Koh Phangan or Phuket? Which Thai Island is Better?

Koh Phangan or Phuket

Koh Phangan or Phuket? Two sun-drenched islands located on opposite sides of mainland Thailand. One is famed for its full moon party madness, while the other is known for its rich history and culture. Both are beautiful and are two of Thailand’s most popular holiday destinations. So which one will you choose?

A trip to either of these islands is a chance to enjoy stunning beaches, dramatic landscapes, and delicious Thai cuisine. Both islands sit in gin-clear waters, filled with marine life and coral gardens, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. 

Choosing between them is not easy, but we’ve listed some of the important similarities and differences to help you pick which Thai island is right for you! 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: Getting there

plane in sky
PHOTO: ROSS PARMLY/UNSPLASH

Arriving in Phuket couldn’t be easier as it has its own international airport with daily flights to and from Bangkok. But if you don’t fancy flying, Phuket is connected to the mainland by a bridge and direct buses are available from Bangkok. They take around 13 hours so consider taking an overnight bus to save on accommodation and avoid losing a day of your trip. 

There is no bridge connecting Koh Phangan to the mainland, so arriving there requires a ferry trip. The closest airport is on neighboring Koh Samui, a 30-minute ferry ride away. Or, if you’re coming from the mainland, take a bus to Surat Thani and then a ferry which will take around 3 hours. Buses and ferries run regularly along this popular route, but if you’re planning to travel for a full moon party, book your ticket in advance as boats fill up fast! 

Winner: Although the ferry ride over to Koh Phangan is an enjoyable excursion, arriving at Phuket is easier and faster. Phuket wins this one. 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: Nightlife

Bangala road
PHOTO: JONNY CLOW/UNSPLASH

Undoubtedly the most common reason for visiting Koh Phangan is the legendary Full Moon Parties on Haad Rin Beach. Wild nights spent dancing till dawn alongside fire dancers, DJs, and thousands of strangers clutching cocktail buckets and glow sticks. And it’s not just one night a month either.

Koh Phangan now offers the only slightly less wild Half-Moon Festivals and the seriously psychedelic Black Moon Parties. And this festival vibe has spread to the rest of the island with various copycat beach parties and raves organized throughout the month, and club venues, trance nights, and live music available all month long. There aren’t many nights without a party on this island! 

Phuket has its own wild reputation, thanks to Patong, the undisputed capital of the island’s nightlife. Visitors can enjoy all manner of X-rated entertainment in the form of go-go bars, strip clubs, and ping pong shows in the town’s neon-bright red-light district. Most visitors head to Bangla Road, a wide, thriving strip that comes alive after dark and is home to a multitude of bars, clubs, street vendors, and performers. It’s an experience not to be missed. 

Elsewhere on the island, you can find huge nightclubs and beach clubs featuring renowned DJs, and also relaxed beachside bars offering acoustic guitar and sunset views.

Winner: This is a tricky one, because you can have an equally great time (and go equally wild) in both locations. It’s probably a personal choice between go-go bars and beach raves, but we’d have to give this one to Koh Phangan. 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: History and culture

phuket temple
PHOTO: NIELS STEEMAN/UNSPLASH

Phuket’s heritage has been shaped by many things: its importance as a trading hub, its involvement in the tin mining and rubber industries, the arrival of Chinese immigrants, and visits by sea gypsies. This fascinating history is explained in the excellent museums and cultural houses of Phuket town. While you’re there, keep an eye on the architecture for its Sino-Portuguese style, a blend of Chinese and European colonial designs that hint at the interwoven stories in this island’s past. 

you can also take a trip to the 45m tall Big Buddha statue sitting atop a hill offering stunning views over Chalong Bay. Then, visit Wat Chalong Temple with its must-see Grand Pagoda, just one of the twenty-five temples on the island. Phuket is also known for its many excellent traditional Thai entertainments and theatres, and no one should miss the Siam Niramit cultural show. 

Although most visitors to Koh Phangan don’t think to search for culture, they are missing out. There are twenty temples scattered across this island, each individual in character. Like the beautiful gold and white Wat Chaloklum or the Chinese Temple with its colorful, dragon topped pagodas and panoramic views. And visitors to the Wat Pho Temple can enjoy the unusual experience of having a herbal sauna inside the temple, perfect for restoring a partied-out body!

Winner: The winner has to be Phuket. For its diverse history, excellent museums, and famous cultural shows. 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: Natural Wonders

james bond island
PHOTO: ENGIN AKYURT/UNSPLASH

Most people who visit Phuket head straight to Phang Nga Bay, famous for its jungle-topped limestone islands jutting out of the water. A boat trip around this dramatic bay is a chance to see the towering James Bond Island and the wonderful, floating village of Koh Panyee. 

But Phang Nga Bay is not the only sight worth seeing in Phuket. Try and visit all of the thirty beaches dotted around the coast, or explore the numerous hiking trails crisscrossing the interior. And be sure to head to Promthep Cape for the best sunset views on the island and Monkey Hill for a chance to meet the native Macaques

On Koh Phangan, you’ll have no less than forty beaches to choose from. You’ll find developed party strips with bars and banana boats, remote jungle-fringed crescents only accessible by boat, and tiny secret coves only big enough for a few people. 

And if you can manage to tear yourself away from the sand, you can explore Than Sadet National Park to discover hidden waterfalls and pools. Then climb the highest peak, Khao Ra, for stunning views across the rainforest-covered island. And if you ever tire of the island’s charms, take a boat trip to the stunning archipelago of Ang Thong National Marine Park to snorkel and explore. 

Winner: Because of Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island, we’ve got to give the win to Phuket. 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: Activities

Big Buddha
PHOTO: MILTIADIS FRAGKIDIS/UNSPLASH

There is no shortage of activities on these islands. Whether you’re up for action and adventure or something more sedate, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy on both islands. 

The stunning waters surrounding both islands make them fantastic locations for all manner of watersports, including kayaking, SUP boarding, snorkeling, and of course, scuba diving.

In the jungle-filled interiors, you can hike, trek, cycle, and zipline to your heart’s content, and then head off on a sightseeing tour through national parks or to neighboring islands. And if you’re not feeling all the action and adventure, try a traditional cooking course, Thai massage, Muay Thai Boxing exhibition, or visit the night markets where you can eat and eat and shop till you drop. 

In Phuket, visit the elephant sanctuary and gibbon rehabilitation center, or watch cultural shows and sequin-studded cabarets. If you’re looking for family-friendly entertainment, try the Phuket Trickeye Museum for 3D fun and the incredible Fantasea Show for a cultural theme park packed with entertainment for all ages. 

Winner: Although you couldn’t possibly get bored on either Phuket or Phangan, we give the win to Phuket for the range of activities and more child-friendly options on offer. 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: Accommodation and budget

hotel welcome drink
PHOTO: ALEXANDR/UNSPLASH

Koh Phangan has to be able to house the thousands of partiers who descend every full moon. And so there’s plenty of accommodation options to choose from. Stay in 5-star luxury, family-friendly resorts or shared dorms where a bed can cost you less than $10 a night, even in peak season. But the prices do shoot up during full moon periods, and beds book up fast, so book ahead! 

On Phuket, you’ve got an equally wide choice of accommodation. There’s a little more emphasis on upmarket hotels and resorts than backpacker beds on this island. But if you want to, you can still find a party hostel and still get a bed for less than $10 even at the peak of the year. 

Both islands benefit from the low cost of living that has kept Thailand on the budget travel destination for decades. Restaurants are reasonable, street food is not only cheap but delicious, and the competition in the nightlife districts keeps drink prices low!

Winner: There’s not much to pick between them on this one, so we’re calling it a tie! 

Koh Phangan or Phuket: Island vibes

PHOTO: JOHNNY AFRICA/UNSPLASH

Despite its crowds of revelers, Koh Phangan embodies the idea of an island getaway better than Phuket. Maybe because it takes a boat trip to get there, perhaps because it’s smaller and easier to zip around on a scooter, but Koh Phangan just feels more like an island. 

And although partying is its main love, that’s not all there is to Koh Phangan. If you book away from the full moon and choose your spot carefully, you can have an extremely chilled time on Koh Phangan, with no cocktail buckets or fire dancers in sight. Should you want to, that is.

On larger, more developed Phuket, you can end up feeling like you haven’t actually left the mainland. Bangla Road and Patong wouldn’t be out of place in Bangkok, and Phuket town has more infrastructure and high-rise hotels than you’ll find on most Thai Islands. 

For some people, this is perfect. You can drive straight to the island, explore secluded beaches and hidden waterfalls by day, then head to commercial strips and neon-lit clubs by night. But if that’s not quite your island fantasy, you can still enjoy Phuket. Just choose your accommodation carefully, stick to remote beaches and take boat trips through the bays and to the nearby, stunning Phi Phi islands. You’ll soon find some island vibes!

Winner: We like our islands to feel like islands, so we’re giving this one to Koh Phangan. 

Koh Phangan vs Phuket: The verdict

Well, the scores are in, and it’s Phuket(4): Koh Phangan(2)

While Phuket may seem like the clear winner, it’s not quite as easy as that. A lot of this comes down to personal taste.

If you’re booking a trip to one of these islands, consider which categories are most important to you. If you want to experience the legendary full moon party, then of course head to Koh Phangan. But also consider Koh Phangan if you’re looking for more of a remote island getaway. 

Choose Phuket if you’re all about ease of access, cultural sights, and endless entertainment (both adult and family-friendly). But be aware that its size, development, and proximity to the mainland might not give you that tropical-castaway feel. 

Joseph

For more than 11 years, Joe has worked as a freelance travel writer. His writing and explorations have brought him to various locations, including the colonial towns of Mexico, the bustling chowks of Mumbai, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not crafting his next epic blog post on the top Greek islands or French ski resorts, he can often be found engaging in his top two hobbies of surfing and hiking.

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