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 it better than Koh Samui? The answer really depends on who you are and what kind of holiday you are looking for.
A couple of months ago, my husband and I spent a week on Koh Samui with a bunch of friends. 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 there in another article entitled Koh Samui in Thailand Holiday: Is Koh Samui The Right Destination For You? 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.
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 – a path less trodden if you will. To understand more about Koh Samui, I would suggest reading that blog.
In this article, I highlight why we loved Koh Phangan. 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.
The Easiest Way To Get to Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan does not have its own airport. I think this is a fundamental reason why it has stayed such a beautiful tranquil 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.
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 initially or purchase your return trip upon arrival on Koh Phangan. The last thing that you want is to spend the day worrying that you won’t make the last ferry off the island.
What to do on Koh Phangan
We had no plans for our time on Koh Phangan and 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 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.
Our first stop on our first day trip to Koh Phangan was to 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.
The food was exceptional. The calamari was some of the best that I have ever eaten. Our friends had the grilled fish and it was 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 it felt relatively untouched and quiet. None of us wanted to leave.
Mae Haad Beach
After our day at Leela Beach, we were all keen to go back and see what else we could discover. This time, we arrived at Koh Phangan and organized a large van with a driver and guide for the day. We told them we wanted to explore the island and beach hop. We left it to them to plan our day.
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 amenities that tourists want. I spotted lots of different classes of hotels and restaurants, all of which were 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 tastefully 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.
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 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.
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.
Koh Phangan or Koh Samui?
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 or tourist excursions other than snorkelling or boating. This was very different from Koh Samui where the island offers a lot of diverse tourist attractions and a strong night life. Koh Samui also had some amazing shopping and night markets that are 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.
If you would like to save this article for future use, please click on the “save” button on one of the photos below. Please feel free to share this article on your social media channels if you think this article would be helpful to someone else.