Covering an area of 739 km², including the 165 km² Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park is a habitat even older than the Amazon rainforest. Established in 1980, it’s a place of amazing biodiversity with approximately 200 different floral species per hectare and a huge abundance of wildlife including 48 mammal species, 311 different species of birds, over 30 species of bats and countless reptiles and insects. It’s particularly famous for its limestone karst mountains which dominate the skyline and rise to nearly 1,000m in some areas, with the general topography varying between 200m and 400m above sea level. West of Khao Sok National Park is Sri Phang Nga National Park, which extends the preservation area to 4,000 km². Continuing to the south across Highway 401 is Khlong Phanom National Park, which protects another 410.4 km² within the Phuket mountain range.
About Khao Sok & Southern Thailand
280 – 225 MILLION YEARS AGO
Khao Sok is the remnant of a coral reef system that stretched across much of Asia in the Permian period some 280-225 million years ago. Evidence suggests the reef was about five times as big as the Great Barrier Reef and stretched from Borneo to China, passing through parts of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It’s hard to believe, but the park’s impossible, vertical limestone mountains were once undersea. Rock climbers have even found marine fossils at the top of some of these karst cliff faces.
The first migration of humans and other mammal species into the Khao Sok region is believed to have taken place during the Ice Age when sea levels fell. Animal species where able to migrate with ease from the land masses now known as Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Malaysia to what is now southern Thailand. The lower sea levels allowed species that had previously existed in isolation in places like Borneo to migrate to the Thai-Malay peninsula and beyond into Southeast Asia.
Like the karst caves of Krabi in southern Thailand, it is likely at this time that the forests of Khao Sok became home to nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes. These people are thought to be the descendants of the Sakai people who inhabit the mountains of Trang and the Thai-Malay border further south. Sakai nomadic hunter-gatherer communities can still be found living in the remote interior of Sumatra today.
2,500-1,300 YEARS AGO
There is archeological evidence to suggest that a network of caravan trading routes from the Greek and Roman empires passed over the Isthmus of Kra, the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula, forming part of southern Thailand. Rather than sailing around the Malay Peninsula these traders would carry their goods overland from the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Siam. A number of artifacts foreign to the region have been found near Khao Sok, like Persian pottery, Chinese porcelain, coins and stones with ancient Indian inscriptions.
In 150 AD, the area around Ranong town on the Andaman Coast emerged as a major trading station for spices and goods from India, China, the Middle East and the West. Ancient artifacts have been found in Thailand’s Kapoe District, south of Ranong, and in Phunpin District to the East in Surat Thani Province. Archeological excavations in these areas have revealed massive Bhodhisattava statues, ceramic Buddha amulets and silver Arab coins dating back to 767CE.
During Burmese invasions of the Thai Andaman Sea coast in the 18th century, it is believed many Thai natives living along the coast were forced to flee inland where they settled in the mountains around what is now known as the town of Takua Pa and further east in Khao Sok where the rich flora and fauna provided an abundance of food. It was also at this time that farming and rice cultivation began to take a hold in the lowlands around the periphery of Khao Sok.
In the 1970’s student activists and communist insurgents seeking political change in Bangkok fled persecution and set up strongholds in the caves of Khao Sok. The deep forests and rugged landscape repelled any military attempts to draw them out. At a time when government-sanctioned logging companies were laying waste to many of Thailand’s forests, Khao Sok’s communist insurgents discouraged any commercial activity in the region – keeping the pristine forest beyond the reach of loggers, miners and hunters.
1980 – 1987
In 1980 the Khao Sok region became a national park, however, the Thai government and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) decided to dam the region as Khao Sok holds the largest watershed in southern Thailand. Only two years later in 1982, EGAT completed the 94m-high, 700m-long Ratchaprapha Dam, blocking off Klong Phrasaeng, a tributary of the Phum Duang River and creating the 165 km² lake inside the park. The reservoir waters rose over a period of three years, leaving many valleys flooded. In addition, 385 families of Ban Cheow Lan village were resettled and 1,364 animals made up of 116 different species were rescued – although many of them later died. A study in 1995 also revealed the loss of some 52 species of fish from the river which could not survive in the lake’s still waters. The dam was officially opened by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987 during a ceremony to mark his 60th birthday.