After a quick stop at Hua Hin, we tested all three of these islands. They all have their different attractions but which one out of Ko Tao, Ko Phangan and Ko Samui is the best one when travelling with children? Well, they all three have their different attractions for different reasons:
This was our first stop of the three islands. I had been here before, 16 years ago. I have to admit that I don’t remember much of it as it is so long ago and nothing at all looked familiar. We stayed at the main beach, Sairee Beach. If at all possible, when you arrive instead of taking a taxi (extortionately expensive), hire a motorbike straightaway. The hire costs for the day is cheaper than the taxi drive if you are with more than one person. Sairee Beach has many facilities, a west-facing beach (amazing sunsets) and shallow waters. The islands is small and easy to get around by motorbike. There is a lovely lane running parallel between the beach and the main road which goes all the way from Sairee Beach back to Maehaad pier in Ban Mae Hat. Very nice to stroll at night with many cafes, shops, restaurants and resorts/hotels. All in all this island is very suitable for children without it being a mega tourist place. We ended up staying for almost a week.
Koh Phangan is of course known for its full moon (and half moon and whatever moon) parties. We deliberately stayed at a time when we were nowhere near a full or half moon as it is not really our thing and also somewhat impractical to party all night with three children. Having said that, outside the full moon party scene it is a lovely laid-back island. It is quite flat, spread-out and roads are in fairly good condition so excellent to discover by motorbike. The beaches are nice, although not as beautiful as in Koh Tao. On Saturday night there is a small walking street market near the pier, with a lovely local atmosphere. In the (small) town centre there is a food market, which is well worth stopping by for your lunch and/or dinner. We loved our three days here.
And then there was Koh Samui, a whole different kettle of fish. Again, we stayed at the main beach, Chaweng beach. Having come from two lovely little islands with independent shops, cafes and restaurants, this was a bit of an eyeopener. Chaweng has a major tourist strip with most of the big chains represented. Starbucks, KFC, Maccy D’s and the like are all here. We hired some motorbikes but the islands is too big to easily travel around. Unless you want to spend the whole on the bike, it is not easy to do in a day. We did spend a couple of afternoons at a beach bar watching the world go by. There is lots to do on the beach and Chaweng beach itself is quite pretty. What Koh Samui did have though, is an indoor play centre (Fairways) where you can drop your children off for the day, which we did. It had been a while since we had a whole day without children so that was lovely.
So which one gets our vote? It has to be Koh Tao, beautiful sunsets, safe shallow waters, shady trees and enough facilities for it to be easy and enjoyable.