side by side photo comparing Koh Samui or Koh Phangan two popular beaches

Koh Samui or Koh Phangan: 7 Things to Consider

Can’t decide whether you should add Koh Samui or Koh Phangan to your Thailand itinerary? This guide breaks down 7 things between both islands, which will help you decide!

Despite the two islands being so close, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are very different, so deciding which island would be best for you to visit shouldn’t be too difficult.

Both islands share similar qualities, such as beautiful beaches, vibrant night markets, and overall accommodations for all travelers. However, the atmosphere, crowds, and other aspects differentiate them.

Keep in mind, if your visiting time allows you, you could also always visit both islands, the two islands are next to one another, and it’s only a 30 to 45 minute ferry ride.

clear sand, foamy ocean water and large rocks at the end of the shoreline at Lamai Beach in Koh Samui / Is Koh Samui worth visiting


The atmosphere on each island couldn’t be more different despite both islands being close.

Koh Samui is a well-developed island that sometimes feels like a city when you’re not by the beach. Its many beach towns are on the island, which are their small towns.

Koh Samui boasts three primary beach areas: Chaweng, Bo Phut, and Lamai Beach, each with their unique atmosphere.

Chaweng is the most popular area on the island, with plenty of hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, etc. Lamai offers the same but with a more laidback atmosphere compared to Chaweng. Bo Phut Beach is also popular, with it’s main beach front hotels, boutique shopping and restaurants.

There are secluded hotels on the West side of Koh Samui. However, these serene spots are relatively isolated from other attractions on the island.

Overall, the atmosphere in Koh Samui is a mix of laidback but with a bustling city-like atmosphere. The island is frequented amongst all travelers, especially families, home to many older expats.

Koh Phangan is a very laidback island, things are overall slower on the island, roads are never busy, locals know one another and it’s the perfect island to relax to the fullest.

Like many islands, Koh Phangan also has beach areas that are small towns in a sense as well.

Thong Sala is the most frequented area, many tourist first arrive here from the ferry, there are many shops, restaurants, and gyms here. Haad Rin is a smaller area but is world-famous because it’s home to the famous Full Moon Party.

The Village Green is another excellent area to stay in Koh Phangan, there are many hotels here, cafe shops, a gym and nearby access to two different beaches. Those looking for secluded, smaller areas on the island will also find plenty of those on Koh Phangan.

Overall, the atmosphere in Koh Phangan is slow, relaxing, serene, and the exact type of place one would like to be when they’d like to reset.

Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s most visited islands for many good reasons, but it lacks the authenticity of experiencing a Thai island. Koh Phangan on the other hand offers just that, it’s a perfect example of a traditional Thai island.

mountainous ranges and clear skies along the ocean in Koh Phangan, Thailand

The Crowd

Both islands accommodate all crowds and you will find solo travelers, families, couples visiting either island. But each island attracts more of a crowd, which becomes quite noticeable when you visit.

Koh Samui is popular amongst families due to its many island conveniences, large malls, plenty of activities for the kids, and ease of getting around. Many large hotels and resorts on the island offer plenty of amenities for families.

As mentioned, Koh Samui is a very well-developed island, because of this, it’s pretty liveable, there are many expats living here from all over the world.

Koh Phangan is more popular amongst younger people, backpackers, yogis, and those who like to party and enjoy an authentic island vibe. Many yoga retreats are on the island throughout the year, attracting many tourists.

In the few days coming up to the Full Moon Party, the crowd in Koh Phangan is a wide variety of all ages coming to experience the famous Full Moon Party along Haad Rin Beach. If that’s not your atmosphere, you may want to avoid visiting Koh Phangan close to a full moon.

several locals and tourist seated eating many different foods at the Fisherman's Night Market in Koh Samui, Thailand


Koh Samui and Koh Phangan both offer many beautiful beaches full of palm tree surrounding, soft sand and clear water. However, Koh Samui’s beaches offer more amenities than Koh Phangan’s.

In Koh Samui, the main beaches are next to restaurants, beach clubs, and bars, with plenty of beach lounge chair rentals available. Koh Phangan’s beaches are more laidback, with a few vendors, but with more nature and less developed.

Koh Samui’s most-known beach is Chaweng Beach, a bustling beach with many restaurants, beach clubs, vendors, and chair rentals. Lamai Beach is another popular beach but is more known for its nature-rich surroundings. Bo Phut Beach is located next to many restaurants and beachfront resorts.

There are a few secluded beaches in Koh Samui, such as Lipa Noi and Thong Krut Beach, with fewer tourists along the island’s western side. But they aren’t unique and take around 30+ minutes to get to, depending on your area.

The beaches in Koh Phangan are excellent, the most popular being Thong Sala. This beach area is the main part of the island with the most shops, restaurants, and amenities. Hin Kong Beach is another great beach with many nearby conveniences.

But Koh Phangan is more known for the more secluded island beaches, such as Bottle Beach and Haad Sadet Beach, those looking for both secluded and with a few amenities consider Salad Beach, a soft sand paradise. These are only a few. There are countless hidden gems of beaches in Koh Phangan to discover!

aerial shot of a beach in Koh Phangan, Thailand with several hues of turquoise waters / how to get around Koh Phangan

Things to Do

Both islands offer many things to do and similar activities, such as viewpoint hikes, waterfall visits, long days relaxing on the beach, night markets, snorkeling or scuba diving, and visits to many Buddhist temples.

However, a significant difference is the few big city-like activities Koh Samui offers because of how developed it is, which Koh Phangan does not. In Koh Samui, you can visit large shopping malls, watch a movie at a cinema, go-karting, and much more!

Koh Samui Main Attractions

Day Trip to Ang Thong: This national park is a collection of 42 beautiful islands located next to Koh Samui. A Day trip to Ang Thong Marine Park is necessary when visiting Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.

Jungle/Waterfall Adventures: The safari tour in Koh Samui is the most popular tour on the island. During the tour, you will visit the jungle side of Koh Samui and experience beautiful waterfalls/viewpoints.

Big Buddha Samui: The most famous landmark in Koh Samui is the Big Buddha, located in the island’s Northern part. Visiting the Big Buddha, you’ll see fantastic views of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.

Fishermen’s Village: One of the most popular places in Koh Samui is the Fishermen’s Village. This lively area by Bo Phut Beach is popular for its boutique shopping, many delicious restaurants, beach bars, and overall is a perfect place to walk around at all hours!

Island Hopping: There are several islands nearby Koh Samui to visit, including Pig Island, Koh Toa, and Koh Phangan.

pigs roaming around the sand at Koh Samui Pig Island

Koh Phangan Main Attractions

Ko Ma: Located in the Northern part of Koh Phangan is Ko Ma, an island attached to Koh Phangan by a long strip of sand, and you can visit just by walking over! It’s a sight to see!

ATV Safari Tour: On this ATV Tour, you will experience Koh Phangan’s jungles and coastlines!

Wat Ruese Pa Saeng Temple: The most famous Buddhist temple on the island is Wat Ruese Pa Saeng, located in the heart of the jungles of Koh Phangan. As you finish hiking toward the temple, you’ll see stunning views of Koh Phangan’s dense green jungles.

Day Trip to Ang Thong: Closeby to Koh Phangan is Ang Thong National Park rated one of the best national parks in Thailand. Comprising 42 islands, the park is full of mangroves, luscious green scenery, and more!

Namtok Tahn Sadet Park: Famous for being the best national park in Koh Phangan, Namtok Park is a must on your Koh Phangan itinerary. The park has scenic trails, rivers, waterfalls, and viewpoints.

Snorkel Tour/Island Hopping: You will visit Nang Yuan and Ko Tao islands from Koh Phangan during this snorkeling. Koh Tao is known for its stunning waters full of healthy coral reefs and tropical fish, making it the perfect place for snorkeling.

Pantip Night Market: Open daily from noon till 10 PM, Pantip Night Market is an excellent market with many different foods to try!

palm tree hanging low on a stunning remote beach during a sunny day in Koh Phangan, Thailand

Hotels & Resorts

Both islands offer a wide range of accommodations for all travelers from hotels, large resorts, hostels and secluded beach side bungalows. However each island is more known for an accomdation-type.

Koh Samui is more well-known for its many beachfront hotels and 5 Star hotels catering to families. That said, you’ll find plenty of mid-range priced hotels on the island and a few hostels.

Koh Phangan is more well-known for its beachfront bungalow-style hotels, hostels, and smaller boutique hotels. The island has a few resorts but is more famous for those accommodations.

Hotels in Koh Samui

Koh Samui is the second largest island in Thailand, so decide if you’d prefer to be central to most things on the island or further. To avoid having to use transportation oftrn.

Budget: P&T Hostel or Timeless Hostel

Mid-Range: Lud d Koh Samui or Ibis Samui

Luxury: Kimpton Kitalay or InterContinental Samui

Hotels in Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is a decent sized island, consider which area you’d prefer to be in when visiting, consider Tong Sala Beach to stay central or if you’d prefer a more secluded atmosphere, consider Salad Beach.

Budget: Echo Beach Hostel or Phatra Hostel

Mid-Range: Silan Residence or Explorar Koh Phangan

Luxury: Santhiya Koh Phangan or Panviman Resort

deck with seaviews during sunset at a bungalow in Koh Phangan, Thailand


Each island has its own nightlife activities for visitors to experience. However, because Koh Samui is the more developed island, it offers a few activities at night, whereas Koh Phangan does not.

Koh Samui offers a wide variety of night time activities, from lively beach fire shows at Bo Phut Beach to outdoor beach bars in Lamai Beach and many nightclubs, bars to visit in the popular Chaweng Beach area.

There are also many activities for families to enjoy in Koh Samui, such as go-karting, visiting the cinema for a movie, and night markets. Koh Samui has a few fight stadiums that put on Muay Thai fights on the weekends, which is worth checking out.

Koh Phangan offers a very laidback nightlife atmosphere, except for when the Full Moon Party is going on, which happens once a month. Putting that aside, Koh Phangan’s nightlife consists of chill beach bars, night markets, restaurants offering live music and that’s about the extent of it.

The Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan is world-famous and hosts travelers worldwide every month, usually lasting 12+ hours. It’s a massive rave party on a beach with performers, DJs, tourists dressed in neon clothing, paint, you get the idea!

Nowadays, there are even half-moon parties in Koh Phangan, while this may not be the original idea that started things off, I’d imagine this is done now to encourage more tourism.

a beach at night full of tourists attending the famous Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand
Credit: HomeisWhereBag


Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are both reasonably large islands, unless you plan to spend your entire time on one beach area, you’ll need transportation to get around each island during your visit.

The best way to get around each island is by renting a scooter. Otherwise, you can use one of the ways on each island to get around.

It’s pretty easy to get around Koh Samui because of the many options you have, you can take one of the songtaew pickup trucks, which operate as shared taxis riding around the island picking up passengers along the way. Or you can always take a private regular taxi.

Another option is using ride-sharing apps such as Grab or Bolt in Koh Samui, order a ride on the app and be on your way.

Getting around Koh Phangan is slightly more challenging if you haven’t rented a scooter. The island also has songtaew pickup trucks, but drivers sometimes take advantage of this charging higher prices later in the day due to being less developed.

Private taxis are also more limited in Koh Phangan, and apps, Grab and Bolt don’t operate on Koh Phangan.

song taew, a pubic transportation taxi van driving throughout Koh Samui, Thailand

Things to Know Before Visiting Koh Samui or Koh Phangan

To make visiting either island smoother, here’s a list of tips, including the best and worst time to visit.

Best Time to Visit Koh Samui or Koh Phangan

Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are located in the Gulf of Thailand, because of this, the two islands, along with the ones surrounding them, don’t share the same seasonal weather as other popular places in Southern Thailand, like Phuket and Krabi.

The islands in the Gulf of Thailand have a shorter rainy season, which is very convenient!

Dry Season: January to September

Monsoon (rainy) Season: October to December

Travel Tips for Koh Samui

  • Use the Songtaew trucks for cheap transportation around Koh Samui.
  • Drink and dine at Happy Hour promo times at some restaurants that offer it.
  • Attend morning day tours. They’re always less crowded than afternoon trips.
  • Koh Samui is a large island, so choose the area you’re staying in wisely.

Travel Tips for Koh Phangan

  • Koh Phangan is a safe island, but there’s no reason to be exploring the jungles at night
  • If you attend the Full Moon Party, understand that illicit things are being sold here, and undercover cops are looking to make arrests.
  • Being tipsy and going into the sea for a swim while at the Full Moon Party isn’t the best idea; it can get deep, and it is nighttime, there have been drownings in the past.
fresh Thai coconut being served at a restaurant in Lamai Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan Final Thoughts

Well, that sums up a completely seven essential points for Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan. Have you decided which of the two islands you’ll be visiting?

The most significant difference between the two islands is the atmosphere and landscape.

Koh Phangan and Koh Samui share similar landscapes with beaches and jungles, but Koh Samui is so well-developed in areas, it feels like you’re in a city.

So consider the atmosphere you’d prefer to surround yourself with and whether or not conveniences in Koh Samui are important to you.

Solo travelers, couples, or those with a group of friends, both islands can cater well. For those visiting with families, Koh Samui is more accommodating for the kids.

I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying both islands and found each to have its benefits. However, I prefer Koh Phangan because of the more authentic Thai island experience apparent on the island.

calm shallow beach with mountainous views in the distance Island in Samui District

Which is best Koh Phangan or Koh Samui?

Koh Phangan is better for those looking for a laidback island experience, whereas Koh Samui is most known for its many things to do and bustling island atmosphere.

Which is cheaper Koh Phangan or Koh Samui?

Koh Samui is more expensive than Koh Phangan in most regards, including hotels and eating out. Transporation costs on both islands is around the same.

Is it worth going to Koh Phangan?

Yes, Koh Phangan offers many beautiful landscapes throughout the island, from calm secluded beaches to dense forest filled jungles and much more.

Is Koh Samui too touristy?

Koh Samui is touristy, the island is well developed for tourism, making it a top visited place in Thailand.

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