“Krabi?” “Phang Nga?” my friends asked when they saw photos of limestone rocks looming dramatically over a road reminiscent of America’s route 66 – the epitome of freedom.
Khao Sok’s karst peaks look very much like those you’ll find in Phang Nga and Krabi, and they’re in no way inferior. The Khao Sok area, a 739-square-kilometer-national park that is 33% larger than Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, was sculpted by the same tectonic shift that created the Himalayan mountains. It pushed Khao Sok’s terrain upward to form limestone monoliths you can see throughout the region.
I’d never forgotten this picturesque mountain range with its peaks towering 400m on average. Since I was in Suratthani in April 2021, I was eager to revisit Khao Sok and experience its jungle sounds once again. Making a reservation online was child’s play and completed in a few clicks.
Phangan Tour 2000’s ticket for the trip from Suratthani to Khao Sok appealed to me the most because it was the cheapest ride available. It ended up being a mini-adventure, but more on that in just a bit.
Checking in at Talad Mai Road in Suratthani town
Riding my scooter to Phangan Tour’s ticket office at Talad Mai Road, I turned up only five minutes before 9:30 am, the scheduled departure time, because Google Maps had duped me. I apologized, but it didn’t matter; the minibus hadn’t arrived yet. The friendly office clerk showed me where to park my motorbike and said I could sit on the benches right in front of the office. “Don’t you want to see my booking?” I asked.
“I know your booking,” she said calmly and went back inside the office where you’ll find plenty of snacks and a few soft drinks.
There’s also a toilet right behind the tour operator’s office. Usually, they charge five baht if you want to use it, but currently, nobody’s bothering to stand sentry and collect the fee due to the lack of travelers.
Sitting in the shade on a concrete bench, waiting for my driver, I had a couple of minutes to kill and looked around. Just opposite Phangan Tour 2000’s office, Wat Tritharam caught my eye, a golden temple with white pillars and intricate ornaments. Gilded holy snakes or dragons that glittered in the sunshine were an admirable sight indeed.
Riding the minibus to Khao Sok
“Hello, good morniiiiing. Okay?” the driver asked in a rising tone of voice. I guess by “okay?” he meant to ask if I was ready. This cheerful guy slid the side door open, motioned for me to take a seat wherever I wanted and passed on the temperature check that has become standard in Thailand these days. Either way, there was only one fellow-traveler on the minivan at the moment, a local woman.
The moment I’d sat down, the driver turned the ignition, did a double horn, “Honk, honk,” and drove off at 9:43 am.
The leather seats at the back of the minivan were comfy (the others were all cloth seats!), and the AC was working fine at the start of the journey, though I was well aware that this could change soon. Air conditioners are not minibuses’ strengths.
A third passenger and then a fourth traveler got on the 14-seater in Suratthani town. They were too much for the AC to handle. Before long, it became hot and stuffy, and we had to wear facemasks, obviously. The driver stopped again to pick up a parcel, which is quite common when you ride a minivan in Thailand. You’re bound to encounter the package delivery service along the way.
It didn’t bother me this time, though, as I wasn’t in a hurry. Also, I knew that splendid sights awaited me a bit closer to Khao Sok. Meanwhile, there were rubber tree forests as far as the eyes could see.
The driver stopped at 10:30 am to gas the minibus. The break was short but long enough for people to relieve themselves. Some fifteen minutes further into the journey, limestone rocks appeared behind rubber trees and palm tree forests – gingerly at first. Then suddenly, they towered awe-inspiringly ahead of me, on a road that cuts through the scenic countryside as straight as an arrow.
Completing the last leg of the journey
The street to Khao Sok was dotted with modest tiled roof homes before vigilant eyes of karst giants. Occasionally, the road was unpaved, resulting in an adventurous ride along potholes. Also, the vehicle kicked up the gravel as it drove, making worrying sounds.
At 11:55 am, we passed Wat Tham Phanturat, also known as the Monkey Temple, due to the wild monkeys that come down from the rainforest. You’ll find this Wat on the main road. I whipped out my cell phone in time to take a picture as we drove past and was surprised that we were about to arrive.
I’d expected a delay of at least 15 minutes as we’d left late and delivered a package on the way. It was a fuss-free end of a largely well-organized trip through the limestone paradise. Getting off the minibus, I instantly perceived the fresh jungle air, took a deep breath, and listened to exotic birds twittering happily in the midday heat.