Southeast Asia is one of those regions of the world everyone wants to visit at some point in their lifetime. The vibrant cultures, incredible food, breathtaking landscape and exotic wildlife sum up the lure of this part of the globe – the Philippines and Indonesia are no exception.
However Indonesia and the Philippines are very different, so making the right decision about which to visit for your once-in-a-lifetime holiday is important. That’s why we’re here to help! Having visited both destinations we compare them below, showing you their differences, similarities and what to expect in each.
Indonesia or Philippines: Which should you choose?
Both countries have beautiful landscapes, mountains, jungles and waterfalls to explore, so are perfect destinations for a sunseeker that’s also looking for some adventure.
If beaches are your main priority, then Indonesia and Philippines have great choices, and many white sandy stretches of coastline. Indonesia has over 14,000 islands, whilst the Philippines is a nation made up of 7000 islands! We recommend some of our favorite beaches and islands later on in this article.
Indonesia is also home to the world-famous island of Bali, which is also known as a party destination – so if you’re looking for fun past midnight, Indonesia may be the better choice.
With the Philippines receiving less than 10 million tourists a year, and Indonesia receiving close to 20 million, you will find that both offer vacations that feel more cultural, rustic, and less ‘touristy’ than vacations in neighboring countries like Thailand. That said, Bali can be quite a tourist hot-spot.
In essence, both have raw natural beauty, but need an adventurous traveler to discover it. The reward though, is finding stunning places and having them all to yourself. That’s easier to do in the Philippines where public transport is cheap and reliable – especially the bus system – which makes it easy to travel around the country. In comparison, the public transport system in Indonesia is much worse.
Both countries have spectacular landscapes away from the coastline too. However when it comes to jaw-dropping wildlife, Indonesia may be the better choice. Part of the island of Borneo is Indonesian, and this region is arguably one of the best places for wildlife in the world! There you can see elephants, tigers, leopards, orangutang and many other species.
In terms of expenses, we have found Indonesia to be slightly cheaper than the Philippines – except Bali, which is more expensive.
Below we look at some of the sights to see in each country and then compare the culture.
Indonesia or Philippines: Stunning natural scenery
Indonesia’s stunning coral reefs and sandy beaches give way to a forested volcano-sculpted inland. It’s the perfect place to sunbathe, discover exotic wildlife, and go jungle trekking.
If you want to stick with sand but avoid the crowds, Nusa Dua is a little-known beach in Bali 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.
Staying in Bali, you have to visit some of the island’s spectacular waterfalls! One of our favorites, Sekumpul Waterfalls, is in the mountainous north. Known as being the most beautiful waterfall on the island, take the Wanagiri Hidden Hills road to this lush rainforest swimming spot that has lots of little hiking trails around it.
For the more adventurous traveler, scuba diving around Indonesia can also be a remarkable experience with a vast variety of wildlife on show.
The Bunaken National Marine Park, in the Bay of Manado, is a great spot to see tuna, sharks, sea snakes, and swim alongside manta rays and turtles!
Going even more remote, head to the breathtaking Gili islands. This group of three tiny islands are ringed by stunning turquoise sea and white sandy beaches. It’s our favourite place to swim and snorkel throughout Indonesia.
There’s also an underwater sculpture made up of 48 human figures in a circle. This sculpture was build by Jason deCaires Taylor, a famous underwater sculptor, with the aim of rejuvenating the coral life at Gili Meno. Coral has now attached itself to the sculpture to create a stunningly haunting view.
Staying outside of the main tourist areas of Indonesia, head to one of the most significant islands in the country for wildlife. That’s Komodo Island, where you can find the famous Komodo Dragons.
These beautiful scaly creatures are the largest lizards in the world, some growing to about the size of an alligator. They carry venom capable of killing humans, and can hunt everything, from other lizards to buffaloes to each other.
If you’re a fan of the hairy animal variety, the island of Sumatra has you covered with its majestic orangutan. These human like orange-haired primates are some of the most incredible animals on Earth, and share 96.4% of our DNA. In fact we’ve written about Indonesia’s stunning wildlife before – see here!
When it comes to raw natural beauty, the Philippines shines. The geography of this country means traveling takes time – but the reward is worth it. Expect countless world-class beaches, and numerous paradise islands that feel like they exist in their own little world. Many can be reached with the reliable bus and ferry transport system in place – you can see routes and find tickets here.
One of our favorite islands is Boracay which has everything a beach lover needs. This safe destination is one of the most popular tourist spots in the Philippines, but you can still expect a secluded feel. The white sand beaches here are gorgeous – the aptly-named White Beach is one – and the water is warm for swimming. The gently-swaying palm trees that line the coastline make this a true paradise island.
If you want somewhere even more remote, then head to Calaguas Island. The coastline is beautiful, unspoiled, barely developed, and you’re likely to be the only tourist around.
Of course with 7600 islands to choose from, it’s not hard to find a secluded beach here! Many of those islands are also home to teeming underwater life which is perfect for snorkeling.
One of those is the Visayas archipelago, which has some of the most varied sea-life in the region. There’s the possibility to swim with sea turtles at Apo Island, spot whale sharks at Oslob, or even swim alongside massive schools of sardines at Moalboal.
However the Philippines is far more than just coastline and beaches. This country has a lush mountainous interior with excellent opportunities for jungle trekking and wildlife spotting.
While in the Visayas you must visit the Chocolate Hills where over 1200 symmetrical mounds are packed together. It looks otherworldly.
A trip to El Nido is well worth it too, as it will give you the opportunity to trek the giant limestone slabs that jut out of the ocean and into the sky. The hike isn’t easy, but you will be rewarded with panoramic views across the South China Sea.
Indonesia vs Philippines: Experience a different world
Both are culture-packed countries where you’re guaranteed to experience the incredible east.
Indonesia is a land of many islands, but also many temples – you can combine both at Tanah Lot! This rock formation off the coast of Bali houses an ancient pilgrimage site called Pura Tanah Lot. Visit at high tide and you will experience waves crashing off the mystic temple – it’s quite a sight.
In fact the majority Hindu island of Bali has a plethora of stunning temples. From exotic beachside sanctuarys, 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.
Rice has been cultivated on Bali for generations, and 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.
For a bustling shopping experience head to Jalan Malioboro in Yogyakarta. During the day this street is perfect to pick up souvenirs at the small stalls that pop up each day. But this street also comes alive in a different way at night, with street musicians, performers, and many open-air restaurants to try out.
If you’re looking for a very cultural experience then visiting Maimun Palace in Northern Sumatra is a must. Serving as a museum, the building itself is a trip back in time too. There’s often traditional music performances here, while you can rent out traditional costumes for photos as well!
The Philippines is a country where tradition and culture holds significant sway, and outside of the main urban areas life remains remarkably similar to what it was like decades ago.
To get a jaw-dropping window into rural life in the Philippines, you must visit the rice terraces carved into the stunning Banaue mountains. Sometimes called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, it’s no surprise the centuries-old terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are still farmed to this day, and the little villages that dot the mountains will take you back in time. Stop and speak to the farmers and learn their story – maybe help out for the day – you will never forget it.
This is a religious country and beautiful churches and awe-inspiring temples dot the landscape. One of our favorites is Cebu Taoist Temple. Unlike other nearby temples this site is open to non-worshipers. It’s even possible to have your fortune read by monks that live here.
If you happen to be in the Philippines in January, then you will be lucky enough to experience the country’s biggest festival – Ati–Atihan. This colorful celebration takes place on the island of Panay and is believed to be over 800 years old. Called the ‘mother of all festivals’, expect street food and lots of dancing during parades.
Indonesia or Philippines: A taste of the East
Both countries will provide a treat for your tastebuds!
Indonesian cuisine is a melting pot of different influences, and typically food varies from region to region within the country.
One dish you can get throughout is Bakso – which is a moreish noodle soup containing meatballs. Expect to see this delicacy sold on street carts up and down the country.
Another popular dish is pecel lele – fried catfish. The fish is prepared in a simple manner usually rubbed with salt and a spice or two, then fried. It’s a popular evening snack.
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.
Filipino food is often forgotten about when it comes to Asian cuisine, with Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese all stars on the global food stage. However this country packs a punch when it comes to delicious dishes.
Adobo is regarded as one of the national dishes, and is a meat or seafood-based meal that is marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and other herbs.
The Philippines, like its neighbors, also has many different noodle dishes. One of our favorites is Bulalo. This noodle soup is the perfect comfort food, and is made up of slow-cooked beef, onions, and vegetables.
As for something sweet, why not try Buko pie. A buko is a young coconut, and the flesh is used to make a desert that is the Philippines answer to a custard pie. The water of this green coconut is also a popular drink throughout the country.
Indonesia vs Philippines: Which should you choose?
A holiday to either Indonesia or the Philippines is going to be an unforgettable experience with great food, scenery and culture. But both countries provide different vacations.
If you’re looking for great beaches, superb wildlife watching opportunities, and a world-famous tourist destination like Bali, then Indonesia will be a better holiday than the Philippines. However it can be difficult to travel around.
The Philippines, on the other hand, has some lovely beaches, great cuisine, and a cheap and easy transport system for getting around the country. That, coupled with its raw natural beauty, makes the Philippines a great holiday choice too.