When it comes to bucket list getaways, Bali and Thailand are two destinations that are always near the top of the list. Both of these paradises can offer unique varied experiences. From romantic getaways for couples looking for sun, sea, and sand, to the adventurous backpacker who wants to scuba dive and temple hop in one of the world’s most exotic regions.
However choosing whether to visit Bali or Thailand for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult. Especially as flights to both can be expensive.
Having visited both, we’re now here to help you and offer some tips! We compare Bali and Thailand below so that you can decide which one is right for you. We look at the scenery to expect in each, which is more budget friendly, which has better nightlife and more!
Bali or Thailand: Stunning Natural Scenery
Known for sun, sea, and sand, Bali isn’t just a gorgeous tropical beach destination.It’s also suited to those looking for a little adventure in their holiday.
Bali’s stunning coral reefs and sandy beaches give way to a forested volcano-sculpted inland. It’s the perfect place to discover exotic wildlife, and go jungle trekking. West Bali National Park is just a three-hour drive from the airport, but is virtually unexplored rain-forest. Whilst Bali’s northern-central rain forests have some spectacular waterfalls – Git Git and Sekumpul are two of our favorites. (Recommended: Wildlife and nature in Bali).
If you want to stick with sand but avoid the crowds, Nusa Dua is a little-known beach that has miles of golden coastline, and is perfect for swimming, sunbathing and kayaking. In fact head to Bali’s north coast for great diving, but the south coast for superb surfing. For water sports it’s hard to beat Bali.
Bali’s natural habitats allow you to holiday in style too. Expect upmarket hotels deep in the jungle, yoga retreats in the mountains, as well as the usual 4 and 5 star beachside break accommodations.
However Bali also has a variety of accommodation for all budgets so can also suit travelers who have a limited budget.
Thailand would be a better holiday choice if you want to travel cheaply, as the country is full of cheap accommodation options. There are many hostels, guest houses and hotels due to Thailand being a popular backpacker destination for years. Plus it’s easy and cheap to hire a scooter to get around.
However on the coast near the best-known beaches, you can also find upscale hotel resorts that have every amenity and luxury imaginable.
Whether you’re aiming for a calm honeymoon destination to spend time with your partner, a Full Moon Party to experience with your friends, or an adventurous time discovering local wildlife, there’s something for everyone in Southeast Asia’s most famous tourist spot.
If you’re looking for a beach-centered holiday, then Phuket’s famous beaches include Kata Beach, which offers a busier slice of paradise with street vendors, fancy hotels, and beach activities (such as surfing and snorkeling). However Freedom Beach offers a more serene choice, whilst still providing convenient access to food vendors and beach chairs. Although in general, expect a livelier beach experience than what you would get in Bali. So if you’re looking for relaxation when it comes to the coastline, then Bali may be a better choice than Thailand.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle, the islands on Thailand’s west coast beckon. Many differ from each other in terms of what they offer to a budding visitor – as we’ve written about before.
In the region of Krabi you can go rock climbing, jungle trekking, and sea kayaking as well as snorkeling and scuba diving. Its stunning natural beauty, jungle-covered interior and incredible cliffs and caves offer an array of activities for those who want more from their trip than just relaxing on the beach. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
Whereas Koh Lanta island is perfect for couples and people who like relaxing on the beach, away from the commotion of city life.
For those looking for a more wholesome time, Koh Tao (meaning Turtle Island) on Thailand’s east coast is home to the country’s most beautiful coral reefs. Which naturally makes it the top destination for scuba diving in Thailand.
Bali or Thailand: Explore the Sights and Experience the Tropics
The majority Hindu island of Bali has a plethora of stunning temples. From exotic beachside sanctuaries to houses of worship hidden deep in the jungle interior. Go temple hopping around the island for a cultural experience, and a way to see Bali in it’s full glory. Tirta Empul Temple – with it’s holy water that you can bathe in which is said to clean you of your sins – is an unforgettable experience.
In fact with a population of over four million people, and huge diversity across the island, Bali is a culture-seekers paradise. We recommend watching a Balinese Gamelan show – the traditional music of the Balinese.
Rice has been cultivated on Bali for generations. The gorgeous rice paddies that rise up into the clouds across the island are as iconic as they are important. Head to Tegalalang to see some of the most beautiful tropical rice terraces on the planet. Speak to the friendly locals in the villages about their life and work when there – you won’t regret it.
Bali is much smaller than Thailand, which makes it easier to travel around and visit many tourists sights. Thailand is much larger, and so to get a real sense of the country you’d need more than two weeks to explore. So in that sense Bali may be the better choice for a shorter holiday. Especially if your aim is to pack in as many sights as possible.
In Bali expect adventure but also a sense of serenity. However Thailand, on the other hand, is a little more lively. And arguably a bit more chaotic. It’s all part of the country’s charm though.
Thailand is famous for its party scene. For those looking for a wild time, Bangla Road on Patong has bars, go-go clubs and neon-covered craziness. As well as the famous adult entertainment clubs that have become synonymous with Thailand.
On the subject of lively experiences, the island of Koh Phangan is most well-known for its Full Moon Parties. This island is home to Thailand’s most famous parties and 10,000 to 30,000 people flock to them every month. Simply put, when it comes to nightlife we think Thailand continues to reign supreme over Bali.
For a bit more culture, Phuket has many different things to offer. The most famous being the Big Buddha, a gigantic Buddha statue sitting atop Nakkerd Hill.
You could – and should – also have a go at Muay Thai, Thailand’s national sport. Muay Thai (or Thai Boxing) can be traced back to 18th century Thailand, and has its roots deeply ingrained in Thai culture. Gyms up and down the country offer training sessions (from a single day, to several months!) for foreigners and it’s a fantastic way to get to know this country and culture. In fact that’s something we’ve even written about in the past.
A Taste of a Different World
In Bali the food is pork and chicken dominated. Order lawar, a dish that is made up of coconut, garlic, chili, and either chicken or pork meat and blood. Another traditional meaty dish is Bebek betutu, which is duck cooked with coconut inside banana leaves.
If you want to try something vegetarian, then hunt down Urab. This is a delicious and refreshing traditional Balinese salad that is accompanied with coconut.
Thai food is famous around the world and no wonder. So if you’re a food lover, then Thailand is going to be a dream destination.
Make sure you try the iconic Phat Thai – a stir fry dish made with thin rice noodles, meat or shrimp.
For something a little less known, Thailand’s remote and rarely visited northeast – Isaan – has a traditional dish called Laap which is delicious. It’s made up of minced meat seasoned with fresh herbs, lime juice and fish sauce, and is served with sticky rice.
You must try Thailand’s comfort food – Khao Phat – as well. This is good hearty fried rice that comes combined with a variety of ingredients. It’s perfect for a long day exploring Thailand’s sights.