Although I just had 5 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. Price? $17! It was my 6th 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 to visit in Thailand.
Well... with that intro you must think I am biased writing an article about the differences and comparing Koh Tao and Koh Samui as a Thailand holiday destination. True! I am. But don't worry I will be 100% honest about the pros and cons of both islands to make it easier for you to choose the island you like the most. In the end I won't judge you when you decide to visit Koh Samui instead of Koh Tao.
It is not that I was happy to leave Koh Samui btw, in fact I like this island and if you are planning to visit Koh Samui I am jealous, because it has been a while now since I have been back. Koh Samui is an amazing Thailand tourist destination and in reality it is hard to compare these amazing places but a traveler has to make choices and that is why I am here to help
When you go island hopping in Thailand and you have limited time you gotta choose wisely. At least you are including one or the other for your Thailand vacation and I can not agree more.
I love sharing my knowledge about traveling to Thailand through the almost 50 Thailand travel blogs I wrote so far. Over the last 10 years I have been visiting Thailand uncountable times. I learned a lot about backpacking, living, partying and exploring around the Country of Smiles. The people, the food, the landscapes and the amazing adventures make me come back over and over.
If there is anything in particular I can help you with leave me a comment or send me a message. Something I think might be very useful for you are my 2 week Thailand itineraries. I created 4 different ones to get you some more inspiration.
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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 island-life 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 beyond your hotel. In Koh Tao one of the main roads, the beach road from Mae Haad to Sairee is a walking path. Koh Tao is much more uncomplicated and therefore its atmosphere is more relaxed.
Koh Samui has numerous little neighborhoods and they all have their own charm and vibe. With local markets to explore, plenty restaurants, red light districts, disco’s, shopping malls 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. When backpacking Thailand Koh Tao is more your thing and when on a romantic couple vacation Koh Samui is the best place to visit.
One of the reasons I love Koh Tao is its laid back vibe and I think traffic plays a huge role in this. The most relaxed island I have ever visited is Caye Caulker in Belize. Why? Because there are NO cars, 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 jams straight when you get off the ferry boat is the complete opposite. When coming from Koh Tao you will quickly lose touch with that island-life feeling. Traffic in Koh Samui can be horrendous compared to Koh Tao. Big busses, trucks and traffic lights are a normality in Samui.
Although Koh Tao is an amazing island for renting a motorbike and exploring deserted bays, Samui is much more convenient for this. The roads in Samui are excellent compared to Koh Tao and driving a motorbike is much easier in Koh Samui. Roads in Koh Tao are windy, sometimes extremely steep and worst of all are not all paved. Driving a motorbike in Koh Tao can end in a disaster, read here more about renting a motorbike in Koh Tao and its notorious scams.
Are you looking for bustling beaches or deserted bays? When deserted beaches are your thing than Koh Tao is your place to go. However these deserted beaches in Koh Tao are a little harder to get to. You will need to either go on a hiking adventure or rent a scooter. Getting a taxi in Koh Tao is pretty expensive, especially to the deserted bays.
The beaches in Koh Samui are much more accessible and easier to get. However, they are not so unspoilt. there is much more development on going on the beaches in Koh Samui.
My favorite beach of both islands is Sairee Beach, the most bustling place on Koh Tao. It has endless affordable and laid-back beach bars with bean bags lined up next to each other so you can pick your favorite, but the main drag here are the perfect sunsets. Sairee Beach is facing West and seeing the sun go down with a $3 cocktail in your hand is simply irresistible!
Whichever island you visit I am sure you find what you where looking for when thinking about a beach holiday. Thailand is an uncomplicated destination and no need to pack 2 big suitcases full of stuff you won't need. Here is some help with my packing list for Thailand.
Things to do
Koh Tao has always been seen one of the best places in the world to scuba dive. Scuba diving is the main tourist drag as it is one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified. However, things are slowly changing and more and more travelers come to enjoy the laid-back vibe of the island rather then just scuba diving.
There are many more amazing things to do in Koh Tao like flying trapeze, rock climbing adventures, deserted bays, abandoned resorts... your choice is limited.
Although you can easily stay a week in Koh Tao and fill your days with adventures there are many more activities in Koh Samui, there are simply more options. On both islands there are great hikes, viewpoints and beautiful beaches to discover. Koh Samui is much more touristy, but you will find it all. From zip lining to jet skiing and from a going to the cinema to visiting a zoo.
Although there are more things to do in Koh Samui, if you are a fan of hiking then I recommend you to visit Koh Tao. Check out my guide for best viewpoints and hiking trails in Koh Tao?
Looking for more classy nightlife and dining options than visit Koh Samui. Koh Tao is more of a budget destination compared to Koh Samui and proper nightlife is hard to find. I created a list of the best bars & restaurants in Koh Tao, however this can't be compared to Koh Samui. Fancy restaurants with ocean views, high end dining, candle light dinners, high service levels is what you can find in Koh Samui.
Koh Tao is more of a sand in your feet destination. you can still find very romantic candle light dinners in Koh Tao, but it is more of a challenge. Nightlife in Koh Tao is concentrated in Sairee Beach only. The beach bars where you watch sunset turn into open air night clubs, but don't expect much of this. For proper night clubs go to Chaweng in Koh Samui.
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This is a sensitive topic when talking about Koh Tao specifically. Unfortunately Koh Tao has the nickname of the Murder Island. Very upsetting and definitely something to look into before visiting Koh Tao. The Koh Tao Murders made an incredible impact on the safety issues of Koh Tao. I invite you to read my article about it in the link. Sadly the Koh Tao Murders happened just a couple hundred meters away on the same beach I was celebrating my birthday at midnight.
However, I have lived in Koh Tao for a while and never had any problems nor did I feel unsafe, but I can understand that such a case influences your decision wether to visit Koh Tao or not.
Luckily Koh Samui did not have to deal with such horror stories like Koh Tao. Petty crimes exist here like any other tourist destination in Thailand and always keep an eye on your belongings. Koh Samui is a very easy place to travel and tourist involved in tragic incidents are extremely rare.
Choosing where to stay can be a pretty though decision in Koh Samui, cause the options are endless. But with that comes the answer on where can you find better accommodation in Koh Tao or Koh Samui.
With so many little villages there are tons of budget options to choose from as well as luxury hotels in Koh Samui. You basically have best of both worlds. Especially if you are willing to spoil yourself and looking for luxury hotels then travel to Koh Samui. A lot of the international luxury hotel brands can be found in Koh Samui. Breathtaking resorts with those Instagram-able infinity pools and amazing sunset bars are waiting for you!
Koh Tao always was a very popular backpacker destination in Thailand and it still is, but luxury accommodations in Koh Tao are popping up now as well. In my article about where to stay in Koh Tao I stated that it depends on what kind of traveler you are. Apart from the Sairee Beach are life shuts down after sunset and it can be very quiet those hours in remote bays in Koh Tao. Sairee Beach is where all the action is and you can party till late. The rest of the island is more of a romantic getaway.
What about the Intercontinental in Koh Samui? :)
In line with what I have mentioned before about Koh Tao being more of a backpacker destination, prices on the island are also a little cheaper. Koh Samui is in general more expensive than Koh Tao. Koh Samui is also more touristy, there is an airport and mass tourism is a Koh Samui issue. With mass tourism comes higher prices. That said it is still very much possible to visit Koh Samui on a backpacker budget. Check out this guide for visiting Koh Samui on a budget.
Getting to Koh Tao and Koh Samui
Koh Samui is the only island in the Gulf of Thailand coast that has an airport, so getting to Koh Samui is much easier than Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. That said flight tickets to and from Koh Samui airport are not cheap though as Bangkok Airways is enjoying the monopoly a bit too much. The Koh Samui Airport is part of the Bangkok Airways group.
There is a much cheaper alternative to travel to Koh Samui: Surat Thani. It is an airport on the mainland, but it also has a ferry terminal near the airport. Bus services from Surat Thani Airport to the ferry terminal are often included in the ticket price Check out low-cost carriers like Lion Air and Air Asia.
For more information about these joint tickets have a look at my blog with tips about finding the best domestic flights in Thailand.
Getting to Koh Samui is easy and convenient, where getting to Koh Tao can be a long and tiring trip. Once you made your way to Koh Samui you have to continue your journey for at least 2 hours by ferry.
There are multiple ferry services that take you to Koh Tao. If you are coming from Bangkok there are bus/boat combination tickets for around $30, but in total it takes up to 10 hours. One of the best ways to get from Bangkok to Koh Tao is a bus to Chumpon and then a 2-hour boat ride. There are also trains servicing Chumpon and you in 2021 there are even low-cost flights from Bangkok to Chumpon.
Safe Thailand transportation
Get your tickets to either Koh Samui or Koh Tao online through 12Go Asia. No more paper tickets, no more bargaining, easy fast and reliable online. With this below Thailand transportation search engine you find, prices, up to date time tables, company reviews for busses, boats, trains and flights.
My favorite way of getting to Koh Tao is the slick bu/boat combi ticket with the high-speed catamaran service of Lompraya. However, it will never be as smooth as flying to Koh Samui.
I know it is not easy to make a decision. Both islands are popular tourist destinations in Thailand and have their own charm. Koh Tao is a little more off the beaten path, but in Koh Samui you will find more of a holiday crowd, Koh Tao is definitely more the backpackers island.
Koh Samui has definitely a broader range of accommodation options. For a real luxury getaway you need to be in Koh Samui where you will find the big 5* resorts, for a homey feeling and boutique style head to Koh Tao. The better nightlife is for sure in Koh Samui but a piece of paradise is easier to find in Koh Tao.
Looking for that island-life feeling then Koh Tao is your place with more untouched nature than Samui. Wherever you go I am 100% sure you will have a great time!
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. If you still need help planning a trip to Thailand then let me know.
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