After spending much longer on the wonderful island of Koh Lanta than originally planned, we finally decided to drag ourselves away from the fantastic food, the idyllic beaches and of course the excellent Lanta Animal Welfare. If, like us, you also feel the need to get your body working again after spending far too long lounging on any of the many islands in Southern Thailand, then we highly recommend a visit to the easily accessible Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park. This National Park is a boat and a bus journey away from most of the islands in Southern Thailand – as long as you can get to Surat Thani, Krabi or Phuket, you should have no trouble getting to the National Park or the village of Khao Sok – we left Koh Lanta at 09:30 and arrived in Khao Sok at 14:30.

Khao Sok National Park is the oldest evergreen forest in the world, with some estimates putting it at well over 150 million years old. The park is also home to a huge array of wildlife including tigers, elephants, leopards and a wide range of monkeys, snakes and birds. While Khao Sok park presents the usual jungle trekking fun, the reason we headed to the park was for its stunning artificial lake right in the heart of the park – Cheow Lan Lake. If you’ve seen photos of floating bamboo bungalows then they’re most likely right here.

Staying with Mama

There are many options for accommodation in the village of Khao Sok and we had absolutely no problem booking a place when we arrived in November. We stayed in the charming Palmview Cottage Gardens with “Mama” and her family, the friendliest hosts we’d experienced in Thailand – which is saying something!

Wooden Hut at Mama's in Khao Sok
The wooden hut we stayed in, set among beautiful gardens

We stayed in a wooden hut which was one of the cheaper options, as we were trying to save some money in order to afford the activities. We loved our little hut –  it had a lot of a charm (along with quite a few bugs) and we became quite attached to the little bat that hung from our balcony roof at night. The gardens were gorgeous and we enjoyed just sitting outside on our balcony, enjoy the view and the sounds of nature. Sometimes we’d walk into the village, but it was very quiet when we visited in November, especially during the day when people were on excursions. We happily retreated back to the comfort of our hut, either to read or to play with the cats and dogs that also lived at Palmview.

Mama took good care of us with her warm hospitality, tasty food and activity recommendations. When we asked about the trips to Cheow Lan Lake, Mama handed us a couple of plastic folders containing a collection of the package tours she was able to book. We flipped through them already knowing which one we’d wanted to do –  we opted for the 2 day/1 night option of exploring Cheow Lan Lake and surroundings.

Exploring Cheow Lan Lake

The morning after, our tour began. After a few stops around the local village to pick up the rest of our group, our trip began with a bumpy journey in the back of a 4 x 4. As we arrived at the harbour of Cheow Lan Lake, we were a little disappointed to see big crowds of tourists and thought that our idyllic two days away were going to be spoilt somewhat. However, from the moment that our group’s long tail boat pulled away from the harbour, our fears were forgotten. It turns out the majority of people only choose to visit Cheow Lan Lake for one day, visiting places close to the harbour, so we quickly lost them as we headed further into the lake.

Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park 2
The limestone karsts piercing through the lake

After a few minutes, the noise and crowds of the harbour became a distant memory – the lake is so huge that sometimes it felt like we were the only ones there. The boat cruised by the gigantic limestone karsts jutting out from the water and local fishermen smiled and waved as we passed. As the sun gradually rose further above the lake, we welcomed the cool breeze and refreshing spray from the boat. After about an hour from leaving the harbour, we turned a corner and our overnight accommodation came into view – beautiful and peaceful-looking floating bungalows.

The Floating Bungalows of Cheow Lan Lake

Floating Bungalows in Cheow Lan Lake
The floating bungalows on our approach

These traditional Thai raft houses, regularly referred to as floating bungalows, are a unique experience and one of the main reasons that we recommend an overnight trip to Cheow Lan Lake. We remember looking through travel websites while planning our trip and being instantly attracted to these bungalows – the experience of staying in traditional accommodation and being so close to nature was something we knew we had to do.

We were not disappointed – we loved every second of our stay.  There is something incredibly special about about being woken up by the call of the gibbons and then being able to have a refreshing plunge into a clear freshwater lake.

Some of the bungalows available on the lake can be ridiculously upmarket, but many are simple and modest. The great thing about them is that only the descendants of the original inhabitants of Cheow Lan Lake and officials of the national park are allowed licenses for these bungalows – therefore, you know you are staying with local people who really do care about the lake and the nature that calls it home. We stayed in small but sturdy huts, which were big enough for a comfortable night’s sleep. Our meals, which were totally dependant on what had been caught from the lake that day, were cooked by a local family and were all delicious. The bungalows rely on power from a generator, which was turned off at 9pm – however, by this time, we were exhausted and happy to curl up in bed and fall asleep to the sounds of the frogs in the lake outside.

View from the Floating Bungalow on Cheow Lan Lake
The view from our bed

Wading Through Rivers and Swimming In Darkness

As relaxing as a stay at Cheow Lan Lake can be, there are also a lot of opportunities for some more energetic activities, such as trekking and caving (subject to season and local weather conditions). We spent an afternoon in an area of Khao Sok National Park that borders the lake, trekking through the jungle and wading through rivers to reach Namtaloo Cave. 

Wading through water at Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok
Fabio and I wading through the water, heading towards Namtaloo Cave

The original plan on our itinerary was to walk / swim / crawl through the cave to the other side (don’t forget a headtorch and waterproof bags – Mama, our wonderful host, provided us with ours), where we would continue our hike through the jungle. However, due to heavy rainfall over the previous few days, the cave was flooded. As a result, we could only venture for about 10 minutes into the cave, otherwise we risked getting trapped inside if the cave flooded further.

We crawled through the cave in almost darkness, hearing the sound of water rushing by. As we got deeper into the cave we could no longer touch the ground and had to swim though cold water. At times, we even had to pull ourselves along a rope attached to the cave wall, against the current. It was an exhilarating, but at times rather scary, experience. It left us a little drained and we were ready to get back to our raft house for a relaxing evening!

Forests of Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park 2
The serene Cheow Lan Lake, as we headed back to the bungalows

The Night and Morning Boat Safaris

An overnight stay on Cheow Lan Lake is even more special due to the opportunity to go on a longtail boat night safari. At 7pm, we hopped into our longtail boat and set out into the lake, with the hope of spotting some local wildlife that had ventured to the water now that the sun had set. Armed with a long ranging torch, our guide and boat driver tried their very best to find us some wildlife to see – however, it seemed that on our safari the local animals were a little bit shy. We saw a number of pairs of green and red eyes staring out from the trees, and heard lots of rustling from the jungle – but unfortunately our night safari, as beautiful as it was, was slightly uneventful.

Dusk at Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park
Dusk at Cheow Lan Lake, as seen from our bungalows

An overnight stay also allows you to go on an early morning safari, where you may be able to catch a glimpse of some of the animals before they seek shade in the jungle when the sun rises. We woke early to the wonderful sounds of gibbons calling and boarded our long boat at 6:30 am. The sun had yet to rise and mist still covered the lake and the surrounding karsts. For us, this was the most beautiful and peaceful time to visit the lake – the only other people we saw were the local fishermen, who were also up early to catch their food for the day.

Morning at Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park
Morning – the most peaceful and fascinating time of day at Cheow Lan Lake

The Wildlife of Cheow Lan Lake

Cheow Lan Lake, and all of Khao Sok, is a haven for a wide range of wildlife.  Fans of flora should also note that the famous Raffleasia flower also calls Khao Sok home and during the blossoming season, you can trek to find this wonderful (yet apparently rather smelly) flower around the park.

During our time on the lake we saw a beautiful hornbill perched on a tree, a kingfisher hunting for it’s breakfast, macaques among the thick jungles and dragonflies around our bungalows. We caught a glimpse of the elusive gibbon swinging through the tree canopy and walked under some pretty massive spiders that had made their webs in the trees. We were also fortunate enough to see a family of dusky langurs / black spectacle monkeys – unfortunately, these were playing near our toilet shack and we didn’t have our camera with us!

Hornbill Silhouette in Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok
The silhouette of a hornbill
Macaque in Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok
Macaque monkey among the trees
Dragonfly, Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok
A resting dragonfly near our bungalows

If you are heading to Thailand and want to experience beautiful landscapes and be close to nature, while getting away from the tourist crowds, we recommend an overnight stay on Cheow Lan Lake. It was one of our favourite memories of our time in Southeast Asia.

Further Information:

Getting there: Most accommodation on the Southern Thai islands can book your transport to Khao Sok for you. Failing that, they can at least get you to Surat Thani, Krabi or Phuket – from there you will find many agents that can drive you to Khao Sok as a group. There are also public buses available, we advise you to check the timetables at the larger locations for more details. Our guesthouse on Koh Lanta organised all the transportation to Khao Sok for us – you will be chucked from one minibus to another but you will get there with no problems!

Accommodation: We stayed at Khao Sok Palmview Resort, in one of their cheapest wooden huts at 250 THB per hut (November 2014 price).

Tour: We did the 2D/1N Cheow Lan Lake tour, booked through our accommodation. It cost us 2,500 THB pp (November 2014 price). This included pickup from and back to our accommodation, 4 meals (lunch, dinner, breakfast, lunch), an overnight stay in a floating bungalow and all trekking and safari activities.  The only additional cost was a National Park entrance fee, costing 300 THB – you only need to pay this once at the harbour and it covers both days.

Let us know: Have you ever been to Cheow Lan Lake or Khao Sok National Park? Tell us below!

15 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Franca 21 March, 2015 Subscriber

    This place looks absolutely amazing, I love it! I mean your incredible photos are selling it very well, but honestly it’s such a nice corner of Thailand and it’s a shame we didn’t make it there whilst we were in the country. I guess it’s an excuse to return to Thailand, just one more 😉

    • Karianne Di Salvo 21 March, 2015 Contributor

      Hey Franca! We loved this part of Thailand too. There was something very special about Khao Sok and Cheow Lan Lake in particular – the beauty, combined with the remoteness and closeness to nature, was absolutely amazing. We never got the chance to properly explore the rest of the National Park, so I think we’ve got an excuse to go back too (not that anyone needs an excuse to return to Thailand!).

      We totally recommend visiting Khao Sok!

  2. Maria from Nerd Nomads 29 March, 2015 Subscriber

    We have been to this area of Thailand many times, but never to Khao Sok. It looks absolutely stunning! Love your beautiful photos! We definitely have to come back and this time visit this national park. Staying in those floating bungalows looks like a real jungle experience.

    • Karianne 31 March, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Maria! The floating bungalows are a great experience – small, but so cosy and so close to nature. The sound of the gibbons outside was absolutely amazing! Can’t recommend Khao Sok enough – it’s such a beautiful and tranquil place!

  3. Kelly 30 March, 2015 Subscriber

    Those floating bungalows are just amazing; seriously it looks like you’ve found paradise! x

    • Karianne 31 March, 2015 Contributor

      Hey Kelly, they really are amazing – we’d never stayed anywhere like them before! Such a unique experience!

  4. Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out 30 March, 2015 Subscriber

    Gorgeous! We have spent a lot of time in Krabi and Koh Lanta but have not visited this lake. We will definitely not miss it next time we are there 🙂

    • Karianne 31 March, 2015 Contributor

      Hey Jenny, would definitely recommend Khao Sok if you return to the area! We wish we had been able to spend more time in this part of Thailand – we spent a night in Krabi and a week in Koh Lanta (we struggled to pull ourselves away!), but it seems like there is so much more to see and do.

  5. Escaping Abroad 14 April, 2015 Subscriber

    This looks incredible! I’m headed to Thailand in 2 weeks.. I’ll definitely be checking this lake out if I can.

    • Karianne 23 April, 2015 Contributor

      It really is such a beautiful place – so peaceful. We definitely recommend it if you get the chance! Let us know if you do!

  6. Charlie 6 June, 2015 Subscriber

    Oh my gosh, it looks so beautiful at Cheow Lan Lake! I love the way that photo captured the mist on the lake with the trees behind too.

    • Karianne 6 June, 2015 Contributor

      Hey Charlie, it really is stunning. The morning, with the mist surrounding the trees, was our favourite time. So incredibly peaceful but a little eerie – it’s things like this that make the overnight stay so worthwhile .

  7. Jessica 14 January, 2016 Subscriber

    Looks beautiful! What’s the name of the place you stayed at at Cheow Lan Lake?

    • Karianne 19 January, 2016 Contributor

      Hi Jessica, we stayed at Khao Sok Palmview Resort – run by an absolutely lovely family. ‘Mama’ cooked us some delicious food while we were there – really recommend it.

    • Karianne 8 February, 2016 Contributor

      Hi again Jessica, just realised that you meant where did we stay on the lake! I’m not actually too sure – we booked our trip via Khao Sok Palmview so I’m not sure what the floating bungalows were called. However, there are lots to choose from and you can book through your hotel / guesthouse when you are there. They all looked beautiful!

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