This Magical Lake in Thailand Is Like Being in Avatar and Atlantis at the Same Time

Mysterious Khao Sok National Park has no cell service but 160 million years of lush beauty. Here’s why you want to book a floating bungalow on Thailand’s massive man-made lake.

Khao Sok

By Rasina Uberoi Bajaj
Photographed by Cedric Arnold

Apr 29, 2021

SEVEN OF THE 24 HOURS we were in Khao Sok National Park were spent on a rua haang yao  (a longtail boat, a.k.a. ‘a gondola of Southeast Asia’).  The gentle hum of the engine as the boat glided over the still, azure waters of the 185-square-meter Chiew Larn Lake lulled me into staccato snoozes… but it was just impossible to keep my eyes closed because every second they were shut was filled with intense fomo for the views of this magnificent grandeur. Rows and rows of gigantic limestone formations, which were once the peaks of mountains, protruded from the green waters, sprouting luscious, dense rainforests perhaps 160 million years old. Weaving through these karsts, I contemplated how their origin story is unique to Thailand.

Enraptured by the utter serenity of gliding atop this ginormous lake’s ever-clear waters that at some points reach a depth of 100 meters, one can’t even begin to fathom that this is all man-made. The lake has so much history and its community has always been a tight-knit one.

There existed a valley with 380 families. When monsoon season would hit, this valley, low-lying and engulfed by the rock formations, made it a perfect reservoir for water to collect, and it was therefore naturally flooded six months of each year. In 1987, King Rama 9 decided to turn this disadvantage into a positive, shifting the families to higher ground, damming and filling the lake as a reservoir generating hydroelectric power and creating this gorgeous wonder along the way. Today, these original families are the only ones who are allowed to fish in the lake and supply their bounty to the area. 

As we zig-zagged around these caps I felt like I was in the movie Avatar.  Not a wave: it was all calm and clear despite a heavy downpour that had just passed, despite the occasional other longtail boat creating a slight ripple. It felt like we were aboard a hovercraft.

The magic as we meandered through the lake with no cell signal or any connection to the outside world, knowing that beneath us lay the submerged remnants of old homes and temples, a Thai version of Atlantis, made the journey all the more mysterious. Every now and then we would spot an entrance into a limestone formation and would learn from our boat man that a cave had been formed… perhaps one that existed underwater many years ago.

Two hours later we arrived at our abode for the night. There is a string of floating cottages, and staying in one is so charming, not even the Maldives can give you this experience. When a boat passes by, your cottage actually sways, but this doesn’t happen that often except for when the motorized bamboo platform that is coming to deliver your supplies passes by.

The surrounding vast green waters — fresh and clean enough to drink, without any salt-stickiness nor its attendant buoyancy — constantly invite you to take that leap from your cottage and there is no resisting. You don’t have to be a strong swimmer as compared to jumping into the open ocean. Swimming in this lake is like a dip in your bathroom tub at home except you do spot a fish every now and then, the borders are endless, and the only sound I am immersed in as I lazily float around the aquamarine is my downloaded track of Save Your Tears playing on repeat.  

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