Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by Wandering our World
When it comes to Thai getaways, Phuket and Koh Samui are two destinations that should be near the top of everyone’s bucket list. That’s because both can offer unique experiences and unforgettable vacations.
However despite both being popular Thai destinations, they’re actually quite different from each other. So choosing whether to visit Koh Samui or Phuket for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult. Especially if this is your first visit to either.
Thankfully we know both destinations well, so are here to help you decide which one is right for you.
Below we compare both of these island destinations, and give our honest opinion on which one is safer, cheaper, has the best beaches, nightlife, and even more!
So read on to begin your Thai travel adventure!
- Which Has Better Beaches
- Which Has Better Excursions
- Which Has Better Nightlife
- Which Has The Better Cultural Experience
- Which Is The Most Beautiful
- Which Is Cheaper
- Which Is Safer
- Which Is The Better Choice
Which Has Better Beaches?
Koh Samui and Phuket have some wonderful beaches and if you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand then both will keep you happy.
Phuket is a lot bigger than Koh Samui though, and so there’s many white sand beaches on this island. The water is also calm, clear, and good for swimming.
However Phuket is a busy tourist destination – more so than Koh Samui – and therefore the beaches can get busy and crowded, and the coastline is quite developed.
Koh Samui has some lovely soft white sand beaches too, and in general has a more relaxed and laid-back beach vibe than Phuket.
It’s also less developed. But despite that, we’ve found it easier to find hotels right on the beach in Koh Samui than in Phuket, which is a big plus if you’re a beach fan.
However all in all, it’s hard to separate these two when it comes to the better coastline. Because of that, we have to call it a tie.
Which Has Better Excursions?
If you’re looking to do more than just sunbathe and swim, then both have great potential excursions.
In Phuket a trip north of the main city will bring you to hiking trails, jungles, waterfalls, and the island’s natural side.
Whilst around 25km north of Phuket city is Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, where you can meet some of Thailand’s most famous inhabitants.
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Off the coast of Phuket are some breathtakingly beautiful islands as well – Ko Yao Yai is one of our favourites, as are the nearby Phi Phi Islands.
Koh Samui is about half the size of Phuket, but still packs a real punch when it comes to things to do.
Ang Thong National Marine Park sits just off the coast of Koh Samui and is made up of 42 pristine islands that are perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, hiking and wildlife spotting.
On the island itself there are waterfalls to explore, mummified monks to visit at Wat Khunaram temple, elephant trekking and zip-lining.
Again it’s a tough one to decide which island wins this battle, but considering Koh Samui is smaller and still has so much to do, we think it just tips the scale.
Winner: Koh Samui
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Thailand is famous for its party scene, and Phuket is one of the country’s party centres.
For those looking for a wild time, Bangla Road in Phuket’s Patong Beach offers its own selection of bars, go-go clubs and neon-covered craziness. As well as the famous adult entertainment clubs that have become synonymous with Thailand.
Phuket comes alive as the sun sets, and people from around the world come here to experience Thailand’s ‘sinful’ side and the various vices it caters too. However, while Phuket is a safe destination at night, you do have to exercise caution in the evening.
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Koh Samui has a lively nightlife scene too, and you’ll find plenty of places to dance the night away.
But in particular, Koh Samui is an island that’s branded itself as a place where you can party in style. Certainly for us, it does feel less ‘seedy’ than other party islands.
The beachside town of Chaweng with its popular stretch of powdery white sand is the main party spot in Koh Samui. It has countless beachside bars and nightclubs, but also the usual adult entertainment establishments that are everywhere in Thailand.
However in general Koh Samui has a much more relaxed evening vibe than energetic Phuket, and there’s no doubt in our mind that places like Patong in Phuket are more nightlife centric. For that reason Phuket has to be the winner.
Which Has The Better Cultural Experience?
Phuket feels more ‘Westernised’ than Koh Samui, and you’ll have no problem finding chain restaurants and hotels there.
However beyond the beach bars and hotel complexes there is culture to be found, and the Big Buddha – a gigantic Buddha statue sitting at the top of Nakkerd Hill – is worth visiting.
Although it attracts its fair share of tourists too, Koh Samui feels more local and Thai than Phuket.
There are many picturesque temples dotted around the island, as well as busy markets and other sights. Check out the Fisherman’s Village if you get the chance – it’s a rustic food market with many street side eateries.
In our opinion, you can get a better idea of Thai life and culture in smaller Koh Samui than in busier, more tourist-orientated Phuket.
Winner: Koh Samui
Which Is The Most Beautiful?
Both islands have white sand beaches and crystal clear water that gives way to a lush rainforest and mountainous inland.
They both feel like tropical island paradises, especially when you get away from the crowds, and in our opinion are tied when it comes to natural beauty.
Which Is Cheaper?
If you compare either of these destinations to Pattaya or Bangkok then both are expensive by Thai standards. That’s because both Koh Samui and Phuket have become popular tourist destinations.
However we’ve found that Koh Samui tends to be more expensive than Phuket when it comes to accommodation and eating out.
Phuket also has more budget options that are suited for solo travelers and backpackers.
Which Is Safer?
Both are safe destinations, which is why tourists visit in big numbers every year. However, as always when on holiday you should avoid confrontations with locals, avoid walking in unlit areas at night, and keep an eye on your drinks when at clubs and bars.
As for which destination is safer, you’ll find this is a contentious point among locals and tourists alike. However the fact remains that Koh Samui has a slightly lower crime rate than Phuket.
When crime in either does happen it tends to be petty theft like bag snatching and pickpocketing.
Violent crime targeting foreigners is relatively rare in Thailand, but when these sort of crimes do occur it tends to be in nightlife areas. It’s therefore best to always stick to main streets and known establishments, and avoid side streets.
Winner: Koh Samui
Phuket vs Koh Samui: Which Is The Better Choice?
If you’re looking for sun, sea and sand in a beautiful location with great nightlife options then Phuket may be a better choice than Koh Samui. It’s also the cheaper island.
However if you want a more cultural trip, great beaches and easy access to many excursions, then Koh Samui may be a better choice than Phuket.