Koh Phi Phi Vs Koh Samui: A Thai Islands Face Off

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui.jpg
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Land of Smiles a-calling? Ready to see the shimmering beaches and the stooping palm trees with a cold Chang beer in hand? Cue this guide to Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui. It pits two of the most glorious islands of the whole lot against each other to help you pick the one that’s right for you and your travel crew this year.

In one corner, you’ve got legendary Phi Phi. A dramatic karst island in the Andaman Sea, it was famed for its nightlife until things changed in recent years with new party regulations. Today, it’s more of a yogi’s getaway, with ample chances for hiking and beach lazing. Then there’s Samui, the island that has something for all, set out in the bath-warm waters of the Thai Gulf.

It’s a tricky pick, that’s for sure. That’s why this guide to Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui will delve into both destinations to highlight where’s easier to get to, where’s got the best nightlife, the top hotels, the finest sands, and a whole load more. Ready? Let’s begin…

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for ease of travel

Boats in Koh Phi Phi
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The popularity of Koh Samui means that it can’t possibly be a hard island to reach, right? Right. In fact, it’s one of the few islands (bar Phuket, though that hardly counts since it’s joined to the mainland) in the country that has its very own airport. Yep, there are tens of short-haul links to the runways here every day during the high season. They’re run by Bangkok Airways and take just over an hour from start to finish. There are also oodles of boat links from the mainland ports of Surat Thani, too, along with inter-island connections from Koh Tao.

Phi Phi is just a touch harder to reach. That’s mainly because you can’t land on the island itself. However, there are two potential arrival points close by, one in Krabi and the other (the slightly further away option) in Phuket. You can fly into either of those and then book a bus and boat transfer to Koh Phi Phi with a pickup in the terminal. They say they take about 4 hours in all, but in our experience (AKA 5+ delayed trips) will more likely be a full morning or afternoon.

Winner: Koh Samui.

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for beaches

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Koh Samui is WAY bigger than Koh Phi Phi. Among other things, that means it has a lot more coastline to fit in gorgeous sands. And it’s true, there’s an overload of wonderful coves and strands here. Probably the best of them awaits on the east coast. That’s the home of the famous duo of resort beaches that is Lamai and Chaweng (great for beach bars and hotels by the lapping waves). However, the north coast has recently upped its game and entered the limelight, mainly thanks to the slowly developing stretch of Maenam.

Phi Phi, though smaller, is true Andaman Sea stuff in that it’s a place that’s sure to take the breath away. Yep, here lie the beaches of the Thai travel brochures; the ones that hide under needle-like karst cliffs and clusters of emerald coconut palms. The built-up part of the island has just two beaches – Loh Dalum to the north and Ton Sai to the south. They are lively and fun for evening drinks but nowhere near the best. That honor goes to the likes of jaw-dropping Silver Beach and the sunset fav of Lipa Noi.

Winner: Koh Phi Phi – quality over quantity.

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for nightlife

Fire show in Koh Samui
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Koh Phi Phi was once the party island of western Thailand. It was the Andaman coast’s answer to Koh Phangan. Things took a big hit in 2004 with the Indian Ocean tsunami and then again in more recent years when the Thai government put some restrictions on how late bars could stay open, citing something about regulating nightlife within national park boundaries. The situation today is that there are loads of great bars here, from Reggae Bar (which hosts ad hoc boxing matches) to Carlito’s (check out the epic fire shows), but things might just wind up a little earlier than in other Land of Smiles party spots.

Koh Samui has no such qualms about when things close. That said, the island isn’t a party island per se. There are certain pockets where the hedonism is off the hook, notably Chaweng Beach. That’s a major backpacker haven and even has a central strip that’s laden with go-go bars and beach venues that pump on until the early hours. Of course, you can also launch an expedition up to Koh Phangan from here. It’s only a few hours on the ferry and means you could bag a ticket to one of those once-in-a-lifetime Full Moon Parties!  

Winner: Koh Samui.

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for hotels

Koh Phi Phi isthmus
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The vast majority of the hotels on Koh Phi Phi are wedged into the isthmus of the island, which is actually the only flat piece of land here. There’s a good mix there, with old-school hostel dorms next to midrange guesthouses. To find the more boho escapes and boutique lodges, you might have to venture into the hills or out to the east-coast beaches, but hotels with bigger price tags will often offer dedicated ferries to and from the main port at Ton Sai. Here are some of our favorite hotels on Koh Phi Phi:

  • Zeavola Resort ($$$) – Honeymooners should head here, to one of the bungalows perched on the cliffside above the talcum-powder beach.
  • Phi Phi Relax Beach Resort ($$) – A midrange hotel with a luxury feel and a fantastic beachfront location in Pak Nam Bay.
  • Voyagers Hostel ($) – Not the chicest but very fun and down to earth accommodation for those on a budget.

Then you have the absolute overload of hotels that await on Koh Samui. There are thousands of them, which is precisely what you might expect of one of the most visited islands in the Land of Smiles. Certain parts of this big island specialize in certain types of hotels, though. There’s a family vibe in Maenam. There’s luxury to be had up in the so-called Golden Triangle near Bophut. There are party hostels in Chaweng. Our favorite places to stay are:

Winner: Koh Samui – there are just so many hotels.

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for things to do

Koh Phi Phi beach
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Samui has garnered a rep as the ultimate Thai R&R island. People come here to laze on the beaches and devour great Thai food as the sun sets. There are some cultural draws to balance that out, like the glorious Big Buddha and the colorful temple complex at Wat Plai Laem. There are also adrenaline-pumping adventure pursuits like ziplining or hiking to the waterfalls of Namuang and Hin Lat. Samui is also a hub for scuba diving and snorkeling, particularly as it’s the gateway to the coral-filled Angthong Marine Park.

Koh Phi Phi offers a more low-key experience. It’s a smaller place, so days are usually spent hiking from cove to cove and beach to beach. Trips up the east coast to discover the hidden sands of Loh Ba Kao and Loh Lana Bay are particularly good fun – they left us feeling like Leo DiCaprio in The Beach. Talking of that…Maya Bay is now officially open again. That legendary cove and its striking cliffs and turquoise waters was made famous by Hollywood but shut back in 2018. It’s a boat ride from Ton Sai harbor on Phi Phi’s near neighbor.

Winner: Koh Samui.

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for onward travel

Andaman region
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Koh Samui, with its own airport and great mainland ferry links, has established itself as something of a hub for the eastern islands of Thailand. They are fantastic places. We’re talking the likes of Koh Phangan (home of the Full Moon Party and a north shore that’s now a veritable yoga mecca) and Koh Tao (the most famous diving island in the whole country, perhaps even Southeast Asia!). Both of those can be accessed on ferries out of Nathon Pier, although links do get busy in high season months so book ahead!

Our other hotspot is tucked into gorgeous Phang Nga Bay, a huge opening in the Andaman coast that’s home to the most dramatic islands that Thailand can muster, Phi Phi itself among them. From here, you can easily scoot across the strait to Phuket, a land of glitzy hotels and jet ski-purring beaches. However, we think the better way to go is east, to the lesser-known islands of Koh Lanta and Koh Jum. They’re like what Phi Phi was 20 years back, offering chilled beach hotels and jungled interiors.

Winner: Koh Phi Phi because the Andaman region is simply stunning!

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui for price

Samui hotels
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The thing about Koh Phi Phi is that it’s small and inside a national park. Both of those things act to crank up the price of hotels and transport. The result? You’re looking at one of the more expensive parts of southern Thailand here, with an average budget estimate of about 2,100 THB ($63) per person, per day, not including the cost of flights and ferries over in the first place. You can reduce that by sticking to hostels, though, which can sell for <$10 per night in shoulder season months.

Koh Samui also isn’t that cheap. However, there’s more space and more hotels for the crowds to spread out through, which means rates are a little more competitive than on Phi Phi. That has a knock-on effect on daily budgets, which we’d estimate to be around the 1,600 THB ($48) mark. The other thing that cuts prices here is the presence of night markets in Chaweng and Bophut, where you can score whole meals (tasty meals, too!) for under a dollar.

Winner: Koh Samui is just a little cheaper.

Koh Phi Phi vs Koh Samui – our verdict

We have to say, there’s really not that much between these two islands. They both come lined with pristine, paradise beaches, though Phi Phi probably just wins that one on account of how dramatic the Andaman shore is. Both have oodles of fantastic hotels, although Samui is bigger and offers more choice across more resorts. On top of that, you should find it easy to get to both, but there will be direct flights to Samui from Bangkok, which is worth considering if you’re traveling as a family.

Generally speaking, we’d say go with Phi Phi for that old-school backpacker vibe and to explore the Andaman region. Go with Samui if you want more affordable mid-range hotels and a varied holiday that mixes beaches with temples and waterfalls.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.