Last updated on February 20, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to bucket list getaways, Bali and Phuket are two destinations that should be near the top of everyone’s list. However choosing which one to visit for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult.
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.
But from our experience, we’d say if you’re looking for sun, sea, sand and fun when the sun goes down then Phuket would be a better choice than more laid-back Bali. Phuket also has better beaches than Bali.
Yet Bali is arguably the more beautiful destination, and is probably the better choice if you’re looking for a relaxed vacation with a mix of sunbathing and adventure like jungle trekking, swimming in waterfalls and surfing.
However in truth, that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to how different – and similar – these two destinations are.
Thankfully we know both Bali and Phuket well, so are here to help you decide which one is right for you. We’ll show you which is better for excursions, nightlife, expenses, culture, give you recommendations on what to see and where to stay, and even more. Let’s get started!
- Which Has Better Beaches
- Which Is Better For A Honeymoon
- Which Has Better Excursions
- Which Has Better Nightlife
- Which Is The Better Cultural Experience
- Which Is Cheaper
- Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Safer
- Which Has Better Food
Which Has 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.
But 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.
Below we look at the beaches in both destinations in more detail, as well as show you what the most popular ones have to offer. That way you can decide for yourself which island suits you best when it comes to the battle of the beaches.
Bali: The Beaches
That said, Bali is a renowned beach destination in itself and is great for catching a wave. However as we said, that does mean you will find many beaches in Bali where the water isn’t as calm for swimming as beaches in Thailand.
You don’t need to travel too far from the airport to find a suitably beautiful stretch of sand in Bali. The distance from the airport to the popular Kuta Beach is a little over five kilometers.
Kuta is the busiest area of Bali, and the beach is very popular throughout the day and for the stunning sunset in the evening. Kuta Beach is also an excellent location for your first surf lesson.
This area is also at the center of Bali’s nightlife and shopping and is a great place to stay (more on nightlife later).
On Bali’s north-east coast you can find Tulamben. Many consider this as the best snorkeling beach in Bali, as the water is warmer than in the south of the island, and there’s a shipwreck!
The wreck of the USS Liberty has been lying underwater there just yards from the beach for decades, and is a haven for marine life. This is one of the most accessible wreck dives in the world and is a must-visit for any snorkeler as it sits in very shallow water.
There’s an excellent chance of seeing turtles there too, and if you get up early for a dawn snorkel, you may be rewarded with the sight of the wreck’s resident bumphead parrotfish leaving the wreck en masse to search for breakfast.
On top of that, Bali actually lies in the center of the ‘Coral Triangle’ – an incredibly diverse marine area which attracts lots of sealife, making this island and its beaches one of the best places to snorkel and dive in the world!
All in all, there are some lovely stretches of coastline in Bali, and many beaches perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling, kayaking, and swimming – albeit the sea isn’t as calm as Phuket, and the sand tends to be not as white.
Phuket: The Beaches
The main beaches in Phuket are found on the island’s west coast, and so are perfect for a sunset gin and tonic. The northern beaches are smaller and quieter, with the main bustling tourist beaches being towards the south.
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.
Yet in general you should expect a livelier beach experience in Phuket than in Bali as the Thai island has many beaches that are developed and geared towards nightlife. In comparison you can still find remote stretches of sand with not much development in Bali.
But when you’re on holiday you tend to want soft white sands, calm waters, plenty of water sports, and lots of amenities and beach bars – that’s exactly what Phuket offers.
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 a more beautiful destination 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.
In general, expect adventure in Bali but also a sense of serenity in a romantic feeling destination. Phuket, on the other hand, is a little more lively. And arguably a bit more chaotic.
All of which has made Bali a romantic and special vacation well suited to honeymooners.
Bali or Phuket: Which Has Better Excursions?
If you’re looking to do more than just sunbathe and swim, then both have some great potential excursions.
When it comes to which is better for excursions and activities, we actually think both islands are pretty equal in that regard – as you’ll see below…
Bali: The 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, stunning temples, 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.
And for some peaceful, chilled vibes in Bali, you should definitely spend time enjoying Ubud. In Ubud, you can enjoy walks through the rice paddies as well as the vibrant arts and craft scene. It’s a great place for a yoga retreat and for enjoying being surrounded by verdant nature. There’s also Ubud Monkey Forest where you get to meet – you guessed it! – many monkeys!
But if you want a bit more of a challenge when in Bali, why not climb one of the island’s volcanoes? This does tend to involve a very early morning start, but the views and the satisfaction of reaching the summit more than make up for this.
The treks to reach the summit of Mount Agung are the most popular, as it’s the tallest volcano on Bali, standing at 3,142 meters above sea level. But treks to the top of Mount Batur are also well worth the effort. This walk is a little easier, and Mount Batur offers stunning sunrise views from its summit too.
As you can see, Bali is a place where you can surf and sunbathe in the morning, then wild swim in waterfalls, hike with monkeys and visit volcanoes. Simply put, you won’t get bored!
Phuket: The Excursions
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 and are perfect for island hopping adventures.
Of course there’s plenty of water activities and excursions too – from catamaran trips and jet skis, to snorkeling and scuba diving.
From Phuket, the best dives are at three sites clustered together, quite close to Phi Phi – which is also a great place to head to for snorkeling. The three dive sites are called Shark Point, Anemone Reef, and the King Cruiser Wreck. These three dives can often be done on one dive trip which is an added bonus.
Let’s not forget that the calm waters around Phuket – as we mentioned earlier – makes a snorkeling and scuba diving excursion on the island safe, and often a great place for beginners to learn too.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
If you plan on letting loose and hitting the party scene when on vacation, you’ll be pleased to know that both Bali and Phuket have a fun nightlife scene.
However Phuket’s nightlife and world famous party scene probably wins in this department – especially if your idea of a fun evening is beach parties and crazy nights out.
Bali: The 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.
If you’re new to the island, then Bali party-seekers should first head toward Kuta and Seminyak. Kuta is at the heart of Bali’s nightlife, with its labyrinthine alleys lined with bars and clubs. It’s a great place for a night of barhopping and dancing.
Seminyak is a little more restrained and classier, and there are some great beach clubs here, including W Bali and Potato Head Beach Club.
Both beach clubs are an excellent way to spend a lazy afternoon soaking up some sun, and after dark they attract the party crowd when the top international DJs hit the decks.
Bali is also a safe destination at night, and problems involving locals and tourists is low. Just be wary of inebriated drivers on scooters!
Phuket: The Nightlife
Thailand is famous for its party scene and no wonder. 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.
You’re always find a party somewhere on Bangla Road, and as the street becomes pedestrian-only in the evening, the road itself becomes a bit of a party place where party-goers mix as they go from club to club.
Simply put, 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.
For a more chilled party in Phuket, the beach clubs in Kamala and Bang Tao are excellent too. Café del Mar has a chilled beach club in Kamala and is one of the best sunset spots on the island.
Bang Tao, the next beach up from Kamala, is home to Catch Beach Club. Both of these beaches are a great place to end the day and start the party with a sunset cocktail and some cool tunes.
However, while Phuket is in general 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 will never let you down.
Which Is The Better Cultural Experience?
Bali: The Culture
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, although it’s certainly getting more Westernized with the influx of tourists in recent years.
However the fact remains that with a population of over four million people, and huge diversity across the island, Bali is still a culture-seekers paradise.
If you do visit the island we recommend watching a Balinese Gamelan show – the traditional music of the Balinese. It’s a great way to get a real taste of the island’s heritage and culture.
Phuket: The Culture
Phuket feels more ‘Westernised’ than Bali, and you’ll have no problem finding chain restaurants and hotels there. 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.
Which Is The Most Beautiful?
Phuket may win when it comes to beaches, but Bali wins when it comes to the overall landscape.
Bali not only has gorgeous beaches, but also a dramatic coastline, cliffs and a mountainous inland that’s made up of jungle-covered volcanos and countless waterfalls.
At times those jungles 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. Then 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.
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.
Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
Shoestring: Rice Padi Artha, a five-star guesthouse with gorgeous views and a tropical garden is set close to Monkey Forest Ubud and many other attractions.
This friendly place is surrounded by nature and rice paddies, while the guest house itself is authentic-style Balinese. And incredibly, all of that comes on a backpacker’s budget. See photos and rates here!
Budget: With beautiful beachside bungalows and a pool with an unbeatable Indian Ocean view, Nirwana Beach & Resort feels far more luxurious than the price tag. Set in pristine Eastern Bali, you’ll be taking photos everywhere you turn if staying here. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: It would be easy to recommend another beachside resort in Bali, but instead we had to suggest what must be one of the most magical hotels in the world. At Munduk Heaven Luxury Villas you’ll be walking across bridges above the treetops to get to their stunning restaurant, bar and outside pool.
But don’t expect to have your feet on the ground when returning to your room – you’ll be staying in their luxury ‘floating villas’ complete with jacuzzi and jungle views from above! It’s a place that really has to be seen to be believed. See photos and rates here!
Shoestring: Situated in Phuket’s Old Town, Baan Baan hostel is a tastefully decorated hostel known for being modern, pristine, fun, and an extremely friendly place. If you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, this is your best choice in the center of the action. See photos and rates here!
Budget: For a taste of luxury on a budget, then Island Escape by Burasari really is unbeatable. You’ll be taken on a boat shuttle to Coconut Island – five miles from Phuket center – where you’ll find a gorgeous five-star beachfront resort complete with swimming pool, private beach, outdoor activities and stunning views. It’s one of the nicest – and cheapest – five-star hotels we’ve ever come across in Thailand. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Let’s be honest, if you’re traveling to Thailand then you will have access to some of the cheapest luxury resorts in the world. Sinae Phuket is one of them.
At this five-star resort, situated on a peninsula near Phuket center – so still close to the city action – you can find luxury villas complete with private swimming pools and gorgeous sea views. Bliss. See photos and rates here!
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 ultimately safer, you’ll find this is a contentious point among locals and tourists alike.
Yet we believe Bali is probably a slightly safer destination than Phuket – though there are things you must be careful of in Bali, as we’ve written about before. However Phuket and its lively nightlife scene, which caters to all types of vices, does attract some unsavoury characters.
Which Has 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. In general food in Thailand is likely to be spicier than the food you’ll come across in Bali too, so you may want to factor that in your decision about where to visit,
If visiting Phuket 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.