If you’re 20 Chrome tabs deep into your Krabi or Phuket holiday research, you could be struggling with a bit of tropical paradise FOMO. And, to be fair, it’s a close call at times. Immersing yourself in the palm-draped beach bars and laidback vibes of Krabi could see you missing the frenetic party nights Phuket is famed for. Krabi’s island hopping vs Phuket’s eclectic shopping… You get the picture. And, with a three and half hour ferry ride separating the two, flitting between each one isn’t an option for most. We’ve laid out the best of each region to help you sort the Krabi wonders from the Phuket facilities…
Nature and Wildlife
With the booming travel scene, Phuket’s many natural wonders have shrunk a little to accommodate resorts and urban sprawl. Krabi’s unspoilt mangrove forests, offshore islands and craggy limestone cliffs however, remain pleasingly wild and rugged. Kayaking into the mangroves puts you within a fragile but diverse ecosystem. Rainforest hikes see you taking a dip in impossibly clear mineral pools, cooling off in water falls or relaxing in hot, natural springs. Nearby, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for rare birds, lizards and many troupes of lovably, cheeky monkeys who are always keen to rummage through your backpack. Uninhabited islands provide a place to picnic in solitude, while the many, many Krabi beaches are launch pads for snorkel adventures.
Yes, Phuket’s got a wild side too, but Krabi’s rural communities are a joy for nature lovers to lose themselves in.
Winner: Krabi – long may the area stay relatively free from commercial development.
At first glance, Phuket’s intoxicating blend of aromatic night markets slinging Thailand’s best street food and upscale fine dining spots wins it the Food category crown. And, yes, the seafood here is amazing and no, Krabi can’t match Phuket on upscale eats. But, and it’s a big but, Krabi does budget eats EXTREMELY well. The weekend night market alone has around 70 stalls for you to graze from. And then there’s the vegetarian restaurants in Krabi that are luring in plant-based diners looking for their vegan hit. If the full Thai experience means snacking on fresh tropical fruit, and trying your first Panaeng curry, Krabi is hard to beat on price and rustic dining spots. If you’re looking to nibble on spicy snacks in a luxurious beach front restaurant, Phuket is the place to do it.
Winner: Phuket – for international cuisine at price points everyone can live with.
It’s fair to say Phuket’s nightlife could be described as full on. Nightclubs, beach clubs, Thai boxing matches, live music, neon streets peppered with bars and entertainment and an LGBTQ scene that never quits. All of which is fabulous, if you’re in Thailand for a hedonist fortnight that doesn’t always find itself at the family-friendly end of the nightlife spectrum. And then there’s Krabi. Which, by comparison can look a little tame. Until you find yourself at an all night beach party. But, by and large, Krabi beach bars are places to linger into the wee hours contemplating life over long drinks. There’s a nightlife scene, if you dig a little, but it never quite reaches the levels seen in Phuket. Which isn’t always a bad thing.
Winner: Krabi – for providing a party atmosphere with a distinctly chilled out vibe.
If you like to leave a little space in your suitcase for souvenirs, choosing between Krabi or Phuket could be crucial. As a region that’s a mere fledging in the Thai tourism biz, Krabi is still (mostly) selling local handicrafts fresh from the maker’s craft bench. Yes, a few Krabi emblazoned t-shirts make it onto the stalls at the night markets, but overall the picture is local, authentic and perhaps crucially, keeping the baht in the hands of local residents. Phuket has however been around long enough to build malls, boutiques and shops with solely travellers in mind. Big brands can be found here – at relatively good prices. Oh and those night markets we mentioned? Both Krabi and Phuket have a few to choose from. It’s the street food that really shines in both, but Phuket’s just pip Krabi’s to the eclectic post.
Winner: Phuket – if you’re a shopaholic.
You might expect this category to be a close call. And, while Phuket isn’t exactly short on beach options, you’d have to put Krabi in the lead straight out of the gate. After all, one of THE things to do in Krabi is visit Koh Phi Phi. This sand-strewn star of the silver screen does get crowded, but there’s a reason the director plucked it from the thousands of coastal spots in Thailand. It’s simply stunning. Though, it’s not the only beach in Krabi where the scenery leaves you spellbound. With everything from convenient town beaches to isolated, cast away spots on nearby islands, your beach-based scampering is varied enough to see you laying your beach mat in a different spot daily. The only category that Phuket’s 30 beaches can even begin to rival Krabi’s? Accessibility. Easy enough to reach by road, they are all a quick scooter ride away.
Winner: Krabi – the scenery and variety of beach vibes can’t be topped.
By now, you’ll have a feel for your budget options when it comes to Krabi or Phuket. While both do require a reasonable outlay to get there, Phuket offers the chance to really put your wallet to the test in a tropical paradise. And, Krabi? Yes, you can find a little luxury but, for the most part, it’s a place to enjoy the simple things in life on a very low budget. So this category comes down to personal choice. For some, the Thai trip experience can only feel ‘real’ if you’re in a relaxed and remote beach hut. For others, the dream is to lounge in 4-5 star pads and flit from one luxe spot to the next. Ultimately, your budget can go far in Krabi or Phuket, but in Phuket, you’re more likely to be tempted to splash a little extra baht on everything from food and souvenirs to activities and nightlife.
Winner: Draw – though Krabi wins hands-down, if you’re in the market for a low cost trip.
Overall winner: The Krabi or Phuket showdown will always need to feature a degree of personal preference. For us, Krabi wins, not just in individual categories, but also for being a place to experience the ‘real’ Thailand. The fact it lacks the commercialised amenities Phuket is famous for, only adds to Krabi’s rep for being a natural wonder.