Choosing your Thai villa vacation island – Phuket or Samui?


Any 1970s backpacker who would venture into Phuket or Koh Samui today will definitely have a hard time recognizing the places they used to know. The paradise islands of Thailand have grown far from the far-flung tropical hideaways they once were. The old paths are now paved, fishing boats have given way for yachts and cruise ships, and the thatched seaside huts have been replaced by high-end accommodations including star-studded resorts and, of course, private luxury villas.

Though both destinations possess a good selection of holiday homes, every now and then we encounter vacationers at a crossroads in choosing whether to visit one or the other. Of course, we will not and cannot conclude which island is better than the other since every traveler has their own preferences – but we will try to give an overview of how they compare with regards to the factors relevant in choosing your ideal Thai island holiday destination.

Villa locations and settings

Phuket and Samui share very similar topography: gorgeous beaches, lush inland hills, impressive seaside boulders, and rocky coastal cliffs covered by charming woodlands. Combined with clever engineering, these breathtaking natural features create truly dramatic settings for private villas.

In Phuket

With an elongated landform, Phuket enjoys longer stretches of beaches, especially along its western side which faces the Andaman sea and the vast Indian ocean. Areas such as Patong and the 6-kilometer Bang Tao beach are popular for its fine white sand.

However, there are very few villas here privileged with a beachfront as most beachside lands have already been developed as commercial areas. If you wish to be near the island’s nightlife, you cannot expect to find beachfront villas, but there are plenty of hillside properties offering splendid sea views either walking distance from the beach or just a short drive away.

The coastal woodlands of Kamala along Phuket’s famed Millionaire’s Mile are home to luxurious villa estates with spectacular clifftop properties looking out into the ocean.

Should you prefer a beachfront setting, there are a good number of villa options in the more remote areas of Phuket. The exclusive Cape Yamu Estate on the quiet eastern side hosts some of the island’s most luxurious beachfront villas. Though the beach here is not as ideal for swimming, it is certainly crowd-free with access restricted only for estate visitors. It is perfect for walking or sunbathing and has a view of the distant Phang Nga bay cliffs.

Up north, in the neighboring Phang Nga province, beachfront properties are also found along the secluded Natai beach area. Though technically not part of Phuket, this rural hideaway has become popular with villa vacationers too with its virtually untouched 10-kilometer stretch of ocean-facing beach.

In Samui

Having gained attention from land developers much later than its sister island, Koh Samui still possesses the true island-village vibe which has already gone in most parts of Phuket. And though, you will find a good selection of lively establishments especially in Chaweng and other areas of Bophut, there are no high rise buildings or multi-laned concrete highways.

For this same reason, Samui also enjoys more beachfront options among its private villas. Along the northern shores, you will find vacation homes right next to the lovely Mae Nam beach. Down south, if you are after complete seclusion, the peaceful neighborhood of Laem Sor offers also hosts a selection of luxury villas on the far south. But arguably, the best choice would be the quiet Lipa Noi beach a gorgeous stretch of fine and unpretentiously white sand.

Samui also boasts impressive hilltop villas that captures the island’s awe-inspiring coastal landscape from high above. You will find these in the areas of Choeng Mon, Mae Nam, and Nathon.

Activities

Phuket is more advanced in terms of development and has some advantages in terms of conveniences of urban living. For example, it has more and bigger shopping malls offering a wider selection of goods. The more popular party venues are also found in Phuket for those looking for a lively night out. However, Koh Samui has its own offerings of beach clubs which could often be less rowdy.

The yachting scene is thriving in Phuket, evident with its four different marinas that present gateways to the wonderous formations of Phang Nga Bay and neighboring islets. Though it has no marina, yacht charters are also available in Koh Samui offering tours to the exciting islands that dot the Thailand gulf including the Ang Thong National Marine Park.

Other leisure activities that can be enjoyed in both islands include golfing, muay thai, yoga, zip lining, scuba diving, snorkeling, and visiting Elephant sanctuaries. Most luxury villas come with dedicated concierge service that will assist you in arranging activities for your stay.

Accessibility and transport

The presence of an international airport is undeniably a key advantage in choosing Phuket, connecting direct flights to 58 destinations from 22 different countries. You can expect, however, to pass through together with a vast number of other tourists as the airport serves thousands of travelers every single day.

Because it is more developed, there are more establishments and more choices of places to go to in Phuket. But because it is much larger (more than twice the land area compared to Samui), fixing your itinerary and transport around the island will need a good deal of preparation. Well maintained open highways enable you to drive across the region with relative ease. There are parts however where traffic tends to build up.

Koh Samui, with its small-town feel, allows you to explore its central areas on foot such as the vibrant streets of Chaweng and the idyllic Fisherman’s Village. Roads are less developed and unconventionally less straight, curving at every one hundred meters or so. But because of its smaller size and circular form, distances between places are also shorter.

Silvan Kitma is General Manager of The Private World. The Private World is a villa rentals company offering some the most top-rated luxury vacation home rentals in the world’s top tourist destinations.

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Comments (8)

  1. Jack says:

    Life’s full of difficult choices. From soggy London both look good.

  2. Dan Swan says:

    I know that it is harder to get to Koh Samui with loads of flights heading into Phuket. Many of us would much prefer Koh Samui’s quieter and less developed charms. Then again, there’s always the best of both worlds. You could have a 2 centre holiday in both Phuket and Koh Samui. I would think that’s got to be the perfect compromise.

  3. Marissa Powell says:

    Ooh yes, Millionaires Mile, I forgot that was here! I know Phuket seems to have some of the most popular beaches out there but it’s nice to learn a little more about the island because my knowledge of it isn’t all that extensive. Less so for Samui, which to me seems far less promoted or talked about over here. Not sure I’d know how to choose between them either. I had to Google the distance between them, looks like there are flights you could get so technically you could visit both on a longer trip.

    I’d probably be inclined towards Samui partly because of it seeming the less travelled of the two and because it’s smaller, and I prefer the idea of a quieter trip and that ‘small town feel’ you mention. Both islands look absolutely stunning though so I don’t think you could go wrong with either. Plenty of beauty and things to do at both locations.

  4. Marissa Powell says:

    Hahah that’s so true – I echo that sentiment! Our weather is utterly miserable. Give us white sandy beaches, warmth & sunshine. Either would be a great choice, you can’t really go wrong can you?!

  5. Adrian Redfearn says:

    Maybe a villa on the Cape Yamu Estate is the perfect compromise. I like the idea of Phuket’s accessibility, I’ve wasted too much of my life waiting at airports for connecting flights. Though I think mainstream Phuket would be too lively for my tastes. The quieter area around Cape Yamu Estate would suit me. Nor is it a problem that it’s not good for swimming. I can’t swim so a sunlounger by the pool is perfect for me.

  6. Sharon Harris says:

    When I was a young girl, once Christmas Day was over it was time to look forward to your summer holiday. Come Boxing Day television commercial breaks were full of adverts for what were honestly fairly tacky package holidays around the Med. I’m so pleased that travel has moved on. I’m getting far more excited about these luxury villas in either Phuket or Koh Samui.

  7. Margie Reeves says:

    There’s really something to be said about the beaches in Southeast Asia especially when you’re looking at these pictures from a cabin in winter. I’d much rather be there! I agree with the other comments that Koh Samui is the better choice for those looking for fewer crowds and more beach. I have been to Phuket and I am amazed at how it has risen so well from the tsunami that devasted it in 2004.

  8. Dave says:

    Loved this! Phuket really sounds incredible. No high rise buildings, that sounds great too. I spent some time in Bangkok, so the south of the country is quite a change. You may even want to consider flying into Krabi, nearby. Very relaxed airport. Not too far from these paradisial places, peaceful indeed.

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