Thinking of vacationing on some tropical island in Thailand? That’d be nice! From iconic temples, spectacular beaches and nature parks, to world-famous yoga retreats, fine restaurants and luxury accommodation, the country, with its diverse landscape, is a dream holiday destination for party lovers, beachgoers, romantic partners, families, and adventure seekers.
Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are two of Thailand’s most popular islands, and it’s our pleasure to help you decide which aligns best with your vacation dreams. We’ll even recommend a luxury resort in Koh Samui where you’ll enjoy maximum comfort.
Let’s get to it!
Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are neighboring islands, both in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Samui is not just the more developed, but also the larger of the two, spreading across 247 km with its widest point measuring 25 km.
Koh Phangan lies north of Samui, and is about half its size at 125 km2. A distance of 22 km (30-minute ferry ride) separates both islands, which are also close to mainland Thailand as, from the mainland’s ferry port, Samui is 30 km (or 90 minutes) away, and Phangan is 55 km (about 170 minutes) away.
Beaches & Natural Beauty
The natural beauty of these two Thai islands is unmatched, and a primary aspect of this beauty are the beaches. Here are our top 3 beaches on each island.
Popular Beaches in Koh Phangan
This gem of a beach is usually uncrowded except during the monthly full moon parties. Here you can swim in the dark blue waters, jet ski, or stroll along the Sea Walk.
Thong Nai Pan
Two neighboring beaches: Thong Nai Pan Noi and Thong Nai Pan Yai; both relatively serene, with ample infrastructure and attractions. Good snorkeling and swimming spots.
Popular and unique beach with blue waters; bright green, round trees growing in its white sand; and traditional village buildings located right on it.
Famous Beaches in Koh Samui
A lovely beach with very soft sand; looks absolutely stunning during sunrise. Chaweng offers the best nightlife on the island, and those seeking a luxury resort in Koh Samui will find lots here.
Though it’s the second largest beach in Samui, Lamai is quieter than the island’s other popular beaches. Kite-surfers love it here, and beach amenities are available.
Lipa Noi Beach
If you’re vacationing with your family, you’ll like this kid-friendly, remote beach, as its waters are shallow, containing neither rocks nor corals.
Activities & Attractions
Whether you’re into jet skiing, water skiing, snorkeling, kayaking, volleyball, or any other water sport, Koh Phangan has several beaches where you can have your fill of them. The island also offers other adventurous activities, such as jungle treks, and the yoga retreats here are a must-visit.
Samui as well boasts its own adventures, with cultural attractions like the Big Buddha Temple (Wat Phra Yai), Fisherman’s Village, and Secret Buddha Garden; plus natural attractions including the Hin Lad Waterfall, Lamai Viewpoint, Blue Lagoon, and the Overlap Stone. Modern amenities like shopping malls are also plenty here.
Nightlife & Entertainment
One event you don’t want to miss in Koh Phangan is the Full Moon Party. Attended by thousands of revelers from within and outside Thailand, this legendary party promises a memorable night. The atmosphere is extremely lively and joyful, and there’s great music, all-night dancing, snacks, and lots of alcohol.
Other interesting Koh Phangan events include the Half Moon Festival, Sramanora Waterfall Party, and Eden Garden Party.
Koh Samui offers a more sophisticated nightlife experience, with upscale nightclubs and an array of beachfront bars. Chaweng, the largest town on the island, offers the best nightlife spots which are centered around Chaweng Beach.
From a hostel or guesthouse in Koh Phangan to a villa or luxury resort in Koh Samui, there’s no shortage of accommodation for holiday makers on either island.
If you’re backpacking and on a budget, check out such affordable hostels as the Phangan Arena, Echo Beach Hostel, Slumber Party Hostel, Island and Life Bungalows. Though cheap, these offer basic amenities, including free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, restaurants, and fitness centers.
If you’d rather go all out on luxury, Koh Samui is home to many five-star resorts, such as the Four Seasons, Six Senses, and Vana Belle. Comfortable living doesn’t get better than these luxury accommodations where you’re guaranteed to have the time of your life.
Local Cuisine & Dining
Now that you know which hostel in Koh Phangan, or luxury resort in Koh Samui, to stay in, how about some food?
In Phangan, street food and local delicacies are aplenty. Try the classic pad thai, jungle curries, stir fries and soups, plus the array of wonderfully-flavored seafood dishes available.
At Samui, fine dining awaits you as well. Think chicken with cashew nut, deep fried prawns and Miang Kham; sticky rice with mango; stir-fried rice with cashew nuts; etc. Some 5-star restaurants to consider are Pak Tai, Chez Francois, and The Tent beachfront restaurant and bar. The first two are even vegetarian-friendly.
Culture & Local Life
Koh Phangan’s temples – like the Wat Rat Charoen and the Kuan Yin Chinese Temple – and festivals provide a good experience of traditional Thai culture. Traditional events to anticipate on the island are the famous Songkran, the traditional Thai new year festival; the Half Moon Festival; the Shiva Moon Party, etc.
Koh Samui has its own temples and festivals too, but most tourists come here for a more contemporary luxury lifestyle, thanks to many modern amenities, and upscale hospitality which makes it quite easy to secure a luxury resort in Koh Samui. The island, with its expat communities, offers a blend of local and international lifestyles overall.
Accessibility and Transportation
Both Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are easily accessible by ferry from the mainland, but how do you get about while at either? Options abound.
To fully explore the first, you can use a longtail boat, motorbike or moped, car, songthaew taxi, bicycle, or minibus. While to move around Samui, you can use a ride-sharing service like Grab, a rental car, taxi, songthaew, or scooter.
While Koh Samui has an airport, Koh Phangan relies on its proximity to Koh Samui for air travelers.
Ultimately, choosing between both islands boils down to personal preference, as both offer unique experiences, with Koh Phangan having a more laid-back, rusty charm, and Koh Samui offering a mix of the traditional and modern. Whichever you pick, don’t forget to book yourself a nice hostel in Koh Phangan, or a luxury resort in Koh Samui, for the best holiday experience.