If you’re looking for the ultimate Khao Sok Trek, this is it. The world’s largest flower, Khao Sok’s most beautiful waterfall, and some of it’s most stunning views can all be experienced in one day’s hike to Tan Sawan Waterfall. Translated from Thai, it means Paradise River, or Paradise Falls. The hike takes many hours to complete, but you will be rewarded with the best of Khao Sok’s natural wonders.
0:00 – (Walking time from start). My guide, Lek, and I were lucky enough to catch a ride to the alternate park entrance at KM111. At 8:30, we found ourselves a few kilometers up the highway from Khao Sok’s main road. This entrance is marked by a few signs and begins with a small wooden ladder. Make sure to pick up a stick from the pile, as they’re quite helpful on the steep, often slippery trail. This hike can only be done with a guide, as the trail is easy to lose and difficult to tread.
(0:15) The trail starts uphill at a blistering pace but the viewpoint is a nice place to take a breather. The view is a nice reward for your ascent, but don’t be fooled into thinking the end of the climb is near.
This hike is one of the longest one can do in a day at the park and this beginning section goes uphill on a narrow and fairly rough trail.
(1:00) The Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower, is a parasite of wild vines that grow exclusively in primary forest. The fact that they can be found in Khao Sok is a testament to the quality of the rainforest here. Each flower blooms for about 5 days, so it’s not always guaranteed you’ll see a flower in bloom, even during the season (December – March). The first site appears after a short stretch of barbed wire to your left accompanied by signs strewn along the side of the path. For those obsessed with botany, you may already know that the species that grows in Khao Sok, Rafflesia kerrii, is a slightly smaller species, and the largest flower, Rafflesia arnoldii, grows only in Sumatra and Borneo.
(2:00) Over the next hour you’ll pass many potential rafflesia sites like the one above, and the last rafflesia area will appear to your right near the summit of the trail. *Between the areas where Rafflesia are commonly spotted, we happened to see a different flower at virtually every stage of development, even one that was in the process of blooming!*
(2:40) After a fair stretch heading mostly downhill, you reach the river that feeds Tan Sawan. Drop off your walking stick here and begin using the ropes that line the canyon as you make your way down the falls. This is one of the trickier parts of the hike as it involves rappelling by rope down slippery rock formations to get to the base of the falls.
(3:00) Just before you reach the top of Tan Sawan, you’ll happen across a pool that commonly has large tadpoles and some beautiful frogs hopping around. Pictured here is a flank-ridged cascade frog, doing its best to blend in.
(3:30) After rappelling down fairly steep, wet rock faces by rope, you’ll finally reach the bottom. There are quite a few nice spots to stop along the way and observe different sections of the falls, and large buttress roots along the canyon walls. Once you reach the bottom you can stop for lunch, take a swim, and basque in the beauty of Tan Sawan Waterfall. The cool waters felt perfect after the sweat we worked up to get there.
(4:30) Make your way down the stream to meet up with the Sok River and the main trail running through the national park from HQ all the way back to Ton Gloy.
(4:37) You’ll head up what looks to be a freshly cut path on the left of the river and make our way back down in a few minutes through a grove of bamboo. Make sure to avoid grabbing the black patches of bamboo: they have small hair-like protrusions that can irritate your skin. If you happen to get a few stuck to you, make sure to get some smaller gravel out of the river and rub it off.
(4:57) You’ll finally see the reason why it looks like you’ve been free wheeling your way down the left bank along a barely formed path: a huge landslide during the recent rainy season brought down a huge stretch of the canyon wall and formed a 6-meter-high dam all the way across the river!
(5:10) About 15 minutes later, you’ll find a smaller waterfall, crossing the river to find better trail on several occasions and at times just walking through the river until you reach the main tributary, Sok River.
(5:30) The confluence of the Tan Sawan and Sok Rivers is a good place to take a few more minutes to relax. Proceed across the river with caution, it is obviously quite wet here and slippery. When we crossed the river it was running pretty swiftly and about a meter deep. Make sure to bring a dry bag if you’re bringing a camera!
(6:00) There’s a small beach on the bank opposite the Tan Sawan that’sgreat for swimming. Walk up from this beach and take a left at the fork to head back to park headquarters, about 6 km away.
(6:13) Look to your right for a jutting rock that provides a nice lookout over the river. This section of the hike follows the river, going up and down small but steep hills.
(6:18) After one more river crossing, you climb over one more hill and reach the Khao Sok Beach. It’s a nice place to take a last swim if you’re up for it.
(6:30) The large tree here has a network of buttress roots, and it seems to attract the dusky langurs. Start looking around up in the canopy for movement, as they’re quite common in this area of the park.
(7:00) About half an hour later, you’ll reach the Bang Hua Rad ranger station, where they sell a few beverages. It’s also another great place for langur spotting. It’s rare to walk around the surrounding bamboo groves and leave empty handed. From here, the path becomes wider and easier to follow, though there are still a few more moderate hills to climb before reaching headquarters. It should take just about an hour to get out from here. You’re about halfway out once you pass a sign to your right talking about spotting wildlife tracks along the path.