Trying to decide between visiting Thailand or Vietnam? These are two very different countries which both deliver incredible experiences to travellers. Keep reading to discover which of these amazing countries is right for your adventure.
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Thailand or Vietnam? What a tough choice to make!
Both countries offer incredible cuisines, friendly cultures, and spectacular sights.
If you have all the time in the world, then you should obviously visit both (and throw in Laos and Cambodia, too).
But if real life is getting in the way of a perpetual holiday, then it’s best to choose either Thailand or Vietnam and save the other for your next adventure.
So let’s get on with it…
Thailand or Vietnam: Which is the Best Destination for Your Adventure?
What’s in our Guide to Choosing Between Thailand vs Vietnam?
1. Best Travel Experiences in Thailand & Vietnam
3. Thai Food vs Vietnamese Cuisine
4. Drinking in Thailand & Vietnam
6. Dangers & Annoyances
7. Solo Travel
8. Thailand or Vietnam – Which is Best for You?
Best Travel Experiences in Vietnam and Thailand
Vietnam’s number one destination is Ha Long Bay, a natural wonder where dramatic karst formations sink into the sea like dragons going for a dip.
In Thailand, you have the spectacular beaches of the south, where dramatic karst formations sink into the sea like… well, you get the idea.
If you’re a nature buff who likes the water, both Vietnam and Thailand have plenty on offer. Thailand is more focussed on white sand beaches, whereas in Vietnam, you’ll find lots of opportunities to get out on boats, big and small.
My favourite city in Vietnam is Hanoi, where wandering the Old Quarter is a mind-blowing experience – expect major culture shock if you haven’t spent much time in Asia. If you’re after something slightly more modern, head to Ho Chi Minh City, a city of contrasts, where the ultra-rich live in million-dollar condos overlooking shacks which house the ultra-poor.
In Thailand, you have Bangkok, one of the most mind-boggling cities on the planet. For big-city drama and entertainment, Bangkok will blow you away. If the idea of that much traffic and all those people is a little terrifying, you can always go to Chiang Mai, is a popular digital nomad destination in the north.
While Vietnam has lots of spectacular beaches, especially in the southwest, there’s no way they can compare to the world-renowned beaches of southern Thailand. If all you want to do is lie on a sun lounger and stare out at perfect cerulean sea, then Thailand is your hands-down winner.
Wilderness and Trekking
You can do some exciting trekking in Northern Thailand, but if you want to spend a lot of time in wild nature, Vietnam is the place to go. Vietnam’s landscape is so varied, from the mountainous north to the jungley Mekong Delta in the south, that you’ll never get tired of the views.
Vietnam doesn’t have a whole lot on offer when it comes to don’t-miss wildlife experiences. In Thailand, you can get close to nature, but the country has a terrible record when it comes to animal cruelty.
If you’re going to visit a wildlife attraction in either country, please choose carefully to ensure your money doesn’t contribute to animal cruelty.
Please never ride an elephant or visit a tiger temple! These attractions are inherently cruel to animals and many are responsible for poaching of wildlife from neighbouring countries.
Travel Experiences – Thailand or Vietnam?
Travelling in Vietnam and Thailand are two very different experiences.
If you want big-city life, parties, and beautiful beaches, with modern conveniences available almost anywhere, then opt for Thailand. If you’re looking for a more challenging destination, where outdoor adventures are plentiful, then choose Vietnam.
Since this is a mindful adventure blog, we’re giving the first point to Vietnam.
Transportation in Vietnam
Getting around Vietnam couldn’t be easier. You don’t need to really plan much or book ahead. Just tell your hotel or hostel staff where you want to go next and they’ll make the arrangements. Transportation options between the major tourist sights are plentiful and cheap, though if you plan to go off the beaten track, you may find yourself boarding a bus at 4am or getting dropped off in the middle of the night.
Busses in Vietnam
A well organized bus network links every conceivable spot most visitors want to go in Vietnam.
Long-distance busses in Vietnam are affordable, generally on time, and somewhat comfortable. Journeys longer than a few hours are usually in a sleeper-style bus, where you can (almost) stretch out on a bunk and might even get some sleep.
Nightmare tales of dangerous drivers and filthy busses are mostly a thing of the past — now busses are, if not luxurious, a reliable way get around Vietnam.
Trains in Vietnam
There is a single train line in Vietnam that starts in the far north and winds its way down along the east coast, turning inland to end up in Ho Chi Minh city. The train is no faster than the bus, is more expensive, and less convenient, since train stations are usually not in the centre of town.
The train can be useful for making the overnight journey from Hanoi to Sapa or for a quick ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne.
Easy rider motorbike in Vietnam
One of my favourite Vietnam experiences was my trip from Hue to Hoi An by motorbike. I have never driven a motorbike in my life but in Vietnam, you can hire a bike and driver.
You sit on the back watching the world go by while they do all the work. This kind of transportation is ideal for maximum 5 or 6 hours — after that your butt (and possibly the rest of you) will fall asleep!
Flying in Vietnam
We never recommend flying around inside a country; flying is expensive, bad for the environment, and makes you miss hundreds of travel experiences. If you have limited time in Vietnam, don’t plan to see the whole country. Just focus your adventures in the north or the south for maximum enjoyment!
(Don’t miss: Our Vietnam itineraries are the perfect tool to help you start planning) →
However, if you must fly in Vietnam, there are lots of cheap flights available. But be warned, the low cost airlines in Vietnam (JetStar and VietJet) have a reputation of being late all the time!
We once go to the airport in Nha Trang only to discover that our flight was delayed by 8 hours. Yikes! We quickly re-booked onto Vietnam Airlines and took the financial loss as an expensive lesson.
Transportation in Thailand
Busses in Thailand
Like Vietnam, Thailand has a well developed bus network that will take you almost anywhere you want to go.
However, according to this article on World Nomads, Thai roads are some of the most dangerous in the world, so make sure you book with a reliable bus company.
To stay safe, opt for a VIP bus, where you’ll pay a little more, but you’ll get a lot in return. VIP busses have air-conditioning, safety standards, comfortable seats, and even WiFi (though if I ever get WiFi to work properly on a bus I will be amazed!). If you’re on a tight budget, the bus is a great way to get around in Thailand – as long as you can handle the frenzy of speeding traffic on Thai motorways!
Trains in Thailand
If the idea of Thai traffic freaks you out, or if you want to travel in a little more comfort, take the train in Thailand.
Though there are relatively few train lines, the network is developed enough to deliver you to the most popular destinations, as long as you’re planning on going through Bangkok.
Heading south from Bangkok, the train goes past the famous destination islands of Ko Phangan and Ko Samui, right to the Malaysian border town of Hat Yai.
Actually, you can keep going right through Malaysia and all the way to Singapore by train.
Though not as cheap as busses, trains in Thailand are a better bet for overnight rides, as you can get a relatively inexpensive (and usually pretty modern & comfy) sleeper bunk.
(Related: Here’s everything you need to know about train travel in Thailand) →
Flying in Thailand
If you want to visit the north and the south of Thailand, and you can’t stand the thought of an overnight train ride, flying between the two is your best option. Of course, we never recommend flying because it’s terrible for the environment and you miss out on so much!
But if you must fly, Air Asia is usually the most reliable and budget-friendly option to get between Thai airports.
Vietnam vs Thailand – Transportation
It’s a little cheaper to get around Vietnam than Thailand but the price difference isn’t big enough to make a huge difference. Believe it or not, in Vietnam, busses are safer — if less comfortable — than in Thailand, mostly because there are fewer huge trucks being driven at ridiculous speeds in Vietnam.
If you love to take the train, then opt for Thailand, since their rail network is far more modern, extensive, and reliable than Vietnam’s.
Need more info about travel experiences in Vietnam or Cambodia? Try these:
Food in Vietnam and Thailand
For omnivores, Vietnamese food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious (or so I’ve been told). There are huge bowls of Pho made with hearty beef broth on nearly every corner, lots of fresh seafood, banh mi sandwiches and lots of other adventurous foods to try.
(Don’t miss: My complete guide to being vegan in Vietnam) →
In Thailand, the type of food available depends very much on where you go.
Chiang Mai has a huge expat population, which means you can get pretty much any type of food you want, including lots of healthy, vegan, and vegetarian options. In the touristy areas of southern Thailand, you’ll find Thai favourites like green curry, papaya salad and pad thai, adapted for a Western palate.
Try to experience at least one authentic Thai night market. To do this, you’ll have to leave the most touristy areas and visit a smaller town. Thai night markets are an omnivore foodie’s delight, with tons of strange and wonderful foods to try.
Vegans and vegetarians will find market eating in Thailand a challenge, since it’s rare to find veggie options and almost everything contains fish sauce. Hunt until you find a Pad Thai stall (not as easy as it sounds) and then request they make it with no egg. It won’t necessarily be free of fish sauce but it’ll be a delicious alternative to going hungry!
Vietnam or Thailand – Food
As vegans, we prefer the food in Vietnam, as it is easier to find fully meat-free restaurants. Vietnamese cuisine is also lighter and fresher than Thai food. Finally, if you aren’t great with spicy foods, you’ll find it a lot easier to feed yourself in Vietnam.
However, if you are an omnivore who loves fiery food, then you won’t be able to get enough of Thai night markets, where spicy curries and mysterious meaty dishes are available for a few dollars.
Of course, in Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, you can get whatever food your heart desires. For fine dining aficionados, Bangkok offers some of the best food in the world.
Drinking in Vietnam and Thailand
Happy hour cocktails
In both Vietnam and Thailand, you’ll find happy hour deals anywhere that tourists congregate. In Vietnam, you’re more likely to get a poorly mixed cocktail with the cheapest alcohol available. But the price is right!
In Thailand, you’ll get better quality drinks — and you can sip them on a beach lounger or at your swim-up bar. However, they’ll probably cost double or triple what you would pay in Vietnam.
Beer and craft beer
Because of laws in Thailand prohibiting people from brewing and selling their own beer, the craft beer scene in Thailand lags behind much of the world. There are a few brewpubs popping up in Bangkok which sell imported beers from around the world. There’s also a healthy underground home-brew scene for beer nerds to explore.
In contrast, Vietnam has a long history of home brewing and it’s practically a tourist rite of passage to sit in a sidewalk cafe drinking watery bia hoi, which costs about 50 cents a cup.
In the past few years, the craft beer scene in Vietnam has blossomed and grown so fast it’s impossible to keep up. There are now plenty of great Vietnam-brewed beers to keep the beer geeks (like Stephen) interested!
(Don’t miss: Check out our guide to craft beer in Ho Chi Minh City to get you started) →
Thailand vs Vietnam — Drinking
If you’re into cheap and cheerful cocktails or expertly brewed craft beers, then Vietnam wins this category. However, if you like your cocktails carefully poured while lounging by the pool, opt for Thailand.
Accommodation in Thailand and Vietnam
Both Vietnam and Thailand offer plenty of accommodation options for all budgets, from $4/night hostel beds to villas with private pools for thousands. The standard of accommodation in both countries tends to be high, too, meaning travellers are spoilt for choice.
Budget accommodation in Vietnam and Thailand
In cities like Chiang Mai and Hanoi, the budget accommodation market is overrun with highly rated hostels offering beds for less than $5 per night. For twice that price, you can get a clean comfortable double room in a guest house or home stay. Budget travellers will find lots to love in both Thailand and Vietnam when it comes to cheap accommodation.
Boutique and luxury accommodation in Vietnam and Thailand
Boutique and luxury accommodation are quite similar in Vietnam and Thailand as well. A nice little boutique hotel will run you around $50 per night if you book early, while in luxury digs, the sky is the limit! If you’re hitting the cities or popular tourist areas, you might find accommodation in Vietnam is a little cheaper than Thailand.
Vietnam vs Thailand – Accommodation
This one is really a toss up, since accommodation is cheap and plentiful in both countries!
Dangers and Annoyances
Bag snatchers and thieves
Thailand and Vietnam are both very safe places to travel, and you will encounter far fewer dangers than are common in the west. As with most major cities in Asia, bag-snatching and phone snatching can happen in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City – and elsewhere if you are not careful. Credit card and passport theft can also be a problem in Thailand, so keep an eye on your valuables!
Scams and sex
Vietnam has really cleaned up its act in the last decade, leaving most of the worst scams and rip-offs in the past. Now, pricing tends to be fair and honest — though you’ll still pay way more in the markets than locals do! Road safety is better too, and there are very few scams to watch out for.
The main scam in Vietnam involves copycat businesses. People who are opening new restaurants or hotels will often give them a similar name to an already popular establishment to piggyback on their success. You’ll see this all over Vietnam, but unless you’re really not paying attention, it’s pretty hard to be fooled!
The biggest scams in Thailand involve the booming sex tourism industry (yuck!). I probably don’t have to tell you this, but don’t get involved in any porn or sex industry offerings in Thailand (or anywhere) and you’ll avoid a whole world of trouble.
Drugs are out too
In Thailand, you should stay as far away from drugs as you can. Yes, even at a full-moon party where everyone else is getting off their heads. Drug penalties in Thailand are harsh and police tend to be very enthusiastic when it comes to applying those laws to foreigners.
Plus, even if you don’t get caught, drugs in Thailand can be cut with poisonous substances. Dying from dodgy drugs in Thailand is so not a good way to go!
Tuk tuk tails
Tuk tuk drivers in Thailand can be pretty annoying, especially in Bangkok. Often, they ask ridiculous rates before you even get in, and when you refuse, they won’t even bother to bargain. If you forget to agree the price before you get in, be prepared to pay outrageous amounts when you arrive at your destination.
It’s much easier to get the Grab App (Asia’s answer to Uber) and order a Grab car or bike when you need to go somewhere in Bangkok. Vietnam doesn’t do tuk tuks but you can hire a motorbike driver (called a xe om) on almost any street corner. Again, it’s easier and cheaper to get Grab and order your bike to pick you up.
Thailand or Vietnam – Dangers & Annoyances
Being busier and more modern, with a more developed party culture, Thailand is also a little more dangerous than Vietnam, which still has a “village” feel to it in many parts. Though there are very few dangers in either country, Vietnam is a little less intimidating for first-timers and women alone.
Solo Travel in Vietnam and Thailand
Vietnam solo travel
Solo travel in Vietnam is fun, safe, and inexpensive. Most travel is done by bus, so the ticket price stays the same whether you’re by yourself or in a group. There are plenty of clean, cheap hostels almost anywhere you would want to go. And if you like your privacy, you can get a nice spotless private hotel room for around $12.
It’s pretty easy to meet other travellers, since there are lots of shared activities, like exploring caves or riding the night bus! I have also had great conversations with local women when I’ve ended up being the only one on a tour.
Thailand solo travel
The only time I’ve travelled solo in Thailand was when I was being treated for, and subsequently recovering from, malaria. My only Thai travel experiences have been with Stephen.
(By the way, I got malaria in Laos, so this doesn’t count as a Thai danger – though you can get malaria there and in Vietnam, too.)
From talking to other travellers, it sounds like travelling alone in Thailand is just as safe and easy as in Vietnam. The laid-back backpacker scene is more developed in Thailand (at least in the beach areas of southern Thailand), so if that’s your vibe, it will be easy to find other solo travellers to hang out with.
(Related: Adventurous Kate recommends Thailand as the best country for your first solo trip to Asia) →
Vietnam or Thailand – Solo Travel
Solo travellers will have no problems in either Vietnam or Thailand. Both countries are extremely safe and welcoming, as long as you keep your wits about you.
Thailand or Vietnam – Which is Best for Your Adventure?
For me, Vietnam will always win this battle. Thailand is a little too Western and a little too easy to excite my adventurous soul. Plus, I have spent so much time in Vietnam, I feel really comfortable with the people and the culture there.
Choose Vietnam if you’re an independent traveller who wants a deep cultural experience combined with lots of time outside in nature.
Choose Thailand if you want a laid-back holiday, where you can just relax on the beach. Thailand is also best for spiritual attractions, from ancient temples to yoga retreats.
You made it to the end of the post, so have you made your decision? Are you going to go to Vietnam or Thailand? Or will you make the time to visit both? If you have any questions or any additions to this post, let us know in the comments below.
Now that you’ve made your decision, it’s time to take the next step… book your flight!
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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