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Phuket vs Koh Samui: Which Is Better to Go

By Chris QuanUpdated Feb. 1, 2024

Phuket and Koh Samui have both long been known as popular islands for tourism, and they are on the radar for most travelers, whether via social media or by word of mouth.

Many travelers have been through the dilemma of trying to decide which one suits them better. While both destinations cater to thousands of satisfied tourists in every category and demographic range, there are several notable differences that should be taken into account when choosing to travel to just one of the two islands.

Phuket vs Koh Samui: Summary

  Phuket Koh Samui
Features Thailand's largest island
Buzzing atmosphere
More developed
Thailand's third-largest island
Romantic atmosphere
Natural and pristine
Best times November–March January–March
Shortest stays 3–4 days 3–4 days
Top beaches Patong, Kata, Karon Chaweng, Lamai, Bophut
Top activities Swimming, snorkeling, jet skiing, parasailing, ziplining, beach parties Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, spas, jet skiing
Top attractions Phuket Town, Big Buddha, Chalong Temple, Ao Phang-Nga Wat Pra Yai, Wat Khunaram, Hin Ta, and Hin Yai Rocks
Nearby islands Phi Phi Islands, Similan Islands Koh Tao, Koh Phangan
Travel costs From luxury to economy More expensive
Phuket vs Koh Samui

We Recommend That These Travelers Choose Phuket:

  • Activity-lovers: If you like enjoying various water sports or experiential activities, with so many beach outfits, you can expect plenty of water sports action in Phuket. Ziplining, cooking classes, and island hopping are just some of the other things to do.
  • Partiers: Those wanting a boys' or girls' holiday will enjoy the great nightlife with lots of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Phuket is an excellent destination for (young) people looking for a party atmosphere.
  • First-time travelers: Phuket is one of Thailand's premier tourist destinations, and, as such, is ideal for first-time visitors to the country. Perhaps on your second trip, you can venture out to more remote and lesser-known areas.

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We Recommend That These Travelers Choose Koh Samui:

  • Honeymooners and couples: Due to its many stunning beaches and activities that are more suited to personal pleasure and relaxation, rather than lively fun and adventure, couples will love Koh Samui.
  • Serenity-seekers: If you want a quiet holiday for relaxation, it's actually good that Koh Samui attracts fewer tourists.
  • Families seeking natural charm: The picturesque uninhabited islands and crystal-clear waters between will have you and your kids in awe of what is arguably one of the top 20 most beautiful places in the world.

Check the sample itineraries for Thailand tours: 10 days, 12 days, 14 days and 21 days >>>

1. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Beaches

Phuket: More Choice, More Activities

As Thailand's biggest island, Phuket undoubtedly has more beach choices. You are bound to find at least one suitable for you among its dozens of beaches. Patong is top for activity lovers. Kata and Karon are best for beach scenery. If you seek quietness, Khao Lak is recommended for you.

Koh Samui: More Leisurely

Though Koh Samui doesn't have as many beaches as Phuket, its beaches offer even better satisfaction in some respects. With its quiet charm, towering palm trees, and intimate beaches, Koh Samui has long been considered an ultimate leisurely destination.

Chaweng Beach is the beach-going heart of Koh Samui. Lamai Beach and Bophut are relatively quieter.

2. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Things to Do

Phuket: Abundant Choice

If you are fond of enjoying all kinds of tropical-island activities, then Phuket is absolutely your go-to. From day to night, Phuket won't let you down. See 26 Things to Do (and Not to Do) in Phuket. Here are just a few:

  • Try various water sports like jet skiing, wind surfing, and parasailing.
  • Wander around Phuket Old Town.
  • Go to Wat Chalong for a Buddhist temple experience.
  • Soak up the energy of Phuket in bars and nightclubs in Patong's Bangla Road.
  • Go shopping at night markets.
Snorkeling in Phuket Snorkeling in Phuket

Koh Samui: Also Plentiful, but More Relaxed

Koh Samui also offers many popular water activities, such as kiteboarding and jet-skiing. Other more-relaxing activities, such as Thai cooking classes and luxury spas, are also widely available. The following are popular on Koh Samui:

  • Sunbathing on the beach
  • Relax and enjoy a treatment in a local spa
  • Enjoy water sports like swimming and kiteboarding
  • Join a cooking class

3. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Getting There

Phuket: Easy to Get There

Phuket has become a popular entry point to Thailand after it reopened to tourism. You will easily find both international and domestic flights to Phuket.

Most international flights transit in Doha or Bangkok.

As for domestic flights to Phuket, there is no problem. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Koh Samui are all have direct flights.

Koh Samui: Fewer Flights

Koh Samui is also one of the post-reopening entry points to Thailand. There are many international flights to Koh Samui. But most passengers need to transfer twice.

You can fly directly from Thailand's major cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket to Koh Samui. But there are fewer flights.

4. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Best Times

Phuket Phuket

Phuket: November to April

The November-to-April dry season is best for sunshine and various water sports in Phuket. May to October is Phuket's rainy season. For more detail, see Best Times to Visit Phuket.

Koh Samui: January to March and July to September

It is easy to make a decision between Phuket and Koh Samui weatherwise for some months, because Koh Samui has a different (more-concentrated) rainy season from October to early December. In November/December Phuket is definitely better for weather.

January to April is best for weather in Koh Samui, as for Phuket. May to September is also a good time to go to Koh Samui to avoid the rainy season in Phuket.

5. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Scenery

Koh Samui Koh Samui

Phuket: More Developed

As Thailand's biggest island, Phuket has been attracting visitors for a considerably longer time than Koh Samui. Its advanced development is evident from the tall buildings lining its coasts.

Koh Samui: Comparably Pristine

In contrast, buildings in Koh Samui are not allowed to be taller than a coconut tree, helping to retain the charm of a natural island. The unspoiled, tropical setting of this "coconut island" makes for a great backdrop for photographers.

6. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Nearby Islands

Phuket: Phi Phi Islands, Similan Islands

Koh Phi Phi Koh Phi Phi

Koh Phi Phi, 1-1½ hours' speedboat from Phuket, must be the most well-known island near Phuket. Its soft white beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, natural rock caves, and unpolluted nature make it stand out from the more than 30 offshore islands around Phuket. >>>How to Get to the Phi Phi Islands from Phuket

The Similan Islands, 2 hours' speedboat from Phuket, attract thousands of travelers to some of the world's most beautiful, unspoiled beaches with an abundance of diverse marine life and spectacular coral reefs that provide a world-class underwater paradise for divers.

Koh Samui: Koh Tao, Koh Pha Ngan

Koh Tao Koh Tao

Koh Tao is known as the "World's Diving Factory". This island not only has breathtaking natural scenery and clean seas but also cost-effective diving lessons and courses. It is about 1½ hours' speedboat from Koh Samui.

Koh Pha Ngan is a paradise for young people and backpackers, only half an hour's trip from Koh Samui by speedboat. This lovely island is dotted with coconut trees and plenty of sandy white beaches. Its most famous event is the Full Moon Party, which is held on the night of the full moon every month.

7. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Nightlife

Phuket: Thriving

Phuket Bangla Road, Phuket

In Phuket, you don't have to worry about what to do at night. It enjoys a thriving nightlife scene offering everything from trendy bars with inspiring views to roadside wagons selling cheap cocktails in plastic buckets.

Patong is the undisputed nightlife center of Phuket: from nine o'clock onwards the town is buzzing and doesn't stop until the wee hours.

Koh Samui: Quiet Enjoyment

Thai spa Thai spa

There is also no shortage of night activities on Koh Samui. But compared to Phuket's lively parties, Koh Samui offers more relaxed entertainments, such as spa treatments, a quiet bar for wine and music, or a walk along the beach to soak up the sea breeze.

For those looking to meet people and party, it is not difficult to find fun on Koh Samui, but the parties are much smaller and mainly cater to younger crowds.

8. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Dining

Thai food, Tom Yam Kung Tom Yam Kung

Phuket: A Wide Range of Choices

There is no difficulty in finding a restaurant for most tastes in Phuket. Phuket has plenty of options for international visitors — from local Thai dishes to Western food to Chinese food. Restaurant choices also range from market stalls to luxury restaurants.

Koh Samui: More Fine-Dining Restaurants

Unlike Phuket's catering to the masses, Koh Samui seems to have a personality of its own, whilst seeking to provide a romantic and elegant vibe. You will find many beachfront or rooftop restaurants there.

9. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Accommodation

Phuket: Very Many Options

As the biggest and the most popular island in Thailand, hotel choice is not an issue on Phuket. From simple guesthouses to high-end 5-star hotels, from busy centers to secluded beaches, you can definitely find a suitable hotel.

But there is something to note: Phuket has few beachfront hotels. Most hotels are a road away from the beach.

Koh Samui: More Beach-Front Hotels

Although Koh Samui has fewer hotels than Phuket, many of them are right on the beach, allowing you to enjoy a more authentic sea-view room and walk right from your room (or hotel) onto the sand.

10. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Shopping

Phuket: Big Duty-Free Stores and Shopping Malls

Although shopping in Phuket cannot compared with that in Bangkok, you can still find many places to cater to your shopping needs and wants.

Phuket has a duty-free store, King Power, and two large shopping malls near Patong Beach. Local night markets are good places to explore a big range of Thai handicrafts.

Koh Samui: One Big Store and Walking Streets

Koh Samui has fewer shopping options than Phuket. Phuket has no duty-free store, but there is a big store, Central Festival, near Chaweng Beach.

Koh Samui's walking streets, like Lamai Walking Street and Fisherman's Village Walking Street, are good places to find high-quality designer goods.

11. Phuket vs Koh Samui: People and Lifestyle

Koh Samui Sunset

Phuket: Bustling

Phuket is enthusiastic and lively. Its high popularity attracts more visitors, ranging from wealthy resort-goers to families to young people and backpackers.

It is more of a cosmopolitan destination with high-end resorts, fine restaurants, large shopping malls, and plenty of bars and clubs.

Koh Samui: Romantic and Peaceful

Koh Samui is preferred by couples and serenity-seekers. They are more drawn to Koh Samui's smaller size, lack of traffic, and more romantic feel.

12. Phuket vs Koh Samui: Travel Costs

Phuket: From Luxury to Economy

The cost of travel in Phuket can meet different budgets. Whether you're looking for a luxury vacation or an affordable getaway, Phuket can offer great options.

Koh Samui: Relatively Expensive

Flights to Koh Samui are monopolized by Bangkok Airways, so ticket prices are high, about three times Phuket's. You will need to spend more on a trip to Koh Samui, but it's worth it when you see the views.

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Whether you would like to take a trip to Koh Samui or Phuket, or maybe both, we would be delighted to help you organize your international and domestic flights as well as travel, accommodation, and tour activities.

Whatever it is you need, whether you are traveling in a family group, solo, or as a couple, we can tailor-make your entire trip.

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