Koh Phangan vs. Koh Samui: Which Island In Thailand Is Better?


Last Updated on September 14, 2022 by Nicole

I loved Koh Phangan. It is large, with lots of gorgeous beaches, hotels and restaurants tucked away from the roads and beaches, yet accessible to both. However, it still feels authentic. There are basic paved roads that allow you to follow the coastline for half the island. The other half is less developed, harder to reach and more untouched. We visited three beautiful beaches on two totally different sides of the island and ate at three extraordinary restaurants. We swam, walked on beaches, and explored.  It was heaven.

But, is Koh Phangan better than Koh Samui? The answer really depends on who you are and what kind of holiday you are looking for.

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Mae Haad Beach on Koh Phangan
The view on our walk to Mae Haad Beach

Koh Samui In November

Ay husband and I spent a week on Koh Samui in November with five other couples. We rented a gorgeous house on the beach with a private chef (Upni Duniya) and spent most days asking ourselves how we got so lucky.

I wrote about our time in another article entitled Koh Samui: 7 Fun Things To Do For A Sensational Holiday If you are seriously considering Koh Samui for your next holiday, then I would highly recommend reviewing this article. I highlight a bunch of fun excursions that we did that would appeal to anyone who loves a little adventure.

What Is Koh Samui Like In November?

Koh Samui is a very different island than Koh Phangan and it is really important to understand the differences. 

Overall, Koh Samui is very touristy with lots of big and small hotels, tourist driven restaurants and towns that are packed full of massage parlours. It is very hard to find remote beaches or jungles. This isn’t necessarily bad unless you are looking for a holiday that offers more of an authentic Thai experience.

We took two day trips to Koh Phangan from Koh Samui during our week’s holiday in Thailand. I found it very interesting to compare our experiences on both islands during the same time period.

Hanging out by the pool at Uniya Duniya on our Thailand Holiday
The view of our pool and the Andaman Sea from our accommodation on Koh Samui.
Our ATV tour in the jungles and hills of Koh Samui. on our Thailand Holiday
Our ATV tour in the jungles and hills of Koh Samui.

How To Reach Koh Phangan From Koh Samui In November

Koh Phangan does not have its own airport. I think this is a fundamental reason why it has stayed such a beautiful tranquil island (like Koh Lanta, another beautiful Thai island). Nevertheless, Koh Phangan is actually extremely easy and inexpensive to get to from Koh Samui. The ferry terminal is a 15 minute drive from Koh Samui airport and Koh Phangan is a 30 minute ferry ride from there.

We purchased ferry tickets minutes before we boarded. However, we visited in November which is low season and this was a day trip. I’d probably pre-purchase tickets beforehand if you are staying on Koh Phangan and definitely needed to reach the island on a certain day. Ferry tickets are a few dollars each way.

The ferry terminal on Koh Phangan
The ferry terminal on Koh Phangan

In November, there are a few ferries in the morning and in the afternoon. If you are planning on only doing a day trip, the last ferry from Koh Phangan leaves in the late afternoon.

You should purchase a return fare right away or purchase your return trip upon arrival on Koh Phangan. The last thing that you want is to spend the day worrying that there won’t be any tickets left for the last ferry off the island.

ferry crossing from Koh Phangan
Sunset from our ferry on our way back to Koh Samui

What To Do On Koh Phangan In November

We had no plans for our time on Koh Phangan in November. We didn’t even know how we were going to get from the ferry terminal to … anywhere! We left Koh Samui without a beach, restaurant or hotel recommendation, and was excited by what we would find.

The cool thing is that upon arrival in Koh Phangan, we were met with lots of tour guides and vehicles ready to take us somewhere. There were 10 of us but that didn’t cause any problems whatsoever. For a few dollars each, we had our transportation for the day.

Organized Transfers and Tours

If you would prefer to have pre-booked transfers waiting for you at the ferry terminal, or are interested in exploring excursions and activities offered on Koh Phangan, please explore Get Your Guide below.


Leela Beach In November

Our first stop on our first day trip to Koh Phangan was Leela Beach. This was a 7 minute drive from the ferry terminal (mostly on a steep incline for those of you who prefer the exercise). From there, we just started walking along the beach to see where we could enjoy the day.

We ended up at The Sea Terrace restaurant, right on the beach, and part of the Sarikantang Resort. We grabbed a large outdoor table on the patio.

Some of us hunkered down there for the day eating and drinking to our hearts content. Others took towels and sat on the beach closer to the water. Still others, lounged on hammocks and bean bags scattered throughout and lazed the day away. The resort staff were amazing. We were happily welcomed and given free use of the resort without any questions asked.

Leela beach on Koh Phangan
The view from the restaurant patio on Leela Beach.
cocktails on Koh Phangan
One of many trays of delicious cocktails

The food was exceptional. The calamari was some of the best that we have ever eaten. Our friends had the grilled fish and it was also amazing. We were stunned by how inexpensive the food was in relation to the quality.

The water was warm and the beach was beautiful and clean. There were people scattered about but in November, it felt relatively untouched and quiet. None of us wanted to leave.

Second Daytrip To Koh Phangan From Koh Samui In November

After our day at Leela Beach, we were all keen to go back to Koh Phangan and see what else we could discover. Once again, we arrived without any plans. But this time, we knew once we got to Koh Phangan, there would be people and cars ready to hire.

Sure enough, we landed and quickly organized a large van with a driver and guide for the day for a few dollars per person. We told them we wanted to explore the island and beach hop. We left it to them to plan our day.

Mae Haad Beach In November

First stop was Mae Haad Beach, on the other side of the Koh Phangan. This was about an hour drive, partly along the coastline and then, through the middle of the island.

I liked the drive. It showed an island that was largely undeveloped but yet offered enough amenities to keep most tourists happy. I spotted lots of different classes of hotels and restaurants, all of which were tastefully tucked away into the landscape.

At first glance, Mae Haad Beach was beautiful. It was surrounded by jungle with a sandbar that occasionally connected it (depending on the tide) to another island called Koh Ma.

There were a few beach restaurants and hotels set back from the beach. The water was warm and inviting, and it was relatively free of tourists. We found another great restaurant on the beach and enjoyed lunch and drinks while we were there.

A lovely day at the beach in Koh Phangan on our Thailand holiday
An almost deserted beach on Koh Phangan in November.
Mae Haad beach on Koh Phangan and Koh Ma
The sandbar connecting Mae Haad beach to Koh Ma.

The one downside? Garbage had washed up along the sandbar. This was a short walk away from the main beach, so it didn’t directly impact our stay. But, it did make me wonder what was floating beneath the water on the beach where we were hanging out. I wasn’t super keen to swim for too long after noticing the garbage.

After a few hours there, we headed off to our next beach.

Haad Son Beach In November

Haad Son was about a 20 minute drive from there. In keeping with our tradition of using a restaurant on the beach as our home base, we followed the signs to the Koh Raham Restaurant and Bar. However, unlike our earlier experiences, this restaurant was on a rocky perch overlooking the sea with no beach access. The beach was a five minute walk in the opposite direction.

Undeterred and with the promise of more delicious cocktails, we grabbed a table and looked around. This place was incredible. There were hammocks perched over top of the water that would have you feet from it when the tide was in. Steps were cut into the rocks which allowed you to climb up and down the rocky ledge and swim in the water. For fearless souls, you could jump into the water from the restaurant, about 20 feet below. And even better, there were schools of fish everywhere.

Koh Raham Restaurant and Bar on Koh Phangan
Koh Raham Restaurant and Bar
Hammocks on Koh Phangan
Hammocks perched over the water.
cliff jumping on Koh Phangan
One of the cool jumps from the restaurant.

I loved this experience. We swam, jumped from the rocks, swung from the hammocks and of course, tried as many cocktails as we could. We didn’t want to leave here.

Should You Go To Koh Phangan or Koh Samui in November?

Koh Phangan really appealed to me. I liked the laid back vibe and the small towns with cute restaurants and bars. It felt a little more removed from the hustle and bustle of a very tourist driven island, such as Koh Samui.

There were lots of locals prepared to drive you wherever you wanted on the island and to recommend experiences. The beaches were very beautiful and for the most part, clean with lovely soft sand. I liked that it felt and looked authentic – the jungle was everywhere. Hotels and roads complimented the landscape. They did not overtake it.

However, it did feel very sleepy and relaxed, with little night life for people uninterested in the craziness of full or half moon parties, or tourist excursions other than snorkelling or boating.

This was very different from Koh Samui where the island offered a lot of diverse tourist attractions and a strong night life for people of all ages and interests. Koh Samui also had some amazing shopping and night markets that were worthwhile to visit. I could see Koh Phangan becoming a little boring after a few days depending on who you are and what your needs are.

If I returned to Thailand for a week and was trying to figure out what would be the best island for me, I would probably head directly to Koh Phangan for a few days to relax and unwind, and then, finish off in Koh Samui for some more day and night time activities.

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Koh Phangan or Koh Samui? Which Island is better for you? | beach, ferry, Haad Son, Haad Son Resort, Koh Ma, koh phangan, Koh Raham Restaurant and Bar, koh samui, Mae Haad, Phuket, sandbar, Sarikantang Resort, Sea Terrace Restaurant, Thailand |
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  • Koh phangan by a mile, spent 3 days there during a 2 month Koh Samui holiday…and Phangan was so much better it wasn’t even close. Even the food was better there.

    • I have to agree. I loved Koh Phangan, but some people want action, a night life and amazing shopping. That is what Koh Samui offers. I prefer authenticity and that is what Koh Phangan has.

  • Very helpful to me to. You’ve swayed me towards Koh Phangan. We are going to Bangkok first so won’t really need much action on this leg of our holiday!
    Thanks for taking the time

    • Thanks Adam for the kind note. I hope you have a great time in Thailand and that Koh Phangan meets your expectations!

  • No action in Phangan? Lol you have big events bringing thousands of party animals every single week from black moon culture, jungle experience, half/full moon, lots of beach club where you find anything from deep house to psytrance and after party.. But concerning authenticity, lot of locals aren’t as friendly as in less traveled area or even the north as this often happen with mass tourism.. You need a bike to enjoy Phangan truly..

    • The half/full moon parties are available for extreme partiers (as you say, “party animals”), but that only appeals to a small part of the population. My post is about those of us who want to have fun without going to that extreme. Also, it is focused on comparing Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and what each may offer different kind of travellers. However you are right. Koh Phangan has a reputation for offering amazing half/full moon and other types of extreme partying so for those looking for that, Koh Phangan is the place to be.

  • Couldn’t make my mind up about Koh
    Phangan was going to miss it out… after reading its back on the list to do come april. Thanks

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