When it comes to bucket list getaways, Bali and Phuket are two destinations that should be near the top of everyone’s list. Both of these tropical 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 Phuket for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult.
Thankfully we know both destinations well, so are here to help you decide which one is right for you.
Bali vs Phuket: Which should you choose?
In Bali expect adventure but also a sense of serenity. Phuket, on the other hand, is a little more lively. And arguably a bit more chaotic.
Below we compare both destinations, giving our honest opinion on which one is safer, cheaper, has the best beaches, nightlife, food, and more:
Bali or Phuket: Which has the better beaches?
Bali and Phuket have some wonderful beaches and if you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand then both will keep you happy.
That said, there are important differences between the two.
In general, we would say that the beaches in Phuket are better than the beaches in Bali, mainly due to the sand being softer, and the water being calmer, warmer and better for swimming. In fact Bali is actually a famous surfing destination precisely due to having many places with strong waves.
There are some lovely stretches of coastline in Bali though. One of our favourite beaches in Bali is Nusa Dua. This little-known beach has miles of golden coastline, and is perfect for swimming, sunbathing and kayaking.
Phuket’s famous beaches include Kata Beach, which offers a busy slice of paradise with street vendors, fancy hotels, and beach activities (such as snorkeling). Freedom Beach offers a more serene choice, whilst still providing convenient access to food vendors and beach chairs. You should expect a livelier beach experience in Phuket than in Bali.
Bali or Phuket: Which is better for a honeymoon?
Although Phuket has the better beaches, Phuket is also lively, a bit chaotic at times, developed, and can get very busy.
Bali, on the other hand, is a bit more relaxed and less developed. With its stunning coastline and jungle-covered interior we believe it’s also more beautiful than Phuket too.
Furthermore, while Phuket has options for budget-strapped backpackers through to millionaires looking to party, Bali has marketed itself as a high-end resort destination and has some exceptional hotels. All of which has made Bali a romantic and special vacation well suited to honeymooners.
Bali or Phuket: Which has the better excursions?
If you’re looking to do more than just sunbathe and swim, then both have some great potential excursions.
Bali in particular is 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 – 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 rainforest. Whilst Bali’s northern-central rainforests have some spectacular hikes and waterfalls – Git Git and Sekumpul are two of our favorites. (Recommended: Wildlife and nature in Bali).
Phuket Island is much bigger than most tourists realise, and a trip north of the main city will bring you to jungles, waterfalls, and the island’s natural side. Around 25km north of the city is Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, where you can meet some of Thailand’s most famous inhabitants. Off the coast of Phuket are some breathtakingly beautiful islands too – Ko Yao Yai and the Phi Phi islands are some of our favourites.
When it comes to excursions, it’s hard to separate these two destinations. So we will call it a draw.
Bali vs Phuket: Which has the better nightlife?
Bali has a burgeoning nightlife scene that improves year on year, with the Kuta, Legian and Seminyak areas becoming the party centres of the island. There are many clubs and bars in these areas, and several don’t charge entrance fees which is a big plus.
It’s also a safe destination at night, and problems involving locals and tourists is low. Just be wary of inebriated drivers on scooters!
Thailand is famous for its party scene. For those looking for a wild time, Bangla Road in Phuket’s Patong offers its own selection of bars, go-go clubs and neon-covered craziness. As well as the famous adult entertainment clubs that have become synonymous with Thailand.
Phuket comes alive as the sun sets, and people from around the world come here to experience Thailand’s ‘sin city’ and the various vices it caters too. However, while Phuket is a safe destination at night, you do have to exercise caution in the evening. Despite that, when it comes to a lively nightlife scene, Phuket has to be the winner.
Bali or Phuket: Which is the better cultural experience?
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 its full glory. Tirta Empul Temple – with its holy water that you can bathe in which is said to clean you of your sins – is an unforgettable experience. This island feels very different from the ‘West’ and is a great destination for any culture aficionado.
In fact with a population of over four million people, and huge diversity across the island, Bali is a culture-seekers paradise. We also recommend watching a Balinese Gamelan show – the traditional music of the Balinese.
Phuket feels more ‘Westernised’ than Bali, and you’ll have no problem finding chain restaurants and hotels here. However beyond the beach bars and hotel complexes there’s lots of culture to be found.
Phuket has many different things on offer, the most famous being the Big Buddha (yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like) a gigantic Buddha statue sitting at the top of 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 Phuket 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.
Bali vs Phuket: Which is the most beautiful?
Phuket may win when it comes to beaches, but Bali wins when it comes to the overall landscape.
Bali’s dramatic mountainous inland is made up of jungle-covered volcanos and countless waterfalls. At times those are replaced by gorgeous rice paddies that rise up into the clouds. 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.
Phuket is pretty too, but with its highest peak more than five times smaller than Bali’s highest mountain, the difference in landscape is clear.
Bali or Phuket: Which is cheaper?
Phuket would be a better holiday choice if you want to travel cheaply, as this island – and Thailand in general – is full of countless cheap accommodation options catered to visitors.
There are many hostels, guest houses and hotels on the island due to it 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.
Bali’s natural habitats allow you to holiday in style too, with upmarket hotels deep in the jungle, yoga retreats in the mountains, as well as the usual 4 and 5 star beachside break accommodations. There’s a variety of accommodation for all budgets in Bali too so there are options for travelers on a limited budget – although this island does like to market itself mainly as a high end resort destination. Because of that, there are less budget options than in Phuket.
As for eating out, we’ve found food to be slightly cheaper in Phuket, whether that is from restaurants or street food.
Bali or Phuket: Which is safer?
Both are safe destinations, which is why tourists visit in their droves every year. However as always when on holiday you should avoid confrontations with locals, avoid walking in unlit areas at night, and keep an eye on your drinks when at clubs and bars.
As for which destination is safer, you’ll find this is a contentious point among locals and tourists alike. However we believe Bali is probably a slightly safer destination than Phuket. That’s because Phuket and it’s lively nightlife scene which caters to all types of vices does create some unsavoury characters.
Bali or Phuket: Which has the better food?
There’s similarities in the cuisine on both islands, but you’ll find that food in Bali 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 in Bali is Bebek betutu, which is duck cooked with coconut inside banana leaves.
Thai food is famous around the world (and no wonder), so if you’re a food lover, then Phuket is going to be a dream destination.
Make sure you try the iconic Phat Thai – a delicious stir fry dish made with thin rice noodles, meat or shrimp.
You must try Thailand’s comfort food – Khao Phat – as well. This is a good hearty fried rice dish that comes combined with a variety of ingredients. It’s perfect for a long day exploring Thailand’s sights.
All in all the cuisine and traditional food in both destinations are noteworthy. However we believe Thai food is probably better.
Bali vs Phuket: Which is the better choice?
If you’re looking for sun, sea, sand and fun when the sun goes down then Phuket would be a better choice than Bali. Phuket also has the better beaches, and some great excursion options.
However Bali is arguably the more beautiful destination, and is certainly the better choice if you’re looking for a relaxed vacation with a mix of sunbathing and adventure, alongside cultural attractions.