After travelling around Thailand for over 15 years I thought I had seen it all, I was wrong. I was chatting to fishing expert Eddy Mounce whilst fishing at his fabulous fishing resort, Jurassic Mountain. As we were discussing the ever increasing options for anglers in Thailand Eddy mentioned a mysterious place called Cheow Lan Reservoir which immediately got my attention. He described a magical place deep in the jungles of Khao Sok National Park which was far from civilization. He went on to say that it was an unexplored area, perfect for those seeking a fishing experience with a difference.
This jungle lure fishing adventure, targets the Giant Snakehead, a top predator, which lurk in the undergrowth around the back waters of Cheow Lan Reservoir, also known as Cheow Lan Lake. This was a place I simply had to see for myself.
About Cheow Lan Lake
Cheow Lan lake forms part of the stunning Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand. For nature lovers, Cheow Lan is a must see attraction, it is one of the wildest places in Thailand, and the whole of South East Asia. The man-made lake/reservoir is vast, covering an area of 165 square kilometers. Surrounding the lake are steep limestone mountains and thick jungle which are home to the oldest evergreen forest in the world, and an enormous amount of exotic plants and wildlife.
Cheow Lan covers a vast area, its one of the top locations in Thailand for spotting wildlife
The surreal scenery, wildlife, and multitude of adventure activities on offer have made Cheow Lan lake a popular choice with nature lovers and the more adventurous traveller. Typical activities to enjoy at Cheow Lan are kayaking, swimming, wildlife watching, trekking, cave diving and lure fishing for species such as the giant snakehead, thai mahseer and hampala barb/jungle perch.
And so the adventure began
A few weeks after my conversation with Eddy at Jurassic, I had already contacted the local guides at Cheow Lan to organize our trip, and was waiting at the pier in Phang Nga province for our longtail boat. The floating raft accommodation used as the basecamp for the Snakehead fishing is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, so after meeting up with our captain, we loaded up our supplies and headed off.
The journey took around 1 hour, the scenery along the way was breathtaking. Huge jungle clad limestone mountains and cliffs line the reservoir, with steep rock formations jutting out of the water forming islands. This kind of scenery is quite typical in southern Thailand, but the sheer amount of fresh water and the remoteness of Cheow Lan make it truly unique, and totally different from other nearby destinations such as Phuket or Krabi.
Dramatic scenery around Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park
On arrival at the floating raft jungle basecamp, we were greeted by the people who live there, it turned out that the rafts are also used as a ranger station, and are home to several rugged looking locals who protect the area from poachers. It was immediately apparent that this was going to be a real adventure!
Fishing at Cheow Lan Lake
Cheow Lan lake is one of Thailand’s premier fishing destinations, particularly if you are looking to hook into a giant snakehead, striped snakehead, or the very rare cobra snakehead. As well as the great snakehead fishing, you also have the chance of catching Thai mahseer, jungle perch, river catfish, and giant mekong catfish.
Lure fishing for Snakehead is challenging, they like to hide away in snaggy areas such as under overhanging vegetation and sunken logs, so accurate casting is a must. It is also important to use the right type of lures for the lake and fish at the right time of day, typically the best time is from 4-6pm and early in the morning.
Local fishing guides and small, traditional longtail boats are used to navigate the labyrinth like waterways deep inside the tropical rainforest. At times the boats have to pass through narrow sections of the lake to get to the fish, so the local knowledge of the guides, who were brought up in the area, is invaluable.
Small traditional longtail fishing boats are used on the snakehead tours
Although Cheow Lan has become a big hit with tourists over the last 10 years, the fishing area’s are hidden away in the top end of the lake. They are far away from civilization, and out of bounds for mainstream tourism, which means you get a unique jungle fishing experience with only the swinging monkeys and gibbons to keep you company.
Wildlife can easily be spotted directly from your longtail fishing boat
So did we catch anything?
Snakehead are notoriously tricky to catch, but yes we did catch one, well two actually as our guide, Nop, caught a Snakehead too, although mine was much bigger! We were fishing for 2 full days, which is the recommended minimum time for Snakehead fishing at Cheow Lan. It’s not easy fishing, as you need to cast out right next to the bank where there are a lot of snag’s, but I kept plugging away and eventually got my reward.
The male Snakehead I caught was protecting its young (a ball of fry) when I hooked into it, that’s why the colouration is so vibrant, to warn off other predators. The mother was certainly around, they are much bigger and are considered to be the prized catch for Snakehead anglers. I was more than happy with my catch, which I guess was around 3kg or 6 1/2 lbs.
The male Snakehead was protecting its young when I lured him out
This fishing trip was a real experience and different to anything I have done before. The word ‘jungle’ gets thrown around Thailand quite loosely, and many ‘trips to the jungle’ turn out to be infested with herds of tourists wielding GoPro’s and selfie sticks. This trip however couldn’t be further away, it is indeed a real jungle experience, and alongside the great fishing, there are a whole host of other activities, suitable for people of all ages and interests.
Other activities to enjoy at Cheow Lan Lake
Cheow Lan is great not just for fishing, but a whole range of other activities such as kayaking, swimming, trekking, wildlife watching, cave diving, or just simply relaxing at your floating accommodation, taking in the magnificent scenery.
Kayaking around the reservoir was an experience we will never forget
Kayaking is fantastic at Cheow Lan, a stealth like approach to the banks of the lake gives you a great chance to see wildlife up close and personal. Early mornings are particularly special, as the mist rises from the top of the lake, and you listen to the sounds of gibbons calling, whilst slowly floating around, it really is a magical experience.
Wildlife watching is a top activity and another reason people visit the area. Khao Sok National Park and Cheow Lan Lake are home to the oldest evergreen forest in the world, scientists estimate it at being over 150 million years old. The area is one of the top locations in Thailand for spotting wildlife.
The jungle clad mountains that surround the reservoir are home to a vast array of mammals including Gibbons, Elephants, Tigers, Leopards, Gaur, Tapir, and Sambar Deer. There are also huge amounts of exotic birds such as Eagles, and Giant Hornbills.
Huge groups of noisy Hornbills can be spotted near fig tree’s, all around the lake
Although it is possible to spot wildlife on the fishing tours, and also direct from the floating raft accommodation, separate wildlife watching trips are also available. You have the chance to head off with the rangers in their longtail boats, looking for Elephant’s, Gibbons, giant birds and anything you wish to see. As the rangers know the area well, you can ask them to show you specific species, for example if you like bird watching, they will take you to see/photograph eagles, large group’s of giant hornbills, or any other targeted species you may be looking for.
Floating Raft Accommodation
The accommodation used for these exciting snakehead fishing tours is very remote, and far from the tourist area’s of the lake. The rooms are fairly basic, consisting of bamboo huts, and low level beds with mosquito nets. The remote location, basic amenities, and abundance of wildlife provide a unique experience and are a constant reminder that you are on a real adventure.
Floating raft accommodation, used for the Snakehead jungle fishing tours
Cool, misty mornings and pure nature at Cheow Lan Lake
The food on this trip is also definitely worth a mention, you are quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but somehow the cooks manage to serve up amazing Thai dishes, which are different everyday. We had 3 meals per day, which were just for two of us, but could have quite easily fed four! You can also head off on a kayak with a cane rod to fish like a local. The small fish you will inevitably catch can then be fried by the cooks, and I can confirm, they are absolutely delicious!
The delicious food prepared by the cook’s could feed an army, it’s worth the trip alone!
This hidden jungle hideaway at Cheow Lan is suitable for family’s, groups, and basically anyone who wants to get away from it all and experience pure nature in peace and quiet. If you can do without your padded mattress for a few days, you will be rewarded with a truly authentic jungle experience, deep in the wilderness of Cheow Lan Lake, Khao Sok National Park.
Cheow Lan Gallery
Cheow Lan Lake is located in the north part of Khao Sok National Park, in Southern Thailand. Getting there is fairly straight forward from the popular tourist destinations of Phuket, Khao Lak, and Phang Nga Bay.
Cheow Lan is also easily reached from both the north, and the islands in the Thai Gulf such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. If you are travelling from the north, first you need to get to Surat Thani province and then take a minivan service to Cheow Lan pier.