Last updated on May 22, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to Thai destinations, Phuket and Bangkok are two that should be near the top of everyone’s bucket list. Both of these places can offer unique experiences and unforgettable vacations.
Yet despite being in the same country, these destinations are very different. That makes choosing whether to visit Bangkok or Phuket for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday exceptionally difficult. Especially if this is to be your first time visiting either.
However in general, if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand in a beautiful family-friendly location then Phuket will be a better choice than Bangkok. But if your priority is great food and cultural experiences, alongside lots of evening fun, then Bangkok – which is cheaper than Phuket – will suit you more.
Yet that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to how these two destinations are similar and different.
Thankfully we know both destinations well, so are here to help you decide which one is right for you. Below we show you which has better culture, nightlife, which is cheaper and safer, and lots more – including helpful recommendations on where to visit and stay.
So read on to begin your Thai travel adventure!
- Which Has Better Scenery
- Which Has Better Nightlife
- Which Has The Better Cultural Experience
- Which Has Better Excursions
- Which Is Cheaper
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Safer
Which Has Better Scenery?
Phuket: Scenery & Landscape
Phuket Island has some gorgeous spots, with crystal-clear water giving way to a jungle and mountain covered interior. All of that, combined with its white sand beaches – which are some of the best in the country – makes this a stunning region to visit.
The main beaches in Phuket are found on the island’s west coast, 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 busiest beaches are at Patong, Karon, and Kata. To the north of Patong, you can also find Kamala Beach and Bang Tao Beach; these are also very popular, but a bit more chilled than the rest.
Patong Beach is the busiest Phuket beach, and it’s also the busiest area of the island too. The beach is set in a large bay, and the water is usually very calm. The sand is soft and golden, and there’s plenty to do in and around the beach area.
For a calmer beach, head to Bang Tao. The sand is powdery soft, and the vibe is much more chilled out than Patong. Drop by the Catch Beach Club for a sunset beer and some cool tunes.Of course other than gorgeous beaches, Phuket is also home to plenty of jungles that are great for wildlife spotting and trekking. So if you’re looking for a tropical vibe amidst white sand beaches and lush jungle, the landscape of Phuket will be perfect.
Bangkok: Scenery & Landscape
Bangkok is a feast for the eyes. But the capital of Thailand is loud, brash, and busy.
While it doesn’t have the stunning landscape views of Phuket, Bangkok does have its fair share of scenery – mainly in the form of the incredible temples it houses.
The main three temples that crop up on tourists’ to-do lists in Bangkok are Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew, and Wat Arun. Wat is the Thai word for temple, and these three all boast something unique.
Wat Pho is most famous for being the home of the Reclining Buddha statue; Wat Phra Kaew is the home of the Emerald Buddha; and Wat Arun is also known as the Temple of the Dawn.
Some of the buildings – new and old – in Bangkok are spectacular, but in our mind there’s no way this city can match the beauty of pretty Phuket.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Thailand is famous for its party scene, and Phuket and Bangkok are the party centres of the country.
Phuket comes alive as the sun sets, and for those looking for a wild time, Bangla Road on Patong Beach 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.
People from around the world come to both Phuket and Bangkok to experience Thailand’s ‘sinful’ side and the various vices it caters too.
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The capital 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 in these areas it’s best to stick to the main roads and don’t venture down side streets.
With both Bangkok and Phuket being nightlife centric destinations with famous lively evening spots, we believe it’s a draw when it comes to which has the better nightlife.
Which Is The Better Cultural Experience?
Parts of Phuket feels more ‘Westernised’ than Bangkok and is becoming more geared towards tourists every year.
Yet beyond the beach bars and hotel complexes there is culture to be found, and the Big Buddha – a gigantic Buddha statue sitting at the top of Nakkerd Hill – is worth visiting.
However there’s no doubt that Bangkok is the cultural hub of Thailand, and 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 which is focused on locals, and as such there’s an array of street food, markets and floating markets to enjoy and explore.
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The capital is the place to be if you’re looking for a real taste of Thai culture and life.
Which Has Better Excursions?
Phuket: The Excursions
In Phuket a trip north of the main city will bring you to jungles, waterfalls, and the island’s natural side. Whilst around 25km north of Phuket 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 as well – Ko Yao Yai is one of our favourites, whilst the spectacular Phi Phi Islands are close by too.
And of course there’s plenty of beach activities to enjoy too, like kitesurfing, boat trips, scuba diving and snorkeling.
In essence Phuket offers you many excursions in Thailand’s stunning landscape, while also giving you city comforts.
Bangkok: The Excursions
Bangkok is packed with things to do, from huge temples to floating markets. It’s an assault on the senses in a good way, and everywhere you turn there’s something new to explore or try.
If you head out of Bangkok you can visit 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!
And if you are looking to get out of Bangkok for the day, the two most popular daytrips are to Kanchanaburi and to the ancient city of Ayutthaya.
Kanchanaburi is best known as the location of the Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway.
The Thai-Burma Railway was built by prisoners of war during World War II under the supervision of the Japanese soldiers who occupied the area during the war. The bridge was also built by POWs and immortalized in the eponymous 1957 war movie.
Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam and is a great day trip from the current capital city.
The ruins of the former capital are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with remnants of palaces, temples, and Buddha statues to explore. Ayutthaya is about an hour by road from Bangkok, or you can make this trip extra special by cruising up the Chao Praya River.
It’s hard to decide which destination has the better excursions. If you’re looking for city sights with a few epic day trips then Bangkok will be better. But if you want things to do in nature then Phuket will suit you more. So we will have to call this one a draw too.
Phuket vs Bangkok: Which Is Cheaper?
Thailand in general has many affordable accommodation and food options for tourists of all budgets.
However simply put, we’ve found Bangkok to be a cheaper place to visit than Phuket, particularly due to the cheap shopping and food in the city.
The public transport in Bangkok is cheap too, and the BTS and MTR systems make travel to certain areas very easy and affordable. But if you take a long taxi ride at rush hour, you may watch in dismay as the meter keeps ticking over during traffic jams.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
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.
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.
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.
Shoestring: Well located in Bangkok with great access to amenities and activities, Hansa Bangkok House is a beautiful little guesthouse which is surprisingly cheap considering how modern and well maintained it is. They serve a fantastic complimentary breakfast too.
Budget: With a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool, exceptional city skyline views, three restaurants, a spa and even more, a stay at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse won’t stretch your budget too much, but will provide a classy city vacation of a lifetime.
Luxury: The luxurious Mandarin Oriental Bangkok sits beside the scenic Chao Phraya River, and has everything you could want – including a two-Michelin starred restaurant! Expect celebrity treatment and perfect pictures by the poolside, on the tennis courts, or from your balcony.
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 issue among locals and tourists alike. However the reality is that crime rates in both Phuket and Bangkok are very similar.
When crime does happen it tends to be petty theft like bag snatching and pickpocketing.
Violent crime targeting foreigners is relatively rare in Thailand, but these sort of crimes have happened in both Bangkok and Phuket in the past – particularly in nightlife areas.
Phuket vs Bangkok: Which Is The Better Choice?
If you’re looking for sun, sea and sand in a beautiful location with great nightlife options then Phuket will be a better choice than Bangkok.
However if your priority is great food and cultural experiences, alongside evening fun, then Bangkok – which is cheaper than Phuket – will suit you more.