Which South-East Asian Resort Island Should You Visit?
It’s a showdown in paradise.
For decades, Malaysia’s Langkawi and Thailand’s Koh Samui, two of the most popular resort islands in South East Asia, have competed for the attention of international travellers seeking unfailingly balmy weather, glittering white sand beaches, lush tropical scenery, fascinating culture and delicious native cuisine.
Both Langkawi and Koh Samui have all of these elements in droves. Both cater exceptionally well to the international tourist – they’re easy to get around, have plenty to see and do and offer no shortage of accommodation options, from world-class resorts to budget digs.
So, which one should you choose for your next tropical island getaway?
Here are a few things to consider before you decide.
Our two cents worth: Both Langkawi and Koh Samui are a-OK to visit any time of year, provided a daily rain shower or two and a few overcast days don’t bother you. However, there is the off chance you’ll get caught during a particularly heavy monsoonal period, so to avoid that risk, visit in the dry season.
The monsoon season in Langkawi starts in September and ends around mid-November. Samui’s rainy season is typically late October through to mid-December. Samui usually cops the most torrential rain around November, so if you’re planning your holiday in November or December, Langkawi is the safer option.
Beaches and Scenery
Both islands have miles of attractive white sand beaches. However, Samui has far clearer water and more interesting coastal scenery, so we have to hand the “beach” category to Samui.
However, Langkawi is home to the Kilim Geoforest Park, a stunningly beautiful area of limestone cliffs and wildlife-rich forests, unlike anything you’ll find on Koh Samui.
In peak season, the popular spots on both islands will be busy, but the Samui crowds can get over the top at times.
Samui’s most popular beaches, such as Chaweng, have been turned into commercial precincts catering solely to tourists, with endless tour agencies, restaurants, bars and all-night discos right by the beach. There are near-empty beaches on Koh Samui, particular in the far south, but they’re quite isolated and far from most amenities.
Langkawi has kept its local vibe more intact. It feels less tourist-oriented overall and has suffered less from rampant development. In Langkawi, it’s easier to find relatively quiet stretches of beach not too far from the main resort areas.
Atmosphere and Nightlife
If it’s a peaceful, relaxing holiday you’re after, Langkawi wins hands-down. The local way of life in Langkawi is rather slow-paced, and this leisurely attitude has been largely adopted by the tourism industry. It’s easier to feel closer to nature, and you don’t have to go far from your hotel to find rainforests and wildlife. There is nightlife of course, but compared to Samui, it’s pretty subdued.
For a more energetic party vibe and plentiful nightlife options for every taste, Samui is where the action is. It’s loud, carefree, a little bit garish and sometimes slightly seedy, but it’s great fun.
Diving and Snorkelling
Koh Tao near Koh Samui
Langkawi isn’t a major diving destination. There’s no diving around mainland Langkawi due to less than stellar water clarity, so almost all diving is done in the offshore Pulau Payar Marine Park. The dives are shallow, easy and good for beginners, but for more experienced divers, the reefs closer to Samui have more to offer.
Samui itself has a number of convenient dive sites, but non-learners will have a much better experience on a day trip to nearby Koh Tao. Here the fishlife is much more abundant, the dive sites are more varied and if you’re lucky, you may even find yourself diving or snorkelling along side a whale shark.
Let’s put it this way. If you’re planning to spend most your time lounging in your resort, there’s not much difference between either destination. So, you may well make your decision based on value for money. Food, accommodation and activities tend to be cheaper in Langkawi, but an airfare sale or package deal may be what makes your decision for you.
If quiet, relaxing beach time is your priority but you don’t want to be too far from the mod-cons, look at Langkawi. For nature and wildlife, Langkawi wins again, but if diving and snorkelling are essential activities, Koh Samui is better by far.
For a romantic getaway, a nature-focused trip or a holiday with young kids, Langkawi fits the bill. If going to a different bar every night and meeting other travellers is high on the agenda, Koh Samui is where you want to be.