When it comes to city breaks, Bangkok and Manila are two that should be near the top of everyone’s bucket list. That’s because both of these lively cities can offer unique experiences and unforgettable vacations.
However choosing whether to visit Bangkok or Manila for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult.
Thankfully we know both cities well, so are here to help you decide which one is right for you.
Bangkok or Manila: Which should you choose?
Both cities are chaotic, jam packed, and an assault on the senses in a good way!
Below we compare both cities, and give our honest opinion on which is safer, cheaper, has the best excursions, nightlife, and more:
Bangkok vs Manila: Which is the better cultural experience?
There’s no doubt that Bangkok is the cultural hub of Thailand, and the city has a vibrant mix of traditional temples alongside an exciting and emerging modern art and music scene.
Thailand’s capital remains very much a city centered around Thais rather than tourists, and as such there’s an array of street food, museums, markets and floating markets to enjoy and explore. We recommend visiting Yaowarat Road which is one of the largest street food spots in the world. In fact when it comes to food experiences, this city is one of the best on the planet!
Parts of Manila have a more ‘Western’ feel than Bangkok, and so tourists may feel like it’s not as authentic a city. However if you look beneath the surface you can get a good feel for Filipino culture here, particularly by speaking to and interacting with the locals in the city. That’s easy to do as English is widely spoken in Manila – much more so than in Bangkok – so it’s easy to make friends and meet people.
For a taste of Manila life head to Dangwa Flower Market to enjoy some color, and Escolta Street Flea Market for vintage finds and unusual antiques.
In our opinion Bangkok is a cultural powerhouse, but the fact English is so widely spoken in Manila gives tourists a special opportunity to connect with Filipinos from all walks of life – be they farmer, fisherman, market seller, or waitress. For that reason, we think these cities are tied when it comes to cultural experiences.
Bangkok vs Manila: Which has the better nightlife?
People from around the world come to Bangkok to experience Thailand’s famous nightlife and the various vices it caters too.
Bangkok has a rowdy reputation and areas like Khao San Road, Soi Cowboy, and the famous red light district of Patpong, are at the heart of Bangkok’s nightlife scene. For your own safety when visiting these areas it’s best to stick to the main roads and don’t venture down side streets.
Manila has a burgeoning nightlife scene too, and in this city you’ll find dive bars to high-end cocktail lounges and everything in between. The regions of Malate and Ermita have many evening spots and tend to be the best places to dance and drink all night long.
Still, Bangkok’s lively and loud nightlife scene is famous for a reason, and is the best choice if your priority is fun when the sun goes down.
Bangkok or Manila: Which has the better shopping?
Although not widely known as a shopping destination, Bangkok has some great malls which are better than the ones in Manilla.
Shopping is cheap in Bangkok too, and while the city is a hotbed of counterfeit goods, it trumps Manila when it comes to shopping experiences.
Bangkok or Manila: Which has the better excursions?
Bangkok is packed with things to do, from huge temples to floating markets, whilst everywhere you turn there’s something new to explore or try. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market outside of Bangkok is one of the most famous markets, and worth visiting.
Surrounding Bangkok is the beautiful Khao Yai National Park. Whilst just a few miles outside the city is Maeklong Railway Market – this unassuming vegetable market has become famous in recent years due to the fact a train runs directly through the heart of it. It’s now been nicknamed Thailand’s most dangerous market! (Recommended: Hiring a scooter in Thailand).
Manila has some beautiful sights, and Intramuros – the historic walled area of the city – is home to ancient ornate buildings, colonial relics, and cobblestone streets. If you venture south of Manila you will reach the breathtakingly beautiful Taal Lake – a lake that lies within the crater of an active volcano. Venturing further afield and you can find the Banaue Rice Terraces – rice terraces carved into the mountainside that are so beautiful they’ve been nicknamed the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.
In fact the great thing about a Manila vacation is that you’re just a short drive away from areas of the Philippines that are barely developed, and feel almost untouched by tourism. That’s something that’s difficult to find in Thailand. Ultimately that’s why we think Manila has better excursions than Bangkok. (Recommended: Philippines vs Thailand).
Bangkok vs Manila: Which is cheaper?
There’s a clear winner for us in terms of expenses as Bangkok is a slightly cheaper destination than Manila in regards to accommodation, food, and more.
Thailand’s capital has many affordable accommodation options to cover all budgets – from backpackers to honeymooners – whilst the easy availability of cheap street food around the city is a big plus. On the other hand, Manila has very few budget accommodation options.
Manila itself isn’t an expensive city, and the Philippines is a cheap country overall, but Bangkok just happens to be one of the cheapest cities in the world to visit.
Bangkok vs Manila: Which is safer?
Both are safe destinations, which is why tourists visit in huge numbers 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 is safer, petty crime – like bag snatching and pickpocketing – tends to be more common in Manila than Bangkok. Therefore keep your eye on bags and purses, and only take taxis recommended by your hotel or restaurant.
Violent crime targeting foreigners is relatively rare in both cities, but these sort of crimes have happened in both Bangkok and Manila in the past – particularly in nightlife areas.
Bangkok vs Manila: Which is the better choice?
Both cities are definitely worth visiting at some point, and each has its own unique charm.
But if your priority is a great nightlife, an impressive food scene and a budget-friendly destination, then chaotic Bangkok may be the better choice than Manila.
However if you want to visit a city where there’s lots of chances to speak English, as well as amazing excursions that are off the beaten path, then Manila may suit you more.