To be honest, I was initially a little nervous when embarking on this two-day, one-night “survival” trip into the jungle. I am usually quite the outdoor adventurer, but I had just bruised my tailbone while hiking a few days previous. Luckily, through the incredible help and patience of our guide Tuk, my Khao Sok National Park camping fears turned out to be unnecessary.

Khao Sok National Park Camping – Day one

Our day started with a stroll along a wide dirt road into Kao Sok National Park. Almost immediately, Tuk began to call our attention to the different plants and animals. I was amazed that he could look at the dense mosaic of greens and browns of the rainforest and locate the smallest of creatures. The chameleon on a branch of a tree, the scorpion hiding in a bamboo tube, the girth of one’s thumb. Or the leaf of a jungle herb spotted off of the trail, for example. It was clear that his eyes, ears, and nose were nurtured in this jungle. He was naturally able to sense the most subtle of distinctions in a matter that seemed impossibly subtle to me.

Cooking jungle steamed rice

Learning about dangers in the jungle

Encouraged by our inquiring minds, Tuk soon revealed just how threatening the rainforest can be. However, he explained, not in a way that will attack you unprovoked.

He knew that the giant Golden Orb spiders were not poisonous, and thus he could interact with them in harmony. He fearlessly let them dance along his hands around his shoulders and across his face.

Leeches didn’t stand a chance in the presence of Tuk, as he would inevitably turn around and point out the sticky intruder on our legs.

He touched the trunk of a tree, engraving in us the identification, to ensure that we escape the blinding dangers that come from ingesting its leaves.

While cautioning us to be quiet, he reverently and nonchalantly used the zoom of a camera to “point” to a sleeping viper just feet from where we were standing. We trusted him to tell us which jungle sounds to chase in the hopes of seeing something awesome and which to intelligently retreat from.

Jungle cooking

At our lunch spot, Tuk dismissed us to play in the river. He interrupted only to serve us delicious fried rice held in trays made of large bamboo trunks.

Our afternoon proceeded with glorious river frolicking, a breathtaking exploration up a tributary, and the occasional shout from Tuk to look for an animal he had just seen or heard.

Around dusk, Tuk showed us how to steam rice wrapped in bamboo leaves in bamboo trunks. We sorted and washed the piles of leaves that he had collected during our hike in order to help him prepare a savory foraged greens dish. When the sun started its quick descent, the girls fished while the men wandered off into the darkness to hunt frogs. At the end of our labors, we feasted on delectable fish and frog curry, sliced pineapple, greens stir-fried with eggs, and bamboo-infused rice in a circle of candlelight.

We rose after lingering over the last morsels of food and conversation to find hammocks, newly erected by Tuk, waiting for our tired bodies.

Khao Sok national park camping - dinner time

Khao Sok National Park Camping – Day Two

The next day, I woke in the predawn light to the alarm of loud gibbon calls from across the river. The sunlight was not apparent enough to see the creatures themselves. However, the primates provided a surreal soundtrack for exiting my dreamworld.

Ascending the riverbed

After a breakfast of eggs and toast, we headed off on a particularly slippery walk. Scrambling over river rocks up the same tributary that we had explored the previous afternoon. Taking our time to explore fresh elephant tracks, and pick leeches off of our legs. We asked questions about the different trees and flowers. Our ascent up the riverbed was delightful and leisurely. After several hours of this enjoyable exploration, we were rewarded with the opportunity to swim.  A natural deep pool under the cascades of Tan Sawan Waterfall was the perfect place.

While drying off under the power of the sun, we became little children again. We were endlessly entertained by watching the countless fish attack a piece of bamboo we had tied to the end of a fishing line. Shrieks of delight inevitably accompanied the moments when we succeeded in capturing a thrashing fish on the makeshift bamboo contraption.

Hiking upriver

Climbing the Karst

With more wonders still to see, we ate lunch, again out of our luxury bamboo troughs. Then we began the steep ascent of the karst along the left side of the river. This part of the experience was where we earned our sense of accomplishment. Deep breaths, sweaty brows, and burning quads signaled the physical exertion invigorating all of us equally.

About half-way up, we crossed paths with a Madrileño hiking by himself in the other direction. He asked us if we were on our way into the park. We answered his question affirmatively but then questioned his intentions to circle around the way that we had come. He was proposing to complete our same route in reverse – a route that had taken us about four hours that day and three hours the previous day, and it was already nearing 3pm. This added a sense of urgency to our inclination to persuade him to turn around. He was hiking by himself along a path that could easily cause someone to break an ankle (or a head). Just one simple slip in the river. Comfortingly, he heeded our warnings and turned around with us.

The trail proceeded up and up and up but it was difficult to orient ourselves as we were completely blanketed by the jungle above and around us. The activity felt nice, so how close we were to the end point did not matter much. The mosquitoes replaced the leeches half-way up and provided us with strong motivation to keep moving. The percussion of our deep inhales provided a nice foundation for the watery, tickling melodies of the various birds, animals, and insects surrounding us.

Monkey in a tree


The journey through vibrant verdant nature was rewarding enough, but we were still treated to more. At the top of our trail, rafflesia blooms were still holding on so that we could see their grandeur. The wooden platforms circling their growing grounds enabled us to see the full cycle spectrum of these flowers. We spotted withered black blooms completing their life cycle and decomposing back into the earth. The explosive red blooms bursting open with vigor and velvet buds pulsing with potential energy.

Heading for home

From the rafflesia, it was all downhill…Literally. We pushed for an hour trying not to give in to the draw of gravity, and the increasing exhaustion of our thighs. The canopy, all of a sudden, parted to reveal sight beyond the space in our immediate circumference – such a miraculous contrast when one’s sense of place has been so severely limited for several hours on end. We plopped down on cross sections of a giant tree log. Here we drank thirstily and feasted on the many hills, plantations, and karsts we could see in the distance.

The jungle was still hiding our destination point, but the car sounds gave away its proximity. A five minute drop down a drainage led us to the highway. A pickup truck was waiting to take us to showers and inviting beds.

Man sitting in a tree

Khao Sok National Park Camping- Conclusion

Yes it was hard work. Yes the mosquitos and leeches are annoying. Would I do it again?  Absolutely. The rewards from my Khao Sok national park camping adventure are memories that will last a lifetime. Riverside Cottages were great and our guide Tuk phenomenal. Thoroughly recommended.