Koh Tao vs Koh Samui islands – what are the differences?
TIP: If you are in the area, check out Koh Phangan as well. I was blown away by it already in 2011.
Differences I noticed when observing Koh Tao vs Koh Samui:
- smaller in size – you could ride on a scooter around the whole island rather quickly, if not for the bad roads. Koh Tao is just 21 square km in size.
- rocky coast – if you ever see some photos from Koh Tao, it’s or its coasts with massive rocks, or Koh Nanguyan island with it famous sand bar not far from Koh Tao.
- less busy, more quiet – if you prefer less people and more chilled out atmosphere, then choose Koh Tao over Koh Samui.
- great for diving and snorkeling – Koh Tao, the turtle island, is mostly known world-wide for its great diving sites which is also the main reason why many travelers visit. It was what convinced my dad to go there for the first time as well. Then with me he went for the second time but we did not dive, only snorkeled at the awesome Freedom beach.
- smaller scooters for renting – on Koh Tao you can mostly rent just a small 50 cc or 125 cc scooters. Nothing bigger. Because of the hills, with dad we rented a 125 cc scooter for a day. On other days we were fine with just getting our daily steps around the island (I use Fitbit Charge 2 to monitor my daily steps).
- more expensive gasoline – it cost 32 baht at petrol station and 50 or 60 per 1 bottle at street stalls
- worse hilly and steep roads. Not all island roads are fully paved so please be careful when driving/riding as many tourists/travelers get injured in accidents.
- I found mostly younger people, solo travelers or couples visiting Koh Tao
- more tourists from Argentina, Spain, Nordic European countries and Central Europe
- almost non-existent traffic jams
- dogs on the streets don’t care at all if you pass by, they do not usually move at all. This is a funny thing but both me and dad noticed it straight away. It won’t help you decide which island you should visit, but it’s just an odd detail we had to laugh at once we observed the Koh Samui dogs.
- very busy, a lot more than Koh Tao
- bigger – Koh Samui is 11 times bigger than Koh Tao (Samui is 228.7 square km vs Tao just 21 square km)
- bigger scooters and real motorbikes are available for rent – it’s easy to rent even a chopper or other heavy bikes, not just 50 cc scooters
- cheaper gasoline – it cost 40 baht per 1 bottle or 30 baht at the petrol station when we visited which was a lot cheaper than on Koh Tao
- nicer longer beaches with white sand and crystal clear water – some beaches are even a couple of kilometres long. I believe the Chaweng beach, were I spent 3 days, is 7 km long which makes it a great afternoon walking spot.
- more crowded – around the Chaweng beach it was so busy in the morning, and mostly in the evening at sunset and after it, that there were even traffic jams! And as well, to walk along the Chaweng street could be a challenge at times with many tourists around.
- not good for diving nor snorkeling – Koh Samui is definitely not a diving spot
- some waterfalls around the island – if you enjoy hiking in the nature, waterfalls on Samui are a good place to visit. Especially after rainy season when there’s more water in the waterfalls.
- better roads for riding/driving – Koh Samui is not so hilly in general and many roads are fully paved
- more fruit and young coconut stalls on the streets – I loved this fact on Koh Samui so much! Unfortunately, the fruit was overpriced in Chaweng and it was difficult, yet not impossible, to find a coconut and fresh fruit for a normal price. By normal price I mean a coconut for 50 baht, and for example mango for 80 or less per 1 kilogram.
- many pancake and coconut ice cream stalls around – vs. very few of them were found on Koh Tao.
- more bars and cabarets – some parts of Koh Samui are full of different bars and pubs. There are some on Koh Tao, too, but very little compared to Samui. Samui is more of a party and night life place and it’s also a lot bigger than Tao so it’s logical there’s more bars there.
- airport – could get loud around during the day but it’s really nice to observe airplanes taking off and landing just above the Chaweng beach
- many Chinese tourists – as we visited during the Chinese New Year, hotels were full of Chinese guests, mostly families and some couples. While we saw just 2 Chinese families on Koh Tao, Samui looked like a Chinese island.
- more families with kids or couples – while on Koh Tao we also met many single travelers
- loads of different water activities – parasailing, jet ski, fly boarding, water banana, kitesurfing etc.
- dogs look up at you, some even straight into your eyes – you see the cute thing that made us laugh all the time? Each dog would always turn his head when we walked by and look right into our face.