With their paradise beaches and laid-back island lifestyle, Koh Samui and Phuket are the stuff of holiday dreams. But which Thai island should you choose? At a first glance, the two islands might seem very similar, but each of them also has its own charms and quirks. Which is the “better” choice depends on what you’re looking for on your holiday. So which one will it be, Koh Samui or Phuket? Let’s take a closer look.
Thailand is a tropical country affected by a distinct rainy season, so understanding the local weather in both Koh Samui and Phuket before travelling is crucial. The dreaded rainy season arrives a bit earlier in Phuket, which sees the biggest rainfall in September and October. In Koh Samui, the heaviest rain falls in October and November. When you’re trying to decide between Koh Samui or Phuket, start by consulting your calendar and see when you would like to travel. Read more about weather in Koh Samui.
Both Koh Samui and Phuket offer postcard ready beaches, so you really can’t go wrong with either. Phuket offers a larger quantity of beaches to choose from, but it’s easier to find that pristine paradise beach on Koh Samui where development and construction is more regulated.
In Phuket, you’ll see high-rise buildings lining the most visited beaches, whereas in Koh Samui, no building can be higher than 12 metres and roofs should be peaked, not flat (within 50 metres of the beach, the maximum height is just six metres). Koh Samui’s beaches tend to have finer sand than those in Phuket and many visitors to Samui’s Chaweng love the fact that there are beach clubs right on the sand.
If you’re looking for the island with the wildest nightlife, Phuket wins hands down. The district of Patong and Bangla Road in particular are known for offering some of the most vibrant nightlife in all of Asia. In Koh Samui, you won’t find the same level of crazy parties, but the island does have plenty to offer to partygoers as well. Koh Samui offers plenty of great beach clubs where the atmosphere ranges from sophisticated to downright rowdy. So when it comes to nightlife, should you choose Koh Samui or Phuket? For wild parties, head to Phuket. For more laid-back nightlife, opt for Koh Samui.
Though both Koh Samui and Phuket have been highly “Westernised”, there’s still plenty of Thai culture left to explore on both islands. In Phuket, you can get acquainted with the Buddhist faith by visiting the famous Big Buddha and paying your respects at the beautiful Wat Chalong temple. We really love the architecture and bohemian vibes of Phuket’s Old Town as well.
Koh Samui has its own version of the Big Buddha and you can soak up spiritual ambiance at several Buddhist temples and Chinese shrines dotted across the island. Perhaps the most unique holy site on Koh Samui is Wat Khunaram, where you’ll find an actual mummified monk seated in a lotus position. If you’re travelling with kids, it might be best to skip this one.
Koh Samui and Phuket are two of the most popular islands in Thailand, so both islands welcome a large number of foreign tourists every year. That being said, the way the two islands handle the tourist influx is different. Some people compare the islands’ different vibes to those between a town (Phuket) and a village (Koh Samui).
Phuket has seen rapid development and today the island is home to swanky high-rises and offers terrific shopping ranging from fancy malls to atmospheric night markets. That being said, it’s good to remember that Phuket is a large island (about the same size as Singapore) and offers seclusion and tranquillity as well as bustling beach life if you take the time to venture off the beaten path. It’s also worth noting that development is not simply blasting full steam ahead in Phuket, either. In 2016, all the beach shacks lining upscale Surin Beach were demolished following a government ruling. This means the beach favoured by celebrities like Rihanna and Kate Moss has been returned to its natural state, completely devoid of sun loungers and beach bars.
Koh Samui offers a more relaxed ambiance and is often marketed as a more sustainable and eco-friendly destination as compared to Phuket. Don’t get us wrong – Koh Samui is visited by plenty of tourists every year, but thanks to local regulations, the overall effect on the local infrastructure and scenery has been less drastic. Though this might mean a more “authentic” experience, it also means the roads are generally better in Phuket than Koh Samui. Koh Samui doesn’t have a bustling party hub comparable to Phuket’s Patong and is instead a favourite destination among honeymooners.
Accommodation & Budget
If you’re trying to decide between Koh Samui or Phuket based on budget, Phuket is generally considered the more affordable option of the two. As Phuket has more tourism infrastructure, there are more options to choose from when it comes to accommodation. This means there’s more variety, with accommodation ranging from dirt cheap to jaw-droppingly extravagant. Koh Samui, on the other hand, is known as the ultimate luxury destination and the island does boast some incredible resorts and villas. There is, however, plenty of budget accommodation available in Koh Samui as well – you just have to know where to look.
To put things into perspective, we’ve compared a few of our favourite properties in Phuket and Koh Samui.
In Koh Samui, Villa Spice Lime Samui 3 offers an amazing pool, Jacuzzi, home cinema room, private gym and massage room. This luxury villa also includes an in-house chef and butler service. Nightly rates start from USD $1,353 for 6 guests.
Villa Spice Lime Samui 3
Location: Nathon, Koh Samui