Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Koh Samui or Koh Phangan? It’s a debate as futile as New York vs Boston. You’ll hear noise and opinions, but there’s no finite answer. Everyone has a preference and you’ll notice stereotypes are quick to follow: “overdeveloped!” “rustic!” “touristy!” “boring!” “families!” “backpackers!” We think it all depends where you hang your hat.

Both islands have their beautiful bits and, yes, a few corners you might skip. Should you choose one over the other, or try both? Here’s how to decide whether you’ll prefer Samui or Phangan.

Which is better, Koh Samui or Koh Phangan?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Nice try. The most oft-quoted line is that Koh Phangan is Koh Samui twenty years ago. It paints a rosy picture, but 98% of Koh Phangan’s hotels and guesthouses offer WiFi. 93% have air-conditioning. How about we shelve the time-travel comparisons and enjoy now.

Your sense of ‘overdeveloped’ might be someone else’s ‘airport and three hospitals’. Their sense of ‘rustic’ might be a half-day’s vacation lost to ferry transit. Our verdict? It’s all in your beach choice, and the hotel you pick. You can find peace, quiet and a hammock anywhere. So, rather than orate which is better, let’s dabble in data…

You’ll see ‘Phangan’ spelt as 1 or 2 words – just as often it’s ‘Phang An’ (and sometimes Pha Ngan). Likewise ‘Koh’ can be ‘Ko’. It’s all the same place – though not to be confused with ‘Phang Nga’, which is near Phuket!)

What’s the difference?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Koh Samui: No one knows what ‘Samui’ means – it could be a perversion of a Chinese word, a Malay word, a local word … just a big shrug.

Koh Pha Ngan: ‘Ngan’ means ‘sandbar’ in southern Thai dialect. Sand bar … or bars on sand? Find both on Koh Phangan.

Get instant answers to all your Koh Samui questions in The Koh Samui Guide – totally updated for 2018! Get your Koh Samui Guide

Which is bigger?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Koh Samui is 183% bigger

  • Koh Samui: 228.7 km² (88.3 sq mi)
  • Koh Phangan: 125 km² (48 sq mi)

Biggest towns

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

  • Koh Samui: Chaweng (as a tourist centre) and Nathon
  • Koh Phangan: Thong Sala (ferry terminal) and Haad Rin (Full Moon Party)

Distances?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Between the two: approx. 15 km apart (generally a 30-minute boat ride)

  • Koh Samui: 35 km from the mainland
  • Koh Phangan: 55 km from the mainland

Which is hillier?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Near enough, it’s a draw. Both islands offer good hikes and great views.

  • Koh Samui: highest peak is 635m (2,083 feet) – Khao Pom
  • Koh Phangan: highest peak is 630m (2,066 feet) – Khao Ra

How much more developed is Koh Samui?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

For starters, it has an airport and three hospitals. We like our WiFi and our air-conditioning as much as we like the speed of air travel and modern medicine. However, there’s probably something psychological in removing yourself to an island with nothing but boat access to the outside world.

  • Koh Samui: 708 residents per square mile
  • Koh Phangan: 285 residents per square mile

Koh Samui is 248% more densely populated (though take these stats with a grain of salt – populations on both islands are fairly transient and have a large migrant labour pool. The numbers don’t include tourists, see below). Compare these to London and Bangkok (14,000+ people per square mile) – neither island is exactly drowning in humanity.

Which has more tourists?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

It’s definitely Koh Samui (recall, as well, that it’s almost twice as big) but accurate stats are tricky. Tourist arrivals per day:

  • Koh Samui: 2,673 (by air per day, Jan-June 2014)
  • Koh Phangan: 2,000 (by ferry per day … very approximately)

Koh Samui, by these very skewed statistics, gets 134% more tourist arrivals, however, this data misses (A) Koh Samui’s ferry arrivals and (B) the increase in daily flights to Samui since 2014. Let’s conclude as follows: Koh Samui is a bigger island with greater development, a bigger population, and its own airport – it has more tourists by a wide margin.

Speaking of one island catering to a particular tourism sector, here’s the funniest thing we’ve ever read on backpacker stereotypes (an April Fool’s satire).

How to get to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

  • To Koh Samui: Fly to Koh Samui Airport (or Surat Thani Airport + ferry)
  • To Koh Phangan: Koh Samui Airport + ferry, (or Surat Thani Airport + direct ferry to Koh Phangan).

Departure points include (from Koh Samui) Bang Rak (nearest the airport), Maenam, Nathon and from the mainland, Surat Thani.

Koh Phangan’s airport? There have been rumours, then more solid rumours, then near-facts about a new Koh Phangan Airport for a while. Here’s a drone video shot in January 2015 of current progress.

How to get around?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

Rental transport options on both islands include songthaews, scooters and Jeep/4WD rentals – however Samui, the older cousin, has a greater range of rental car options including an increasingly air-conditioned, air-bagged and seat-belted selection.

What is there to do on Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

There’s plenty of overlap on tried-and-tested island pursuits. On both Koh Samui and Koh Phangan you can spend days, weeks or months enjoying yoga, muay Thai, massages and cooking school. As for thoroughly avoidable, Koh Samui has a decent collection of tourist traps and Koh Phangan has that little get-together.

Here’s the best thing Wikipedia has to say about Party HQ, Haad Rin: “Haad Rin is polluted with litter, but given the constant parties, it is relatively clean. There are sewerage works and the sewerage is not pumped into the sea.” Well then.

What is there to eat on Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

In common: Both islands have Tesco-Lotus supermarket and mini-marts (7-Eleven and equivalent) galore. Koh Samui’s extras: Tesco-Lotus locations in various corners of the island, large bulk stores, dedicated wine and bottle shops, plus higher end Western import shops, bakeries … even a yoghurt shop. Anecdotal evidence suggests Koh Phangan’s hole-in-the-wall and beach restaurants (for Thai food) run cheaper, though – as with accommodation – Koh Samui has more variety at all price points.

What’s the difference in accommodation?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

  • Koh Samui: 1000+ properties on Booking.com and on Agoda
  • Koh Phangan: 300+ properties on Booking.com, 400+ on Agoda

As you can see, if you want vast choice at the 4- and 5-star level (or any internationally branded resorts), Samui is for you. However, there are some surprising differences in hotel prices between the two islands. Let’s take a look…

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan hotels

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

We can’t tell you which island is better, but we can tell you which has better hotel prices. To compare the price difference between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan hotels, we hunkered down with a spreadsheet and looked into the future.

Avoiding Haad Rin (our website, our bias), we looked at everything on Koh Phangan rated 8/10 or better on Booking.com (either ‘Very Good’ or ‘Wonderful’) – at all price points – for a night in July, 2016 (best rate). Then, we looked at equivalent offerings on Koh Samui (hotels with the exact star ratings and user reviews), to see the average price points. Surprisingly, the island with better rates for five-star hotels is more expensive for three-star hotels. Here are our results:

Five-star Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan hotels

Santhiya Koh Phangan Resort and Spa (9.0)
Best for: Teak everything, Thai everything … and private speedboat transfers from Samui.

Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan (9.3)
Best for: Private speed boat transfers from Samui airport + the best modern gadgets.

Compared to Koh Samui’s: Ammatara Pura Pool Villa, Sandalwood Luxury Villa Resort and its two Anantara resorts (Anantara Bophut and Anantara Lawana)

Average price per night (USD)

  • Koh Phangan five-star: $210
  • Koh Samui five-star: $324

Four-star Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan hotels

Buri Rasa Koh Phangan (9.2)
Best for: Private boat transfers from any point in Samui

Kupu Kupu Beach Villas & Spa (9.0)
Best for: Extra nice spa – Lilawadee Spa by L’OCCITANE

Panviman Koh Phangan (8.9)
Best for: Outdoor bathtubs and two beach restaurants

Maehaad Bay Resort (8.5)
Best for: Large grounds with room to roam, on a shallow beach (+ a gym!)

Compared to Koh Samui’s: Buri Rasa Village, Zazen Boutique Resort & Spa, Poppies Samui and Peace Resort

Average price per night (USD)

  • Koh Phangan four-star: $133
  • Koh Samui four-star: $178

Three-star Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan hotels

Cookies Salad Resort (8.0)
Best for: Hillside location with hammocks, coconut thatch and bamboo galore

Le Divine Comedie Beach Resort (9.1)
Best for: Travellers Choice winner in 2015: #21 Hotels for Service in Thailand

Baan Manali Resort (8.6)
Best for: Your own balcony – with a hammock

Green Papaya Resort (8.2)
Best for: Beautiful gardens and an even prettier beach

Compared to Koh Samui’s: PS Thana Resort, Smile House, Escape Beach Resort and Crystal Bay Beach Resort

Average price per night (USD)

  • Koh Phangan three-star: $79
  • Koh Samui three-star: $56

Two-star Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan hotels

High Life Bungalow (8.2)
Best for: Hillside views, with easy beach access down a staircase

Sunset Cove Resort (8.6)
Best for: Infinity pool overlooks its own beach (+ DVD players for rainy days or jet-lagged nights)

V-View Beach Resort (8.3)
Best for: Hammocks galore – on the beach and your bungalow’s balcony

Compared to Koh Samui’s: Amy Village Garden Resort, Samui Backpacker Hotel and Kinnaree Resort

Average price per night (USD)

  • Koh Phangan two-star: $34
  • Koh Samui two-star: $25

One-star Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan hotels

Compared to Koh Samui’s: Samui Star Guesthouse, Baan Smile Hostel and New Hut Bungalow

Average price per night (USD)

  • Koh Phangan one-star: $16
  • Koh Samui one-star: $18

How to choose between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan?

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

1. Want to try both islands? If your budget is amenable, try Koh Samui’s higher-end boutique experience – it’s really good at it – and tuck into its fantastic range of food. Then, load up your Kindle and try the desert island life in a simpler Koh Phangan beach hut.

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

2. If you think you’ll prefer Koh Phangan as it – statistically – has fewer tourists, but don’t have the time or inclination to deal with a ferry or boat transfer, look further afield in Samui. Try the island’s quiet side in Bang Po, Lipa Noi or Taling Ngam, perhaps.

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

3. If you’re coming in rainy season, when the sea can get very rough, it might be preferable to stick to Samui.

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison

4. Check your dates – if you’re travelling to Koh Phangan at Full Moon Party time (whether as an attendee or an avoidee), make advance ferry bookings, as well as accommodation reservations for a few days either side.

Koh Samui vs Koh Phangan: Hotels, Prices and Comparison


Sources: Wikipedia: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Thong Sala and Haad Rin + Koh Phangan airport + tourism stats

Subscribe

Get Thailand travel tips delivered to your inbox