back as you need a park ranger to continue further.
Thailand Travel Tip:
Solo travel not your cup of tea? Consider going on a G-Adventure tour to Thailand instead. I’ve traveled with G-Adventures and really enjoyed the camaraderie and adventure. Its ideal for those looking to meet cool folks while exploring awesome places.
Thailand Itinerary – Day 3 – The Lake Tour, the First Day
Within the confines of Khao Sok, one of the most diverse national parks in the world, you will find the large Cheow Lan Lake. The next two days of the trip will center around Cheow Lan. You can book the two-day lake when you arrive in Khao Sok. Any hotel can make the reservation for you. However, due to cultural and language differences, not every hotel will explain the correct supplies to bring with you. The tour will include your overnight accommodations, all meals, transport and guide fees except for the tip.
You’ll need the following supplies for the trip to Cheow Lan Lake
Leave your travel bags in Khao Sok, and begin the adventure with a lengthy van ride to the lake pier. Here, you’ll meet a longboat and a guide. Transfer to the longboat and after about an hour on the water, you will arrive at the lake bungalows. Our guide took us to Smiley Lakehouse basic, but charming floating bungalows.
After you arrive, enjoy lunch, a swim in warm lake waters, and a quick kayak adventure. In a few hours, rejoin your group in the longboat and start the trek to the Nam Talu (the water) cave.
Thailand Travel Tip:
If it rains, many of the roofs of the bungalows will leak. I noticed the windows didn’t close on the bungalow I was originally assigned, and so I insisted on the newer looking unit at the edge of the complex – if you suspect it might rain I would suggest you do the same. We got hit by a storm that night and I was the only one of my group who’s mattress wasn’t soaked by morning. This is especially important if you, like me, bring water-sensitive equipment on your trip.
Nam Talu Cave
The Nam Talu Cave, “The Watercave” as the Thai call it, is located a few kilometers from the bungalows. In the afternoon your group and guide will journey here, first with a long boat, and later you will wade through knee-deep mud for a couple of hours.
Wading through the mud for hours is a lot more fun than it sounds. I really enjoyed the actual adventure of getting to the cave, the long trek of mud and rivers, and the fun of conquering this unusual terrain. The hike is mostly flat so anyone in decent shape can do it. Kids really love this – we had a couple in our group and their enthusiasm was contagious.
Once you get to the cave you’ll take off basically all your clothes except for socks, swimwear, headlight and your rubber shoes (this is probably the most ridiculous outfit I’ve ever worn, but it works). In the dark, gritty cave, you’ll encounter chest-deep water, and strange creatures lurking on walls. I even saw a baby water snake – I assume the mommy was around too.
As long as you follow your guide’s directions you’ll be fine. Enjoy the unique adventure – in all my years of travel, this is probably the most unusual tour I have ever done. If you are looking for great bucket list items, consider a tour of the Nam Talu Cave – an absolutely unique experience worth doing.
After the cave, covered in mud and tired, head back to the bungalows via longboat. In this floating mini paradise enjoy a simple dinner and a stunning sunset with your new friends.
Thailand Itinerary – Day 4 – The Lake Tour, the Second Day
The fourth day starts at 6 am as your entire group sets out for a safari on the water. In Khao Sok national park you will find plenty of biological diversity and a lot of feeding animals in the early morning. You’ll visit a part of the lake rich with life, and will likely see lizards, bats, monkeys, toucan and much more. There are even wild elephants in this park, although we didn’t get to see any during our trip – you may get lucky.
After the safari head back to the lake cottages for breakfast. Pack up your bags and load them on the long boat. You are heading out again – to explore the second cave – the Pra Kie Phet Cave. This one is much easier to get to, and your boat will park right outside the entrance. The Pra Kiet Cave is smaller and dry and yet it is stunning – you are likely to always remember the huge marble slabs, the bats and enormous spiders you will find in this cave.
After the second cave, take the longboat back to the original dock in town and then transfer to the bus back to Khao Sok. You should be getting back to Khao Sok around 1 or 2 pm, which will give you time to get your luggage and grab a quick lunch before heading out to your next stop – Khao Lak.
Arrive at Khao Lak at the end of day four and spend the night here. Because I had limited time on my trip, I scheduled my pick up for Surine National Park for the very next morning. But if you have an extra day you may choose to spend it in Khao Lak.
Thailand Itinerary – Day 5 – Khao Lak
Where to Stay in Khao Lak
Khao Lak is definitely fancier and more touristy than Khao Sok and your choice of hotels is much better. Here you can stay in a
What to do in Khao Lak
There is plenty to do in Khao Lak including beautiful beaches and hiking. Here, you’ll find a party scene and on the weekends, festivals and fairs. However, the best attraction in Khao Lak is probably the Royal Navy Turtle Nursery. To get here you may need to take a cab. This can be arranged by your hotel.
The turtle nursery specializes in rescue, breeding, and release of local sea turtles. Tour the center and learn about this valuable work – and get to see lots of turtles up close.
For the next 2 days, I traveled with a local tour company. The best way to arrange tours in advance is through Viator. You can book the two day trip upon arrival in Khao Lak – but it is better if you do so online in advance. If you don’t you may not be able to book the exact days you want or the quality of service you’d like.
Thailand Itinerary – Day 6 – Mo Ku Surin National Park, the First Day
Coral bleaching is a huge issue in Thailand. Be part of the solution – bring your own coral safe sunblock. I did not see any coral safe sunblock for sale in Thailand.
The Surin National Park is a series of islands in a crystal clear part of the Adrian Sea. These islands are located just south of the Sentinelese Islands – and the isolated Sentinelese tribe that recently made the news. The Surine islands are protected by the Thai government and only certain groups are authorized to bring tourists here.
After an early pick up in your hotel, arrive at docks and transfer to large boats. The islands are far offshore so instead of using longboats to get to the location, you’ll join with other groups on larger, faster ships. Once you reach the borders of the national park you’ll split into groups. Here, separate into longboats and your tour officially begins.
Mo Ku Surin – The First Stop – Moken Tribe
The Moken are an Austronesian people who’s territory ranges over 800 islands over what is today Thailand and Burma. They are a nomadic sea people but their lifestyle is quickly changing. Today they travel less by sea and are more likely to stay on a single island for most of their life.
Many of the Moken who live in Surin Island National Park were here before the park. They are allowed to live here and to fish – an exception to the park’s strict rules. The Moken are also stateless and face many challenges in today’s ever-changing world. Several organizations work to help the Moken people preserve their culture and obtain citizenship status and protections.
The Moken, in what is likely a quick evolutionary adaptation, are the best swimmers and divers in the world. A Moken child can see in the water twice as well as any other child. In addition, a Moken man can dive over 100 feet without any equipment whatsoever. The Moken make their living through fishing, raising chickens and selling trinkets to tourists. The women rarely have access to income so by buying goods offered by the sellers on the island, you are helping the tribe.
Where to Stay in Surin National Park
Overnight visitors to the Surin Islands National Park can stay in beach bungalows or in beach tents. There is a “no alcohol rule” in all the accommodations within this national park.
I chose to stay in a beach tent and was very happy with my decision. The large, professionally set up tents line a portion of Mai Ngam beach and many are right on the water. Here you’ll get to combine the best of both worlds – nature, and comfort. The arrangments will be made by your tour company.
A few of my fellow travelers mentioned that the mattress pad in the tent was very thin and they were uncomfortable sleeping. If you are not used to sleeping on a tent mattress pad, consider renting a bungalow instead.
I loved waking up surrounded by nature, as well as the knowledge that I minimized my footprint on this portion of the trip. After all, staying in a tent is far more energy efficient than staying in a bungalow.
During your stay, you will have access to all the overnight facilities – including showers and toilets. Just a few minutes away from the tenting area you’ll find the restaurant where you will be having all your meals, served by your guides.
Day 6 – Afternoon
After lunch, set out on the longboat for an afternoon of snorkeling or diving. The Adrian sea is full of wildlife – from sharks and manta rays to turtles, corals and fish. Whichever you chose to do you are bound to see at least a few larger animals, and tons of coral reef and fish.
Spend the rest of the day engaged in water activities, and then return back to tent beach for the evening.
Thailand Itinerary – Day 7 – Mo Ku Surin National Park, the Second Day
Wake up in beautiful Mai Ngam beach and pack your bags. You’ll spend most of your morning snorkeling and then transfer back to the big boat for the long ride to shore.
After you arrive at the shore, take the van back (you’ll need to arrange this when booking the excursion) to Phuket. The van can drop you off at the airport or in your hotel. If you have an extra day perhaps spend it in Phuket and enjoy the party atmosphere before heading home.