Pattaya or Koh Samui: Which Destination is the Best?

Pattaya or Koh Samui

You can’t visit everywhere in the world. Sometimes, travelers need to make choices. In this article, we’ll help you decide whether to visit Pattaya or Koh Samui. The two Thai cities are similar but have many important differences. Weighing up these differences can help you decide which destination to visit.

Of course, it’s not that Pattaya or Koh Samui is objectively better. It comes down to personal preference. However, this article can help you get an idea of what each is like so that you can make the right decision for you. Do you prefer a smaller population set among an island or a large coastal city?

Below, read detailed comparisons regarding nightlife, activities, cost, food, nature, and overall vibe. Once you have, you should have an idea of which is best: Pattaya or Koh Samui. All that’s left then is to book your flight and pack your bags. Get ready for an exciting Thailand adventure.

The Nightlife

fire dancers on the beach
Photo by Envato Elements

If you’re in Thailand to party, then should you visit Pattaya or Koh Samui? The truth is that both offer good options. However, the crowds in Pattaya will be bigger, and the bars busier. That’s why it’s one of the most famous cities in Thailand for people looking for a good night out. There are countless bars to offer and endless entertainment. The place to go is called Walking Street. This is where you’ll find bars, nightclubs, live music venues, and sex shows.

For many people, it doesn’t get much better than this. However, Koh Samui offers a different kind of nightlife. It’s a toned-down version of Pattaya, with fewer bars and crowds. Like Pattaya, though, it’s filled with beach bars where you can sink a beer in front of an incredible sunset. Popular spots include ARKbar and the Green Mango Club, which offer just as much fun and entertainment as anything you’ll find in Pattaya.

For many people, Walking Street has lost its charm. It has a seedy reputation, being full of sex workers and badly-behaved tourists. It’s busy, noisy, and often unpleasant. Koh Samui has retained its island charm, offering something a little more peaceful while still buzzing with excitement.

Winner: Koh Samui. Don’t worry, Pattaya guarantees a good night out. However, the true travelers – the ones you’d actually want to talk to – prefer Koh Samui. It has all the bars and clubs you could wish for, while maintaining a friendly vibe.

Tourist Activities

tourists on the beach
Photo by Envato Elements

Koh Samui is a tropical island paradise and has the activities to match. There are wildlife tours to Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park and plenty of opportunities to go snorkeling. There are boat trips, ATV tours, and sacred religious tours. You’re never far from the beauty of nature when you choose to stay in Koh Samui.

Pattaya, conversely, is a much larger city. This makes it harder – though certainly not impossible – to get out to the countryside. Most tourist activities here revolve around pub crawls and enjoying the nightlife. If that’s your vibe, then that’s fine. However, you may be looking for a wider variety of tourist activities.

Of course, the bigger city, Pattaya will have more options. There are many more temples to visit and of course, you have an amazing coastline to explore. However, the nature and wildlife of Koh Samui is simply more spectacular. That’s why many people take the extra boat trip to get there.

Winner: Koh Samui for its incredible natural beauty. Pattaya is more of a party city, with fewer tourist activities outside of this.

Cost of Living

Sunset over Pattaya
Photo by Envato Elements

Wherever you go in Thailand, the cost of living will be low. It’s one of the cheapest countries on Earth, meaning that most Westerners can live comfortably there. However, you might still be looking for the best deal. With that in mind, should you visit Pattaya or Koh Samui if you want to save money?

Pattaya was once one of the best budget destinations. However, by being so overrun with comparatively wealthy tourists, living costs have been pushed up. Hotel owners and pub landlords know that tourists have the money to pay so they’ve been happy to raise their prices.

Furthermore, there are always a few bad apples that will happily overcharge tourists or even scam them out of their money. Koh Samui is yet to experience this level of inflation. It’s still relatively unknown among travelers, keeping costs at a reasonable rate.

Winner: Koh Samui has to take this one. The difference is small and Pattaya is a great location for budget travelers. However, it’s experienced price inflation in recent years that is yet to affect the island of Koh Samui.

Food Culture

Local authentic Thai food
Photo by Envato Elements

Thai food culture is incredible and one of the main reasons that people visit this amazing country. However, the quality of the food can vary significantly from place to place. Fortunately, whether you visit Pattaya or Koh Samui, you’ll have good, if slightly different options. Pattaya will generally have more choice, being a larger city that’s easily reachable by land.

In Koh Samui – a smaller island – it can be harder to import food. Therefore, you’ll be limited to more locally-sourced ingredients. There will be plenty of fresh seafood but fewer foreign ingredients that have to be imported. For that reason, Koh Samui has a more authentic Thai food scene while Pattaya is more international.

In Pattaya, you’ve got a greater range of eating establishments. Yes, there are street stalls on every corner. But there are also more upmarket restaurants like Tarka House and even British pubs, including the Robin Hood Tavern. The experience of eating in Koh Samui might be more enjoyable, though. For instance, visit the Tent, a tranquil beachfront restaurant.

Winner: It’s close but we have to give it to Pattaya, simply because of the range of options. That’s not to say that you’ll struggle to eat well in Koh Samui. It’s just that you’ll have a more narrow range of restaurants and menu items to choose from.

Natural Scenery

Landscape of Koh Samui
Photo by Envato Elements

You might be concerned about visiting Pattaya because of it being a big city. It’s true, this urban area doesn’t have as much nature as you’ll find in other parts of Thailand. However, what it does have are long stretches of pristine sandy beaches. Once you discover them, you’ll the incredible natural beauty of Pattaya.

However, there’s no doubt that Koh Samui is a more beautiful place with easier access to nature. You’ll be able to easily visit the incredible Mu Koh Ang Thong National Marine Park and lose yourself in the jungles and beaches of this amazing island. You’re never far from the sea and will be far more likely to encounter wildlife than if you stayed in Pattaya.

Winner: Koh Samui, by a mile. Pattaya has its fair share of natural beauty but nothing can beat the charm of a Thai island.

The Overall Vibe

Tropical resort of Koh Samui
Photo by Envato Elements

The vibe of Pattaya and Koh Samui are very different. Pattaya has a reputation for being Sin City, a place where tourists come to buy sex and take drugs. This reputation is, naturally, overblown and most tourists behave well. In reality, there’s so much more to Pattaya outside of the red light district.

However, it can’t be denied that Pattaya has its fair share of problems. Crime rates are higher there, as they are in most large cities. The concentration of tourists has made the place a hotspot for fraud and theft. Although most visitors won’t encounter any problems, the mere threat is enough to put a downer on your vacation.

If you want to avoid this, then it’s worth visiting Koh Samui. Yes, crime exists here. And yes, tourists are still at risk of being scammed. However, the overall vibe of the island is much more relaxed and peaceful. You might enjoy the buzz of a huge party city like Pattaya. However, most people will prefer to party in a place that feels safe and calm.

Winner: Koh Samui takes this one as well. Pattaya is generally safe but it certainly has a vibe of being a more seedy and dangerous place compared to the paradise island of Koh Samui.

And The Winner is…

After reading the comparisons above it should be clear whether you should visit Pattaya or Koh Samui. On almost every factor, Koh Samui comes out on top. That’s not to say that you wouldn’t have a wonderful time in Pattaya but just that Koh Samui offers all the same benefits, without having the dangerous and seedy reputation of a large city. This, combined with the spectacular natural beauty of being an island, has to make Koh Samui the winner.

Of course, every traveler should attempt to visit both of these amazing destinations. However, if you only have time to visit one, we recommend making the trip to Koh Samui. You’re bound to have a truly memorable vacation.


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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