To experience Cheow Lan Lake, you don't have to join a prepackaged company tour if you can't afford it, it is possible to organize the trip independently.
We were lucky to be invited by “Limestone Lake Rainforest Tours” to join their organized trip and their two other guests, so that we didn't have to worry about anything, but if you are really on a budget and you prefer to arrange the trip by yourself, there are some options available also for you.
But before going, make sure to give some calls asking for the most recent prices, eternally changing, and to do some calculations to understand if it's worth the saving.
Consider that accommodation on the lake is limited, and prices probably agreed between the several operators. Also boat rental is quite expensive and if you don't manage to find a big group to share the cost, you lose all the convenience of going independently.
Tour operators might get consistent discounts on accommodation and transportation, since they bring regularly clients, so they might be able to propose you a complete tour for a similar price.
How to reach Cheow Lan Lake on your own
If you are travelling by yourself, first you should reach by bus the town of Ban Ta Khun in between Surat Thani and Khao Sok on the road 401. From Ban Ta Khun until the boat jetty in Ratchaprabha Dam 15 km to the north, there is no public transport so the alternatives are hitchhiking or hiring a taxi, that should cost around 300 Bahts.
From the jetty you have to arrange a boat to your destination, possibly shared with other visitors, otherwise you have no chances to get a cheaper price than a tour package for your travel. The cost depends on where exactly you want to go, since there are 17 different resorts spread around the lake.
According to Plenprai Rafthouse website where we spent our night, the boast transfer costs 3.500 Bahts for a large boat with up to 20 passengers, while a smaller one up to 10 people is 2.200 Baths. The trip takes around 45 minutes.
There is a conservation fee to pay to enter Cheow Lan Lake, since it is part of Khao Sok National Park, even if the lake is many kilometers to the east of the National Park entrance, and they look like two different destinations. Luckily there is a small booth at the boat jetty where it is possible to pay the National park entrance fee, so no need to do the extra 65 km just for the ticket. The cost is 300 Bahts per person per day, as of today, and even if you are planning to stay a few hours longer than 24, you'll still pay just for one day.
Accommodation in floating rafthouses
It is possible to join a day tour and visit Cheow Lan Lake just for a few hours, watching the amazing limestone formations from the boat, and this would be the cheapest option available.
But we suggest to sleep at least one night in the lake if you can afford it. After spending one night in the floating resort, we enjoyed so much our experience that we were disappointed we couldn't stay longer! The time spent on the lake is really worth the effort and the money, and you get the chance to go kayaking around on your own as much as you want, with equipment rental included in the price.
Unfortunately accommodation is not on the cheap side for low cost travelers, while it can look like a great deal compared to Western standards. The floating raft houses are the only option available to pass the night over the water, and while there are 17 resorts disseminated around the lake, they mostly look the same, and I suppose they offer the same services and prices. Still try to contact them and to choose according to price, reviews and location.
Plenprai Rafthouse states on their page that a room including 3 meals costs 1200 bahts per person per day. If you want to stay in one of the few luxury stays, the price can go as high as 9000 Bahts per night.
Consider that discounts from that price might be available for longer stays, big groups or off season travel. But the same might not always be true, since our resort was totally full even when we were there during low season (middle of October), so you might want to book in advance if your time is limited.
Electricity is available after sunset until around 23:00, produced with generators, while no Internet is provided.
You might want to try and see also if there are any convenient options available with the government run reservation service inside National Parks of Thailand.
Activities in Cheow Lan Lake
While extra activities could add up to your bill, the amazing news is that most of the resorts include unlimited free usage of their kayaks! This is the activity we enjoyed the most while staying in Cheow Lan Lake, since you can explore the magic jungle and glimpse the sharp cliffs by yourself at your own pace, and for how long you want.
There are no serious risks if you wear a safety jacket and take normal precautions, and there are no big mammals left in the surroundings of the rafthouses, so no risk to become the prey of a hungry tiger. There might be some venomous snake hanging from the branches, so look out for that, but don't be obsessed.
If instead you are lazy enough and you want to explore the lake by boat, you should consider the extra cost for it. You will have to hire a boat for the whole length of your stay, and the same boat will bring you to the rafthouses and take you back at the end of your stay.
We didn't find the extra activities (Wildlife spotting, guided kayaking, 10 minutes jungle trekking through an easy trail, small cave exploration) offered by our Company really thrilling compared to what we did on our own, so if there is something in which you want to save, we would suggest you not to pay for the extra rent of the boat and the extra activities and rely on your kayak and bicep power. Consider that according to where you are sleeping in the lake, activities might be different and more interesting than what we have experienced, so we suggest you not to base your decision only on our review.
Budget in Cheow Lan Lake
According to the costs written before, a total minimum price per person for a 1 night 2 days stay (Slightly more than 24 hours) all included and organized independently, is more expensive than other destinations in Thailand, and might cost you:
Taxi hire form the bus station to the boat jetty (considering 2 people): 300 Bahts
Boat transfer if shared with other 10 people: 220 Bahts
National Park entrance fee: 300 Bahts
One night accommodation in a rafthouse, food and kayak included: 1200 Bahts
Total: 2020 Bahts per person (Around 56$ at today rate)
It looks complicated? Well it actually is, but that's what you have to pay for your independence and to save some cash. If you prefer easy life and can afford it, then just join an organized tour from a reliable company.
Be assured that after overcoming the organization drama you will have an amazing experience that you'll remember for the rest of your life!
If you are still not convinced if you want to visit Cheow Lan Lake or not, have a look also at our other reports below:
- Our experience in Cheow Lan Lake: arriving and exploring the floating rafts
- Our experience in Cheow Lan Lake: Kayaking towards the jungle
- Our experience in Cheow Lan Lake: Jungle trekking and cave exploration
- Our experience in Cheow Lan Lake: Wildlife spotting and guided kayaking tour
Disclaimer: While our visit in Cheow Lan Lak and Khao Sok National Park and our stay in the raft house were sponsored by Limestone Lake Rainforest Tours, all the information given were not influenced in any way nor agreed with our partner, and everything we wrote in this report was our sincere advice.