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Koh Samui vs Koh Samet – Which Should You Visit?

Thailand has 1,430 different Thai islands so picking the right one can be tough.

Two of the best ones out there are Koh Samui and Koh Samet but which is better?

I actually visited both of these islands recently so I decided to write an honest comparison of the two to help people decide.

In this guide, I’ll explain the key differences between Koh Samet and Koh Samui including size, location, things to do, atmosphere, nightlife and more.

Koh Samui vs Koh Samet

I’ll start off by saying that there really is no wrong choice here. Both of these islands are incredibly scenic and offer stunning beaches, great food and friendly locals.

Having said that, I found the two islands to be very different so one will probably suit you more than the other.

In a hurry? Here’s a quick overview of the differences between Koh Samui and Koh Samet:

  • It’s cheaper to travel to Koh Samet over Koh Samui.
  • You can do day trips from Koh Samui to nearby islands. You can’t do this on Koh Samet.
  • Koh Samui is ~17 times bigger than Koh Samet in terms of size.
  • Koh Samui is much busier and more crowded than Koh Samet.
  • Most things are more expensive in Koh Samui compared to Koh Samet. This includes food, drinks, accommodation and activities.
  • The weather is generally drier and sunnier in Koh Samet.
  • Koh Samui has more things to do and offers a wider range of activities and tours.
  • Koh Samui has over 40 beaches whereas Koh Samet has just 16 beaches.
  • The beaches in Koh Samet tend to be quieter and calmer than those in Koh Samui which tend to be busier and more lively.
  • Koh Samui is more commercialized compared to Koh Samet.
  • I personally found the locals to be more friendly in Koh Samet.
  • The nightlife is much better in Koh Samui.

Overall I’d say that Koh Samet suits anyone looking for a relaxing vacation where you’re looking to sit back on an empty beach all day or anyone that likes exploring remote areas.

Koh Samui is better for party goers and people looking for a fun, bustling atmosphere. It’s also ideal for adventurers that want to see as much as possible.

In the rest of this post, I’ll go into more detail on the key differences between Koh Samui and Koh Samet based on my own first hand experience.

Location

Map of Thailand showing locations of Koh Samui and Koh Samet.
Map of Thailand showing locations of Koh Samui and Koh Samet.

It takes a similar amount of time to get to Koh Samet or Koh Samui from Bangkok. It’s cheaper to travel to Koh Samet over Koh Samui.

Travel Times:

  • Koh Samet: 3.5 – 4 hours travel time, $13
  • Koh Samui: ~3 hours travel time, $62

Koh Samet is one of the closest Thai islands to Bangkok making it very easy to reach if you’re staying in the capital or nearby.

You can’t fly there as they don’t have an airport but you wouldn’t need to anyway as it’s so close by car.

If you take the bus from Bangkok to the coast and then the ferry to Koh Samet, it will take between 3.5 and 4 hours to get there and should cost around $13.

If you’re coming from somewhere else like Pattaya then it will only take 2 hours and will cost a bit less.

To get to Koh Samui, you’ll probably want to fly. 

The flight is just 50 minutes but you also need to factor in the time you’ll spend at the airport prior to your flight (~2 hours) so overall it’ll take around 3 hours.

Flying to Koh Samui is much more expensive than taking the bus to Koh Samet as you’ll spend around $62 each way. I personally flew with Bangkok Airways as they offer great prices.

Although it’s further from Bangkok, Koh Samui is in a really great location as it’s right next to some other really famous islands like Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao so you can easily do a day trip.

Koh Samet isn’t really located close to any other islands so day trips aren’t possible.

Size

Koh Samui is much bigger than Koh Samet in terms of size. Koh Samui is 17 times bigger than Koh Samet.

Map of Koh Samui and Koh Samet highlighting the size difference.
Map of Koh Samui and Koh Samet highlighting the size difference.

Koh Samet is a pretty small island as it’s only 6.8 km long from north to south (that’s 4.2 miles). It has a total area of 13.1 km2

To get around Koh Samet, walking is generally the easiest way as most things are located close together. This is what I generally did.

Many people also hire motorbikes which would allow you to explore the entire length of the island in one day.

There is just one single main road that runs from the north to the south of the island however most of the hotels, restaurants and bars are located in the northern area.

Koh Samui is much bigger than Koh Samet in terms of size. It stretches up to 25 km (15.5 miles) at its widest point and has an area of 228.7 km2. This makes it around 17 times bigger!

As Koh Samui is a lot bigger, there are way more choices when it comes to hotels, restaurants, bars and amenities.

The view from my Airbnb in Koh Samui.
The view from my Airbnb in Koh Samui.

As you can imagine, It takes longer to get around Koh Samui and things aren’t really within walking distance.

From my Airbnb, I could walk to one beach, the main shopping mall, a restaurant street and that was it.

To get to Koh Samet’s main attractions, I had to book a day tour as there wasn’t really a better way to see all the sights.

This is the tour I booked and I did really enjoy it. Our guide took us around the whole island and I saw tons of things that I’d definitely have missed on my own.

One of the sights I saw on my tour.
One of the sights I saw on my tour.

Which Is Cheaper?

Koh Samet is cheaper than Koh Samui and your money will stretch much further. Hotels, restaurants, bars and activities are all cheaper in Koh Samet.

After visiting both Koh Samet and Koh Samui, I can tell you from first hand experience that I spent less in Koh Samet.

Pretty much everything was cheaper in Koh Samet including the hotels, food, drinks, activities and tours.

There were a few times in Koh Samui where I actually felt ripped off (like when I got charged around $6 for a teeny tiny pizza that wouldn’t even be enough food for a 3 year old).

Tiny pizza in Koh Samui.
Tiny pizza in Koh Samui.

However you do need to bear in mind that Koh Samui has much more choice overall.

You will be able to find a variety of hotels, activities and restaurants at different price ranges so there is something to suit every budget.

I did personally find though that my money stretched further in Koh Samet as they offer better value for money overall. 

As an example, you could spend the same money on a hotel but the one in Koh Samet will probably be a bit nicer. 

Koh Samet has some amazing resorts and hotels for a very decent price. You can get a really luxurious 4-star hotel for just $80 per night.

I’m not sure why Koh Samui is so much more expensive than Koh Samet. My only guess is that Koh Samui is more popular with tourists and, over time, the prices have just inflated more.

As I already mentioned, the cost of traveling to Koh Samui is also much higher (~$62) than traveling to Koh Samet (~$13). (This estimate assumes you’re traveling from Bangkok).

What Is The Weather Like?

Koh Samet is drier and sunnier as a whole. Temperatures also tend to be higher in Koh Samet over Koh Samui.

Now you maybe wouldn’t think that there would be too much difference between the weather in these two locations but, surprisingly, there is.

The best time to visit Koh Samet is between November and April. This is when the weather is hot and dry. Average temperatures vary between 90ºF (32ºC) and 93ºF (34ºC).

Low season runs from May to October when the weather is a bit more uncertain and it sometimes rains heavily. 

Cloudy day in Koh Samet.
Cloudy day in Koh Samet.

It’s still pretty hot though with temperatures remaining the same as in the dry season.

Koh Samet is actually known to be one of the driest and sunniest islands in the whole of Thailand and it gets significantly less rainfall than other areas of the country.

The best time to visit Koh Samui is from December to April when the weather is dry and hot. Average temperatures range from 81ºF (27ºC) to 86ºF (30ºC).

Rainy season runs from May to early December. I actually visited during November which is the rainiest month in Koh Samui.

Most days of the trip it was cloudy and it rained heavily a few times but we did get a few blue sky days and it was always hot. 

Sunny November day in Koh Samui.
Sunny November day in Koh Samui.

When choosing between the two islands, you might want to take a look at the weather in each location on your chosen date as there could be a huge difference.

As an example, if your trip is during November then you’ll want to choose Koh Samet as November is part of the dry season there but it’s actually the rainiest month in Koh Samui.

Which Has More Things To Do?

There are more things to do in Koh Samui compared to Koh Samet. As the island is much bigger and more popular, there are more activities and tours available.

Koh Samet is a very small island so activities are limited.

Koh Samet has many beautiful beaches where you can relax or take part in water sports like snorkeling, jet skiing and kayaking. 

As the island isn’t as famous as Koh Samui, you’ll often find that some of the beaches on Koh Samet are completely empty (this happened to me several times).

Sai Kaew Beach in Koh Samet.

You can hire a motorbike to explore the island or take a speedboat tour so you can visit the more remote beaches in the south. I actually walked and wished I hadn’t as it was so tiring.

There are a few other things to do on Koh Samet like fishing, massages and Muay Thai classes but that’s about it. You won’t really find many tours here.

Koh Samui is a bigger and more popular island so naturally it has a lot more things to do. You’ll find a lot more choice here compared to Koh Samet.

Koh Samui also has many beautiful beaches where you can take part in water sports like snorkeling, jet skiing, diving and kayaking.

They also offer go karting, Thai cooking classes, various hikes, waterfalls, golf, temples and more.

I took this Koh Samui island tour when I visited and absolutely loved it. We got to see so much of the island including a mummified monk, various temples and a huge waterfall.

One of the sights I saw on my tour in Koh Samui.
One of the sights I saw on my tour in Koh Samui.

Koh Samui is also located close to many other famous Thai islands including Koh Tao, which is known for scuba diving and snorkeling, and Koh Pha Ngan which is famous for its full moon parties.

You can easily join a snorkeling tour to Koh Tao or a relaxing boat tour to the Angthong National Marine Park which is made up of 42 tiny islands!

You can also swim with turtles on Koh Tao!

Which Has Better Beaches?

Koh Samui has way more beaches than Koh Samet in total however Koh Samet’s beaches tend to be quieter and calmer.

Both Koh Samui and Koh Samet have some pretty impressive beaches that look like they should be on a postcard.

I found that the beaches on Koh Samet were much quieter than on Koh Samui. 

In Koh Samet, I spent a day exploring the south of the island and actually found several stunning white sandy beaches completely empty!

Empty beach in Koh Samet.
Empty beach in Koh Samet.

It was a pretty special feeling just wandering on the sand without another human in sight. It felt like I had my own private island.

This never happened in Koh Samui. I visited several beaches and all of them had people on them (even though it was low season).

There was still plenty of space and I took several long beach walks along the sand but I didn’t find the same feeling of seclusion as I did in Koh Samet.

I imagine during the peak summer months, the beaches on Koh Samui will get very busy which might make it a little harder to enjoy.

Beach in Koh Samui.
Beach in Koh Samui.

As Koh Samet is a smaller island, it only has 16 beaches total. There’s the main beach, Sai Kaew, which is lined with restaurants and bars. It’s pretty lively and is where all the action happens.

Most of the other beaches have less amenities with some having none at all!

In complete contrast, Koh Samui has over 50 km of coastline meaning it has over 40 beaches, bays and small coves to choose from.

That’s a lot of beaches to explore and most of them have amenities nearby so you’ll definitely find the perfect beach for you.

I spent most of my time on Chaweng Beach which is an absolutely stunning area that curves around the bay. It’s perfect for long beach walks.

Sunset on Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui.
Sunset on Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui.

You’ll find that most of the beaches are very lively but there are definitely some more secluded and quiet beaches too.

Which Has A Better Atmosphere?

Koh Samet has a calm and relaxed atmosphere whereas Koh Samui has a busy, lively atmosphere. Koh Samui is much more commercialized compared to Koh Samet.

The two islands have a very different feel to them.

Koh Samui is a larger island with a busier and more bustling feel. It is filled to the brim with fancy hotels, beachfront restaurants, lively bars and more.

You’ll find that there’s always something interesting going on.

Koh Samet also has a good selection of hotels, restaurants and bars but, as a whole, it’s much quieter and calmer.

The whole island is less built up and less developed. You’ll find areas of the island that have no amenities at all and just a rocky dirt path leading to them.

Dirt road in Koh Samet.
Dirt road in Koh Samet.

Koh Samet feels a lot less commercialized which I personally loved. I often felt ripped off in Koh Samui as many vendors really try to take advantage of tourists and overcharge them.

I never once felt ripped off in Koh Samet. Everyone that worked there just wanted me to have a good time and I loved that!

I personally found that the locals were much more friendly in Koh Samet.

Which Has Better Nightlife?

The nightlife is much better in Koh Samui compared to Koh Samet. Bars and clubs stay open later in Koh Samui and there’s more choice.

Ok so if you’re looking for a tropical Thai island where you can party all night long then Koh Samui will definitely be a better choice.

Koh Samui gets very lively in the evenings and there are so many bars and clubs to choose from.

Cocktails on the beach in Koh Samui.
Cocktails on the beach in Koh Samui.

You’ll find casual beach clubs, all night discos, lounges, beer bars and more so there really is something for everyone.

In fact, Koh Samui is often named as one of the best party destinations in the whole of Thailand. You can also head over to the nearby island of Koh Pha Ngan to attend a full moon party!

Koh Samet also has a decent nightlife scene especially around the main beach, Sai Kaew.

Sai Kaew Beach is lined with restaurants and bars. My favorite bar was Naga Bar which is basically a hotspot for backpackers but I also met several friendly locals there too.

There’s definitely a lot less choice in Koh Samet. In fact, it seemed like Naga Bar was the only place open until late in Koh Samet.

We stayed until it closed at midnight and then walked back to our hotel. The whole island was basically deserted at this time and there was nothing open at all.


And that’s it!

Thanks for reading this comparison of Koh Samet and Koh Samui.

As I said, I actually visited both of these islands recently and really enjoyed my stay on both of them but I did feel that they were different in so many ways.

After you’ve chosen your ideal island, make sure you add swimming with turtles in Thailand to your itinerary as it’s super fun and memorable.

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Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.

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