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 – and the Philippines and Thailand have it all.
However Thailand 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.
The Philippines or Thailand: Which is the better holiday destination?
Both countries have beautiful landscapes, mountains, jungles and waterfalls to explore, so are great destinations for a sunseeker that’s also looking for some adventure.
However if beaches are your main priority, then the Philippines is a better choice than Thailand. The pristine beaches in this country – and the thousands of Filipino islands – are spectacular. We recommend some of our favorite beaches later on in this article. However the problem with the Philippines is that due to its geography, access to the best beaches is much harder than it is in Thailand.
Therefore Thailand, with its thriving tourist sector, is better catered for visitors. The beaches in this country are also great – albeit the most popular ones tend to get busy – and there are many excursion options geared towards tourists. In general, the infrastructure throughout Thailand is also better than the Philippines, so moving around the country is relatively cheap and easy. That’s a big plus as it means you can island hop Thailand’s east coast one week, and go elephant watching in its remote north the next.
With the Philippines receiving less than 10 million tourists a year, and Thailand receiving close to 40 million, you will find that the Philippines is far less commercialized than Thailand. What that means is that a Philippines vacation often feels more cultural, rustic, and less ‘touristy’ than one in Thailand.
In essence, the Philippines is a country with raw natural beauty, but it needs an adventurous traveler to discover it. The reward though, is finding stunning places and having them all to yourself. Thailand’s beauty is more easy to find – resorts are set up on the best beaches, and excursions are in place. The downside is you have to share the most beautiful spots with many tourists.
Expect a friendly welcome in the Philippines too, where locals are more than happy to see tourists! That’s not always the case in Thailand, where tourists are sometimes seen negatively.
One of the reasons for that, is the many party tourists who come to Thailand to drink, enjoy Full Moon parties, and visit Bangkok’s Red Light District. Therefore if you’re looking for a lively nightlife scene, Thailand is likely going to be a better destination than the Philippines.
In terms of expenses, the Philippines is a cheaper country than Thailand in regards to food and alcohol. For accommodation, the prices are quite similar in both countries but we have found that similar hotels in major cities in the Philippines tend to be more expensive than in major Thai cities.
Whilst in regards to crime, tourist areas in both are safe although petty criminals such as pickpockets do exist. However the Philippines does have regions you should avoid, such as Mindanao where kidnapping has occurred. Thailand in contrast, is relatively safe throughout.
The Philippines or Thailand: Stunning natural scenery
Thailand is one of those rare destinations that has it all. Beaches for relaxing, a famous nightlife and party scene, and food that’s known around the globe. It’s also one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.
For fantastic beaches, head out into the islands. Phuket’s famous beaches include Kata Beach, which offers a busy slice of paradise with street vendors, upmarket hotels, and beach activities such as surfing and snorkeling. However Freedom Beach offers a more serene choice, whilst still providing convenient access to food vendors and beach chairs. In general, expect a livelier and busier beach experience than what you would get in the Philippines.
That said, if you travel away from Phuket there are more laid-back coastal options. One of our favorites is Sunrise Beach on Ko Lipe. This gorgeous long stretch of white sand has shallow warm water perfect for swimming. It’s laid back, quiet by Thai standards, and the perfect place to unwind.
After a day’s relaxing, head to the island of Krabi where you can go rock climbing, jungle trekking, and sea kayaking. Its stunning natural beauty, jungle-covered interior and incredible cliffs and caves offer an array of activities for tourists who want more from their trip than just relaxing on the beach.
For those looking for a more wholesome time, Koh Tao (meaning Turtle Island) on Thailand’s east coast is home to the country’s most beautiful coral reefs. Which naturally makes it the top destination for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Whilst if you want to see jaw-dropping wildlife head to Isaan. This barely visited region of Thailand – as we’ve written about before – is home to breathtaking national parks, hiking trails, elephants, and even temples built on volcanoes! It’s a region almost all tourists ignore, but it feels like Thailand before tourism took over.
When it comes to raw natural beauty, the Philippines shines. The geography of this country means it is difficult to get around – and 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.
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. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must.
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.
Thailand vs Philippines: Experience a different world
Thailand and the Philippines are culture-packed countries where you’re guaranteed to experience the incredible east.
As the less touristy of the two, the Philippines tends to offer a more authentic experience than Thailand. Although rural areas of Thailand, and regions like Isaan, also offer a look at this country before tourism took over.
In regards to language, we have found that English is more widely spoken and understood throughout the Philippines than Thailand. In fact many road signs are in English. However English is widely spoken in tourist areas of Thailand.
Thailand also has a lively nightlife scene, especially in Koh Phangan (more on that below), Patong and Bangkok. So if you’re looking for parties and fun past midnight, Thailand would be the best choice. Although Filipino cities like Manilla also have decent bars, nightclubs, and entertainment.
Thailand is a country known for its food, culture, stunning scenery, and more recently a great party scene.
For those looking for a wild time, Bangla Road on 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.
Koh Phangan is most well-known for its Full Moon Parties. This small East Coast island is home to the most famous parties in Thailand and 10,000 to 30,000 people flock to them every month.
Around 90% of Thais identify as Buddhists, and there’s also a significant Hindu influence in the country too. Therefore away from the parties and beaches, Thailand is a very spiritual place filled with spectacular temples.
One of our favorites – and one of the most serene – is situated in Phanom Rung Historical Park. A remnant of the Khmer Empire, Phanom Rung is a breathtaking temple built on the rim of an extinct volcano.
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 the country 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.
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.
Thailand vs Philippines: A taste of the East
Both countries will provide a treat for your tastebuds. Whilst Thai food gets all the plaudits, Filipino cuisine is a rising star.
Thai food is famous around the world – and no wonder – so if you’re a food lover, Thailand is going to be a dream destination.
Make sure you try the iconic Pad Thai – a stir fry dish made with thin rice noodles, meat or shrimp.
For something a little less known, Thailand’s remote and rarely visited northeast – Isaan – has a traditional dish called Laap which is delicious. It’s made up of minced meat seasoned with fresh herbs, lime juice and fish sauce, and is served with sticky rice.
You must try Thailand’s comfort food – Khao Phat – as well. This is good hearty fried rice that comes combined with a variety of ingredients. It’s perfect for a long day exploring Thailand’s sights.
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.
Thailand vs Philippines: Which should you choose?
A holiday to either Thailand or the Philippines is going to be an unforgettable experience with great food, scenery and culture. But both countries do provide very different vacations.
If you’re looking for a holiday where there’s easy access to beaches, tourist hotspots, and excursion options – as well as a lively nightlife and shopping scene – then Thailand is going to be a better choice than the Philippines. However the beaches in the Philippines and its natural scenery is arguably better than Thailand, so if you’re adventurous and want a holiday away from the crowds, this nation will provide a truly unique vacation.