Thailand Islands Compared: Koh Chang, Koh Samui, Phuket
After our exhausting 28 days in Burma - we relaxed on a Thai island. I am a huge fan of Thai beaches and this time we went to Koh Chang, not one that I'd been to before.
Koh Chang (Trat)
Koh Chang (Elephant Island, because of it's shape) - is actually Thailand's second largest island, after Phuket. The nearest town is Trat in eastern Thailand. The permanent population of 5,000 is vastly outnumbered by the tourists.
How To Get There
It's about five to six hours from Bangkok to Koh Chang. There are mini-bus services, government buses, and taxis that will take you direct from Suvarnabhumi Airport (new BKK) to the island, as Suvarnabhumi is on the eastern edge of the city and near the freeway southeast to Trat this is a good way to avoid the craziness of Bangkok's traffic.
It's easy to find transport heading further east to Cambodia.
Koh Chang catches the eastern monsoon so is drier between April- October. It's also frantic at Christmas/New Years partly because of it's proximity to Bangkok.
Where To Stay
Almost all the beaches are on the west coast, the east coast is fairly mangrovey, so although there are few resorts, the beaches aren't good, on the other hand it's quiet!
There are tuk-tuks but they are charging top dollar, and the beaches are too spread out to walk it. Motos are reasonably priced from 150B/day if you book for a week or so. Unlike Phuket or Koh Samui, the traffic is light and fairly sane, we hired bikes and felt safe on them. Note there are some very steep hills, don't hire a 50C or you will be putting up the hill at 20km/hr!
Koh Samui Chaweng Beach
Discovered in the 1970's, Koh Samui's main industry is now tourists not coconuts and fishing. That said it's a fairly large island, with a reasonably sized permanent population, including many expats. The main issue is over-development has put a large strain on all the local services particularly power and sewerage.
How To Get There
In the middle of the Gulf of Thailand - either a fairly expensive flight with Bangkok Air direct to the airport, or a long haul south via over-night train or bus to Surat Thai and then a short ferry ride. The two main ferry piers are on the western side and the laid-back airport is in the northwest.
Peak season is April-October, corresponding to the dry season.
Where to Stay
Chaweng and Lamai on the east coast are the orginal, and still most popular areas. However there are beaches all around the island.
There is a fairly good public transport system, but it's more likely to be taxi at night. Again the roads have not kept pace with the population explosion and are narrow and congested, making motorbikes a hazardous option.
More Information check out my other Koh Samui posts.
Phuket Kata Beach
Thailand's largest island and largest tourist destination, actually has more variety than the other two islands described above. Although it's hard to go past the excesses of Patong, when you do you can find deserted beaches, and laid-back Thai towns.
On the southern, western side of the country, Phuket is nearly as close to Kuala Lumpur as Bangkok.
How To Get There
Phuket's international airport, the country's second largest, is a good option if you want to avoid Bangkok's congested options. The train doesn't come close, so if you don't fly, you'll up for an overnight bus ride from Bangkok or from Malaysia. Alternatively you can island hope from southern Thailand
Phuket has the alternative monsoon so is driest from October to April, but like most of Thailand the "wet" season can be very pleasent and August is popular with Australians and New Zealander's escaping their winters.
Where to Stay
If you want cheap then Phuket town is the place, but there's no beach. For mid-range Kata and Karon are popular, not being as sleazy as the infamous Patong beach. To the south there are more expensive, and smaller beaches while the area north of the airport boasts almost deserted beaches and a National Park. For more information: where to stay in Phuket
There is a cheap shared tuk-tuk service which runs until sundown, but taxis are very expensive compared to anywhere else in Thailand.
Check out my Phuket Travel section
Great comparison. I’ve been living for years on Koh Chang and it is still pretty underdeveloped compared to Samui and Phuket. The low season tends to be quite long and the villages are pretty empty from April to end of September (just like restaurant), that’s also when the island is at its best, unspoilt by tourists. I wouldn’t move for anything in the world.
Nice comparison. Koh Phi Phi is also a pretty nice island. It is a lot smaller than all those you mentioned, but is definitely worth a visit. It has the beach featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie ‘The Beach,’ at least one of them.
I spent 3 weeks in Thailand and I have nothing but good things to say about it. Phuket was one of my favorite places and I would love to return. Your blog is wonderful!