Although I had 3 amazing days in Koh Samui I can’t wait to go home! Yes, this is how I feel when I am boarding a boat to Koh Tao. Right now I am on the Lompraya high-speed ferry that takes me from Koh Samui to Koh Tao in 2 hours for $17. It was my 3th time visiting Koh Samui, I really like it, but what I learned in 3 days Samui? I really adore Koh Tao, by far my favorite island of the Thai east coast!
It is not that I am happy to leave Koh Samui, in fact I really like this island as well. I just love Koh Tao a little more. It is may be not fair to compare the two but a traveller has to make choices and I want to help you making your decision and tell you the differences.
Koh Tao vs Koh Samui
First of all Koh Samui is huge compared to Koh Tao. It is the biggest island on the East Coast and is 228 km2, where Koh Tao is only 1/10 of that. So if you are looking for a piece of ‘islandlife’ then it is not hard to figure out which island you are willing to go to. In Koh Tao mostly everything can be done on foot where in Samui you definitely need a scooter if you want to see anything else than your hotel. In Koh Tao one of the main roads, the beach road from Mae Haad to Sairee is a foothpath! Everything in Koh Tao is so much more uncomplicated and therefore its atmosphere is super relaxed.
On Samui there are numerous little city centers and they all have their own charm and vibe. With local markets to explore, plenty restaurants, red light districts, disco’s and even a McDonalds and a Starbucks. There is something for everyone. In Koh Tao though you will find none of this. Going out is concentrated in a couple beach bars with cheesy party music or a backpacker’s favorite: the Koh Tao pub-crawl.
Traffic Koh Samui
One of the reasons I love Koh Tao so much is its laid back vibe. I think traffic plays a huge role in this. The most chilled island I have ever been is Caye Caulker in Belize. Why? Because there is NO traffic, just a couple golf carts. With only a few cars on the island Koh Tao lives up to that feeling. Arriving in Samui and experiencing its traffic you will quickly lose touch with that island feeling. Traffic here is horrendous compared to Koh Tao. Big busses, trucks and traffic lights are normal in Samui.
Although Koh Tao is an amazing island for renting a motorbike and explore deserted bays, Samui is so much more convenient for this. The roads in Samui are excellent and driving a motorbike is super easy compared to Koh Tao. Roads in Koh Tao are windy and can be extremely steep and worst of all are not always paved. Driving a motorbike can end in a disaster, read here more about renting a motorbike in Koh Tao.
Best Island for adventure
Koh Tao has always been seen as the number one place in the world to make your first steps in breathing underwater. Scuba diving is the main tourist drag, although things are slowly changing. More and more travellers come to enjoy the laid-back vibe of the island. There are definitely a couple other things to do in Koh Tao, like flying trapeze adventures and rock climbing, but your choice is limited.
I am not saying that the activities in Samui are bigger and better, but there are simply more options. On both islands there are great hikes, amazing viewpoints and beautiful beaches to discover and obviously things in Samui are touristy, but you will find it all. From zip lining to jet skiing and from a going to the cinema to visiting a zoo. Enjoy!
Silver Beach by kohsamui.com/beaches
Accommodation Koh Tao vs Koh Samui
Choosing where to stay can be a pretty though decision in Koh Samui, cause the options are endless. With so many little villages there are tons of budget options to choose from. If you are willing to spoil yourself and looking for luxury then this is your destination. All the well-respected big hotel chains can be found in Samui and stunning infinity pools and amazing sunset bars are waiting for you! Koh Tao is more like a backpacker heaven although there are a couple luxurious retreats as well. There are no hotel chains located on the island, just like Koh Tao itself the hotels and villas are boutique style! Click here for more information where to stay in Koh Tao.
Pic by: the Intercontinental, Koh Samui
Getting to Koh Tao and Koh Samui
Koh Samui is the only island in the East coast that houses an airport, so getting there is much easier than all the other islands. Tickets to and from Koh Samui airport are not cheap though. It seems like Bangkok Airways is enjoying the monopoly a bit too much and ticket prices can be outrageous. Though there is an alternative as Koh Samui is not far from the mainland. There is a ferry service that takes you to Surat Thani in only 30 minutes where a bus will transport you to the nearby airport that is serviced by the excellent low-cost carrier Air Asia.
Getting to Koh Samui is therefore easy and convenient, where getting to Koh Tao can be a long trip. Once you made your way to Koh Samui you have to continue your journey for at least 2 hours. There are multiple ferry services that take you to Koh Tao, but the crossing can be horrible in rough seas. If you are coming from Bangkok there are bus/boat combi tickets for around $30. A bus will take you to Chumporn, where a 2-hour boat ride will bring you to Koh Tao. This trip will take about 11 hours. There are also trains servicing Chumporn and nowadays there is an airport as well.
Getting to Koh Tao got a bit easier over the years with the slick high-speed catamaran service of Lompraya, but it will never be as smooth as reaching Koh Samui. From Bangkok to Koh Tao? Read what I think is the most convenient way!
Which islands to choose Koh Tao or Koh Samui?
I know it is not easy to make a decision. Both islands are touristy hotspots and have their highlights, though Koh Tao is a little more off the beaten path. Where in Samui you will find a broad range of travellers, Koh Tao is more like a backpackers island. Samui has definitely a broader range of accommodation options. For a real luxury getaway you need to be in Samui where you will find the big 5* resorts, for a homey feeling head to Koh Tao. Let me help you where to stay in Koh Tao. The better nightlife is for sure in Samui but a piece of paradise is hard to find here. Looking for that islandlife feeling then Koh Tao is your place with more untouched nature than Samui. Exploring deserted beaches and hiking up to amazing viewpoints can only be done in Koh Tao and for sure you will feel like you got away from the tourist trail!
You might also be interested in reading my ultimate guide for Island Hopping Thailand in where I explain you what to expect on which island. Curious how much a trip to Thailand will cost you? Click on the link to see what you will pay for food, transport, accommodation and alcohol.
Cheap flight in and around Thailand? Try Kiwi.com to get amazing deals!
Wherever you go I am 100% sure you will enjoy it! Let me know your thoughts and experiences. Looking forward to read your opinion! Safe travels!