The Difference Between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan
Koh Samui Airport
In many ways Koh Phangan is defined by its lack of an airport. Because the small island in the Gulf of Thailand is bereft of air service it has developed in a completely different way to the neighbouring island of Koh Samui.
Koh Samui for over twenty years has been a favourite destination for holiday makers and package tourists who can take the hour and twenty minute Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok down to the paradise island and stay at one of numerous high end resorts and spas. Koh Samui has a ring road around the entire island. The big centres for tourism, Chaweng, Lamai and Bophut have a thriving nightlife. Girly bars or go go bars or 'beer bars' and other disreputable establishments are particularly prevalent in Chaweng and Lamai. Koh Samui also has first class hospitals and a number of big supermarkets. For these reasons Koh Samui has pulled in more foreign visitors and more cash than Koh Phangan which is only 12 kms away.
In contrast, Koh Phangan doesn’t have a ring road. It doesn’t have a big modern hospital. It doesn’t have any big supermarkets (a small Tesco Lotus was built two years ago despite many complaints). It doesn’t even have much of a girly bar scene. For many the only reason to visit Koh Phangan is to go to the Full Moon Party.
In a way I’m very glad about the supposed failures of Koh Phangan. And I’m happy that idiots on bikes cruising the bars late at night don’t exist that much on Koh Phangan. The lack of a ring road is a blessing because all a ring road does is create a thousand tin shacks along the roadside and environmental degradation.
The whole point of Koh Phangan is that it is unspoiled. It is for those who want to experience the beauty of a tropical setting. The island is 90% tropical forest containing deer, monkeys, cobra and birds of paradise. Than Sadet National Park in the east of Koh Phangan is not a tourist gimmick but a real slice of flourishing jungle with a spectacular series of waterfalls to explore.
Several of the beaches are hard to get to. Bottle Beach is only accessible by boat or a hazardous mountain road from Thong Nai Pan. Than Sadet beach is down an overgrown unpaved road that only experienced drivers should attempt. Plaay Laem beach is near Thongsala, the main port town, but you have to walk or hire a long-tail to get there. The same is true of Haad Yuan. It is near busy Haad Rin but it’s a different world to Haad Rin - a small idyllic cove with a white sand beach that has no road going to it. And just north of Haad Yuan is Haad Thian – another gorgeous beach location backed by thick jungle and only accessible by boat.
In short, Koh Phangan has an embarrassment of riches. There are so many picture perfect beaches with great swimming to choose from. On the west coast there is over 10kms of coral reef with an abundance of marine life to explore. And it is peaceful. Other than on Haad Rin you are free of the thumping techno menace and the irritation of louts on bikes getting drunk and fighting.
Instead the 20 plus beaches of Koh Phangan offer seclusion, peace and relaxation. There are cheap bungalows in Koh Phangan for backpackers. And Koh Phangan resorts are as stylish now as in Koh Samui. While not as many, Koh Phangan hotels offer the same level of luxury as their counterparts in Koh Samui. In short, Koh Phangan has the same variety of accommodation options as Koh Samui but unlike Koh Samui, Koh Phangan really does have idyllic beaches far from the madding crowd. Luckily, the madding crowd get off the plane in Koh Samui and make it no further.
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