Last updated on December 27, 2022 by Wandering our World
When it comes to Thai getaways, Phuket and Pattaya are two destinations that should be near the top of everyone’s bucket list. That’s because both can offer unique experiences and unforgettable vacations.
However despite both being popular Thai destinations, they’re actually quite different from each other. So choosing whether to visit Pattaya or Phuket for that once-in-a-lifetime holiday can be exceptionally difficult. Especially if this is your first visit to either.
But in general if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand in a family-friendly location with many things to do, then Phuket may be a better choice than Pattaya. However if a busy beach city, lively nightlife and party vibe is more your thing, than Pattaya could be the better choice.
Yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the differences and similarities between these two fun Thai vacation spots.
Thankfully we know both destinations well, so are here to help you decide which one is right for you. We’ll look at which has the best beaches, culture, excursions, which is cheaper and far more. All so you can make the right decision.
So read on to begin your Thai travel adventure!
- Which Has Better Beaches
- Which Has Better Excursions
- Which Has Better Nightlife
- Which Has The Better Cultural Experience
- Which Is The Most Beautiful
- Which Is Cheaper
- Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Safer
Which Has Better Beaches?
Phuket and Pattaya have some great beaches and if you’re looking for sun, sea, and sand then both will keep you happy.
That said, the beaches in Phuket are much better than the beaches in Pattaya, mainly due to the many white sand beaches on this island.
Plus Phuket is a large island so there’s a variety of beaches and beach vibes to choose from. In contrast Pattaya is a beach city and its main beach can get very busy,
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.
The water is also calm, warm, good for swimming, and clearer in Phuket than in Pattaya. In fact Phuket has some of the best beaches in Thailand.
Pattaya has a nice stretch of coastline, but it’s not a tropical island like Phuket. However just a short ferry ride away from the city is the island of Ko Lan which does have some beautiful beaches.
Still, if beaches are your priority then Phuket is the better choice. There’s plenty to choose from, more hotels on the beachfront (so more rooms with a view), and you can find both busy and secluded stretches of coastline there.
Which Has Better Excursions?
If you’re looking to do more than just sunbathe and swim, then both have some great potential excursions.
In Phuket a trip north of the main city will bring you to hiking trails, 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.
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Off the coast of Phuket are some breathtakingly beautiful islands as well – Ko Yao Yai is one of our favourites, as are the nearby Phi Phi Islands.
On the surface Pattaya appears to be just a party destination, but if you know the city well it does have lots to offer, with markets, street food and more to be found.
The Pattaya Floating Market is one of the most popular attractions and is well worth visiting, while the shopping malls are also an attraction for locals and tourists alike with money to spare. If you’re feeling adventurous then just outside of the city is the opportunity to skydive.
In a nutshell, if you’re looking for city sights then Pattaya will likely suit you better than Phuket.
But if you want a variety of excursions and things to do in nature then Phuket will suit you more. It’s close, but we think Phuket wins this one due to the island hopping and wildlife spotting potential.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Thailand is famous for its party scene, and Phuket and Pattaya are two of the country’s party centers.
For those looking for a wild time, Bangla Road in Phuket’s 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.
Phuket comes alive as the sun sets, and people from around the world come here to experience Thailand’s ‘sinful’ side and the various vices it caters too. However, this side of Phuket is confined to certain areas, and the island itself has quite a laid-back atmosphere.
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Pattaya is more chaotic and has a very similar nightlife to Phuket, the one difference being that the ‘seedy’ side of Pattaya is a bit more obvious than in Phuket.
This city is a popular nightlife spot for stag parties and people from Bangkok – a city with its own rowdy evening reputation – so even Thais see Pattaya as the place to be when the sun goes down! Part of that is down to this city being one of the cheapest nightlife spots in the country.
Probably the most famous evening area in Pattaya is Walking Street, which is packed with entertainment venues, go-go bars, and a red light district. For something a bit different, the Alcazar Cabaret Show is worth seeing.
Which Is The Better Cultural Experience?
Parts of Phuket feels more ‘Westernised’ than Pattaya 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.
Pattaya feels like Thailand and very much remains a city focused on locals, and as such there’s an array of street food and markets to enjoy and explore. We recommend checking out Thai music and dance at the Ruen Thai restaurant.
That makes Pattaya potentially the better choice if you want to get a true taste of what it’s like to live in Thailand.
Which Is The Most Beautiful?
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, makes this a stunning region to visit. The one downside is that Phuket’s coastline is becoming more developed every year due to the popularity of the island.
Pattaya was originally a small fishing village, but decades of development has turned it into a brash and busy city.
The beach in Pattaya is pretty and some of the buildings – new and old – are nice too, but it can’t match the beauty of stunning Phuket.
Which Is Cheaper?
Phuket has become a tourist orientated region and the prices – while cheap by western standards – have gone up in tow.
In comparison, Pattaya is far more affordable in regards to accommodation, eating out and transportation. So between the two, Pattaya is far cheaper than Phuket.
Where You Should 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: Nonze Hostel is a popular backpacker capsule hostel right in the center of Pattaya city, just a short walk from the beach. This place is friendly, modern, clean and just a three-minute stroll from Pattaya’s famous ‘Walking Street’. Yet despite that, this place is still super quiet.
Budget: Sat right on the beach with gorgeous ocean views, a giant swimming pool, and completed by having rooms with a hot tub, LK Emerald Beach is luxury on a budget. This hotel is beautiful, and in our opinion, underpriced.
Luxury: Set in central Pattaya, so close to many activities and the city’s famous nightlife, is Hilton Pattaya, a luxurious beachfront hotel with gorgeous infinity pool and views. With a gym, five on-site restaurants and staff that will treat you like a celebrity, you may be surprised by how this little slice of luxury is still within most budgets.
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 Pattaya are very similar. Though Pattaya’s sometimes seedy nightlife may make it a little less family friendly.
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 Pattaya and Phuket in the past – particularly in nightlife areas. It’s therefore best to always stick to main streets and known establishments, and avoid sidestreets.
Phuket vs Pattaya: 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 Pattaya. This island is probably a more family friendly destination than Pattaya too.
However if your priority is a cheap vacation and cultural experiences, alongside evening fun, then Pattaya may suit you more.