Khao Sok National Park: The good, the bad, the ugly and the stupid

Khao Sok is often overlooked despite it being in between holiday hotspots like Koh Phangan and Phuket or Koh Samui and Krabi. Our three nights in Khao Sok were eventful, to say the least. Read on to find out about our tubing disaster in Khao Sok. One day it could be you in our shoes if you’re not careful.

Deciding where to stay in Khao Sok

Khao Sok is a national park located in the Surat Thani province and covers 739 square kilometres (285 square miles). It’s home to one of the world’s oldest rainforests. There are two main areas to Khao Sok National Park: Khlong Sok Town and Cheow Lan Lake. The two hotspots are 65 kilometres (40 miles) apart so it’s important that you choose wisely where to stay.

Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park
Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park

Khlong Sok Town has some lovely budget-friendly resorts and hostels to stay at, whereas Cheow Lan Lake has an array of floating bungalows to choose from, but at a much higher price than those in Khlong Sok Town. Whichever area you choose to stay, there are loads of fun activities for solo travellers, couples and families.

Rained out, but tubing was still on the cards

Our three night stay in Khlong Sok Town was during the low season. The rain was so relentless, it bound us to our hotel room day after day, until we finally decided to take a stand on our last day. Tubing along the river is a popular activity in Khlong Sok Town. Rain or shine, you’re gonna get wet.

It was 11 am and we headed out into the rain wearing our swimsuits and booked the next available time slot. Thankfully, tours will go out anytime during the day, so there’s no need to plan far ahead. As expected, we were the only two people in the group, along with our 19-year-old guide, Tim. We picked up our huge inflatable rings and walked the 100 meters (328 feet) to the river, shimmied down the bank and climbed into our chairs for the afternoon.

Katie and Jake of Untold Wanderlust walking in the rain

The good to the bad – strong currents

The current was just right. Not so strong that it would drag us along quickly, yet not so weak that we would need to paddle. Now here are some important details you should be aware of, which relates to the arch of this spectacular day out. I (Jake) was carrying a GoPro strapped to my wrist, sunglasses on my head and a bottle of beer between my legs.

The flow of the river was mild. The warm, thin rain fell lightly on us. The water and the trees created sounds and sensations that added to the atmosphere in a positive way. By now, you should have a mental canvas painted in your brain. The following is how a masterpiece of an afternoon slowly deteriorated into a messy, splotchy, doodle of a day.

The water carried us downstream. We sipped our beer whilst admiring the nature that surrounded us. Tall trees, limestone cliffs and foliage of all shades of green. It was the perfect romantic setting for a couple taking the trip together. Often, we would see thick, overhanging branches leaning towards the water, sometimes accessorised with a rope swing. As we passed by the rope swing at our side, Jake stretched out his arm to reach it, but it wasn’t close enough to grasp.

His stretch was so intense, his entire upper body followed, and he almost left his seat. We continued to float downstream as he extended his arm, at which point the rope was now behind him as his reach changed direction. His head leaned back to look at the rope above me and his sunglasses trickled from my head and into the water, sinking deeper and deeper every second.

But don’t feel bad! They were worth $7 max. Sadness swiftly turned into joy as we laughed off the stupidity of the situation. A lesson learnt not to play with the rope swing… or so we thought. More on that later.

Jake of Untold Wanderlust with his beloved sunglasses
Jake of Untold Wanderlust with his beloved sunglasses

The ugly – scarred for life

When the current became strong in some areas, we lifted our bums to avoid the rocks in shallow rapids, veering into the riverbanks and brushing past overhanging leaves. As we continued, Jake felt a sudden piercing pain on the tip of his foot. His legs leapt from the water and he cradled his foot with horror.

As he was inspecting his wound, our guide asked Jake if he had cut himself on a rock. Now, unless rocks can bite a chunk of skin from someone’s toe, we were inclined to disagree with him. Whatever sea creature had bitten Jake, it wouldn’t need to eat for another week judging by the size and depth of the hole it left in his toe.

We encountered a few more rapids, sipped some more of our beer and made a quick stop at a shallow riverbank for five minutes. My toe was fine, thanks for your virtual concern. Onward we went. We passed by a restaurant on the lake with sheltered patrons filling their bellies with hot food. We hoped, in jest, that they would catch and eat the fish that bit Jake!

Jake's injury

The stupid – gone but never forgotten

Oh look, another rope swing! Only this time, Jake came prepared. He calculated the direction of the current and ensured that he would approach the dangling rope directly in front of him, so that he could grab it with both hands. He reached out and held onto it. Within seconds, his resistance against the flow of water built up inside the ring and it became harder to hold on to. He had to let go.

His float was about to leave without him, so he let go of the rope and splashed back into his seat. As he let go, we heard a snap and Jake felt a sharp, burning sensation on his wrist. You guessed it! Our GoPro had gotten tangled in the rope and got caught as he let go. It was black and it didn’t have a floating attachment, so it sunk to the bottom.

Noticing a recurring theme here? The current I had built up with my resistance, pushing him away from the scene. By this point, Tim and I were ahead quite a bit. It was too deep to go searching and too dangerous to leave our float. We had to accept it was gone forever.

Jake of Untold Wanderlust

A beautiful tubing trip, ending with secrets

The rest of the journey was as beautiful as ever but dampened somewhat by the events that had unfolded. In these situations, when traveling as a couple, it is easy to get mad at each other. You’re not only accountable for yourself, but also for your partner. It’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and unfortunate events while traveling do happen. In these instances, it’s okay to have an outburst of anger, but don’t hold a grudge for too long or it may end up ruining your trip. Talk through it calmly and move on. What’s happened has happened and it needs to remain in the past if you want to continue to enjoy the backpacking experience together. That’s been our philosophy whilst backpacking for the last 3 years, and it hasn’t tainted our relationship whatsoever. If anything, dealing with unfortunate circumstances together has strengthened it.

By the end of the 2-hour tubing experience, we both had accepted the fact that we had lost the GoPro, the sunglasses and had been attacked by a shark. This is because we didn’t have any photos or videos on the memory card prior to that day. Even though it was expensive, it’s something that can be replaced. If anything, it’s just another one of our stupid and funny travel stories to tell our friends and family. Just not to tell my little brother, Sam. It was his GoPro that he lent to me for travelling. Shhhh!

Khao Sok National Park bungalows
Khao Sok National Park bungalows

On reflection, our time in Khao Sok National Park was full of happy and not so happy memories. Tubing was a great experience that we highly recommend you do when visit Khlong Sok Town. Just avoid the rope swings at all costs.

Katie and Jake of Untold Wanderlust

Katie and Jake of Untold Wanderlust

Nature enthusiasts who love nothing more than traveling to off the beaten path destinations around the world. Budget travel is our thing. Currently aiming to travel to every country in the world and write about it on our blog Untoldwanderlust. When we’re not on the move, we’re hunting down a bargain, sampling local beers or chillin’ in our pjs tucking into a film.
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