Vietnam vs Thailand – Which one to choose? Deciding between traveling to Thailand or Vietnam is definitely a dilemma. I say the best solution is to visit both, without having to choose at all, but that’s not always possible.
As they are practically neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand share many similarities. The climate is usually warm, and so are the people, with greenery spreading as far as the eye can see.
In this article, we’ll list arguments in favor of both of these countries so that you can decide what to prioritize yourself. In any case, you can’t make a bad decision as both of these countries are wonderful, and whichever you choose, chances are you’ll want to visit the other one as soon as possible.
Vietnam vs Thailand – What to Consider:
Your Location and Convenience to Travel
To determine which location is more appropriate for you, it’s important to consider where you’re coming from. Convenience is a major factor for many people, and rightfully so since you want your vacation time to go as smoothly as possible.
The budget is another major factor of consideration for choosing a holiday destination. However, both Thailand and Vietnam are on the affordable side, so this probably won’t be a deciding factor. Most differences will come down to the price of the plane ticket, food, and accommodation, but both of these destinations are very wallet-friendly.
Preferred Type of Holidays
Before determining your budget, you have to establish your priorities. This is probably where the two countries differ the most. Whether you’re interested in the beaches, the exploration or relaxation, both Thailand and Vietnam have a lot to offer. Still, you’ll probably find one of them more to your tastes. The cultural background is where these countries diverge the most, and the overall atmosphere will certainly nudge you in one direction.
Currency is another thing to keep in mind whenever you’re traveling abroad. Both countries have their separate currencies, but you can get away with using dollars in Vietnam. Thailand only deals in Thai bahts (THB), so remember to exchange currency before heading out.
Traveling to either of these countries will require a separate visa. While not very difficult, getting a Vietnamese visa is slightly more complicated. Thailand allows a 30-day visit for the citizens of the US, Australia, and most EU countries, without a visa. This can be a major benefit as you can just book a flight and be on your way, without having to worry about getting proper documentation.
Weather is another factor that can affect your choice, and Thailand runs a bit hotter. Seasons are less pronounced, and the weather is mostly warm throughout the year with varying levels of rainfall. In Vietnam, the climate is more diverse, and the four seasons are more recognizable, but not throughout the country.
Thai food selection is a bit more varied and rather famous around the world. On the other hand, Vietnamese food is slightly cheaper, but you can’t really go wrong with either. You won’t make it far in Thailand without stopping to sample the delicious curries or their spicy shrimp soups.
The food is really great and affordable, but the Vietnamese dishes are a steal. Their food is even more spicy and full of fresh herbs and unique local flavors. If you’re a food-lover who wants to spend as little money as possible, Vietnam may be the better choice here.
Safety is also a necessary consideration for any journey, especially one into unfamiliar territory. You can read other people’s opinions and negative impressions on the internet but always keep in mind that nothing you read is representative of any one country. Both Thailand and Vietnam are mostly safe countries, and scams or petty thefts are the most common type of crime.
Vietnam vs Thailand – Culture
Thai Culture and Religion
Between Thailand and Vietnam, Thailand will probably feel a bit more familiar to western tourists. Due to the country’s larger focus on tourism and its western influences, it should make for an easier transition. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the dominant religion is Theravada Buddhism, where monks have a pretty high societal status.
People, in general, like to have fun and party, and are very passionate about the local cuisine. For party-goers, it should pretty easy to find suitable entertainment, especially in the capital, Bangkok. The city has a noteworthy heritage of housing the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
There are many historical landmarks in Thailand, and the country ranks among the most relevant Buddhist cultures in Southeast Asia. Aside from the temples in Bangkok, the northern capital, Chiang Mai is also a thing of beauty. It contains a walled-off old town, full of temples and other monuments.
Other ancient cities like Ayuthaya and Sukhotai, the old capitals, house some of the ruins of the world heritage temples. The plethora of Buddhist temples and religious imagery dominates Thailand and will be a major selling point for anyone who’s interested in the religion or the lifestyle.
Vietnamese Culture and Religion
As for Vietnam, the Chinese occupation left a lasting impact that can still be felt in the country today. Their colonial past is evident in many foreign influences that are now a part of the Vietnamese culture. Confucianism and the worship of Taoist deities became widespread during the occupation, and still remain popular to date.
If your aim is to immerse yourself fully into a foreign culture and atmosphere, Vietnam might be a better choice. Many distinctive Vietnamese customs are attractive to travelers from non-Asian countries. The dominant religion is a combination of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
There may be some animosity towards westerners in the northern parts of the country from older residents, because of the Vietnam War, but you are much more likely to find welcoming faces wherever you go. There is also a big distinction between the north, central, and southern regions of the country.
Ho Chi Minh, the southern metropolis, is more cosmopolitan and modern. Despite the modernization, the footprint of the colonial era is still visible in its buildings, especially in the downtown area. Hue city in the central regions used to be the capital during the time of the Nguyen emperors. There you can visit the Forbidden City or the Imperial Tombs, also a part of the World Heritage Site.
Vietnam vs Thailand – Transport, and Convenience
In terms of convenience, Thailand usually comes out on top. As a country with more tourist traffic, airports and travel routes are also more developed. Both international and local transportation is convenient and can even be fun if you decide on using iconic tuk-tuks.
More tourism means more opportunities for visitors. There are many tour agencies to guide you and finding the right travel service is never a problem. You can find the best agencies in Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai but they are plentiful in most places.
Vietnam is rapidly catching up in matters of transport and convenience. As the country sees less tourism than Thailand, country roads and the railway system aren’t as advanced.
Their air transport is already pretty good, and with the tourist industry getting larger every day, it’s only a matter of time before the other methods of transportation are brought up to speed. The most noticeable inconveniences are the day-long trips across country. With better infrastructure, this problem will diminish drastically, but it’s still not a deal-breaker.
What are the International Flights Like?
When it comes to international flights, both countries are well connected, but Thailand has more options. It’s connected to more capitals throughout the world, so it should be easier to find a flight that suits you in your area.
This is primarily true for direct flights, as the connecting ones are just widespread for both countries. Vietnam Airlines offers the most direct flights of all the local airlines and is the country’s official carrier. Still, Thailand has more connections from all around the world.
What About Domestic Travel?
Both countries have great domestic flights between major cities. This is also the best option when going across country and the most convenient one, especially in Vietnam.
For Thailand, both air and land are equally viable. In fact, the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok Is one of the busiest airports in all of Asia. The buses and trains are also in good condition, with some offering food and snacks along the way. Trains are a bit worse off and slower than buses, but still a good option for longer stays.
Immigration & Visas
As we previously mentioned, for many countries Thailand doesn’t require a visa if you’re staying less than 30 days. This is a big plus as most vacations fall under that category, so you won’t have to worry about anything before leaving. You can also apply for a Thailand visa if you prefer to have one just in case.
There are a couple of ways of procuring a Vietnamese visa. The main choices are going through the Vietnamese Embassy or the Consulate, and you can also apply for a Visa on Arrival or an E-Visa. The last one is a recent addition that allows visitors to apply for a month-long vise for a single entry into Vietnam and should cost you $25 at the immigration platform.
When it comes to pricing, both countries are rather affordable. As developing countries, Vietnam and Thailand both offer great deals in terms of flights, accommodations, food, and so on. As the cost of labor is low, so is the cost of everyday items. You most likely won’t need to spend much to have a good time in either of these countries.
You also won’t have any problems exchanging money. In Vietnam, you can get away with using USD for bigger purchases but we advise some VND on you just in case. For smaller transactions like using a taxi, the driver may calculate the price according to their own dollar rates, and don’t expect any change either.
It’s best to exchange money while you’re in major cities or at the airports upon landing. There are ATMs available in both countries but you will probably get worse conversion rates that way.
In Thailand, bahts are the only acceptable currency. Exchanging is just as easy and local shop owners will even give you the dollar price equivalent. There are exchange booths you can visit in bigger cities but it’s still better to use the airport for conversions.
Vietnam vs Thailand Costs: Accommodation & Food
Just like everything else, the prices of accommodation and food especially are extremely low for what you’re getting. Vietnam tends to be cheaper and more convenient as the food is easier to eat on the move.
Vietnamese food will doubtlessly be one of the highlights of your visit. It is, along with Thailand, the best-eating country in all of Southeast Asia. Vietnam is characterized by having a mixture of cultures and this is reflected in their culinary trends. It is food for everyone’s tastes. It’s not very spicy, and usually includes fish sauces and plenty of vegetables.
Thai cuisine is also exquisite and unmissable for every trip to Thailand. It basically consists of pork or chicken meat, vegetables, and herbs in combination with rice. You can get most of the popular Thai dishes like Pad Thai or Khao Soi, by cooking these ingredients in different ways.
Great Accommodation Value in Both Countries
Hotels also offer amazing value wherever you go. In Vietnam, the local 4-star hotels charge about $60 per night. This is nearly half the price for a similar international establishment you can find in other Asian countries like Japan or China.
If you’re trying to spend as little money as possible, there are many guesthouses that prioritize quantity over quality. The range of hotels on options really is huge, and the same goes for Thailand. The option to spend very little is there, but seeing how affordable even the best hotels are, you might as well treat yourself for a couple of nights.
Vietnam vs Thailand – Traveler Experience
From an observer’s perspective, both countries can provide amazing vistas and interesting landmarks. While there is some overlap in terms of scenery and the atmosphere, Vietnam takes the cake as an overall experience.
There are simply more unique things to see and explore, especially for a western traveler. However, if you come from a similar cultural background, your experience might be different. Prices are overall lower in Vietnam as tourism still didn’t take off as much as it did in Thailand.
On the other hand, if you’re in pursuit of beaches and partying, Thailand is definitely the way to go. The country is heavily oriented towards tourists and you’ll likely have an easier time fitting in. Whether this is positive or negative depends largely on your preferences, and on what kind of feelings you want the journey to evoke.
Beaches in Vietnam vs Thailand
This is one of the areas of greater divergence between the two countries.
The beaches of southern Thailand have no competition in Southeast Asia. Places like Krabi, Phuket, and Koh Phi Phi are world-famous and host thousands of tourists every year. Their selection really needs no introduction as the whole country is a renowned beach resort. If enjoying the water and the vast beaches is one of your priorities, Thailand wins here hands down.
As for Vietnam, while beaches are not one of its main selling points, there are definitely a few to choose from.
In northern parts of the country, you can find some beautiful beaches in Halong Bay or on Cat Ba Island. The central area has places like Da Nang or Nha Trang, the most popular beach in the country. And in the south, a few hours from Saigon, you have Mui Ne as an alternative beach destination. Lastly, the island of Phu Quoc has some of the best beaches in the whole country.
Nature & Adventure
Ha Long Bay View
When it comes to natural beauty, choosing one over the other can be a tough challenge. Both countries are supremely beautiful and guaranteed to leave an impression.
Vietnam is characterized by having fabulous landscapes that are a part of the world’s natural heritage. The Ha Long Bay in the north of the country with its submerged mesas is one of the most unique landscapes in the world. You can explore its islets, beaches, and caves during a picturesque cruise around the island. Places like Trang An and Tam Coc in the Ninh Binh province are made up of a dense network of rivers, lakes, and towns, with rice fields and cliffs filling out the view.
The nature and landscapes of Thailand are equally exuberant and vivid. The country has a huge variety of natural parks, usually accompanied by beautiful waterfalls. The most notable ones are Erawan in Kanchanaburi and the one in Doi Inthanon within Chiang Mai province. There are also a few others are in the middle of the jungle, like the one in Khao Sok.
Go further south, and you’ll find the famous southern marine parks. The most famous one is probably the park in the Phi Phi islands, which is fantastic for snorkeling and diving.
As a country with a plethora of nature reserves and parks, Thailand is a safe bet for animal lovers. You can find some of the most amazing species on the planet in parks like Kaeng Krachan or the Khao Yai harbor. Visit these or any other local parks and expect to see tigers, wild elephants, or gaurs, the world’s biggest cows.
There is a huge variety of monkey species in the country, including gibbons, macaques, and langurs. They often make use of zip lines and various treehouses placed around the area. Vietnam is also no slouch when it comes to wildlife attractions and has plenty to offer.
There are diverse biomes within the country from the Con Dao archipelago to the Cat Tien National Park. This means that people interested in specific animal species have an easier time locating them. Many species of turtles make their home in the archipelago, including hawksbill and leatherback turtles, while primates and other animals like crocodiles, wild pigs, and porcupines usually reside in parks.
What’s the Weather Like?
One of the things you’ll be want to know before booking your tickets is the kind of weather you can expect.
Vietnam has a tropical climate and temperatures range between 28 and 30 degrees on average. One exception is the northern zone. In Hanoi, the temperature can easily drop to 15-16 degrees or even 10-12 degrees in the mountainous regions.
Thailand is a bit warmer on average. The climate is also tropical, and they usually see two to three seasons depending on the area of the country. It is always hot and humid, with varying degrees of intensity. You can also expect sudden weather changes in a few hours or every 5 or 10 km.
Vietnam vs Thailand Nightlife
For all the party-goers and clubbers among you, Thailand is the more appealing of the two. There’s a huge selection for different kinds of crowds, ranging from luxurious rooftop bars in Bangkok to casual beach bars.
The energetic nightlife goes hand in hand with the country’s focus on tourism. The king of Thailand parties, however, is the Full Moon Party. It’s a wild performance with glow paint, fire acrobatics, and chaos everywhere in sight.
On the other hand, nightlife in Vietnam is a bit more subdued. For larger parties, your only options are major cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. There are also some big events that take place at beach resorts like Da Nang. If you’re not a huge fan of clubs, there are also cocktail bars, bistros, and cafés where you can relax after lights go out.
What Is Everyone Else Saying?
You can also delve a bit deeper into the personal experiences of other tourists on sites like Quora and Reddit. It always pays off to be as informed as possible, especially with the first-hand experiences of other people. Forums and sites like these can be invaluable and very informative, especially when it comes to recommendations and advice on which areas to steer clear of.
Both countries are roughly the same in terms of safety, with Vietnam having a slight advantage. Scams are a greater risk than violent crime, which isn’t really an issue. Thailand is slightly more prone to fraud and petty thefts, but only because it’s more popular with tourists.
This can both skew the numbers and also the public perception, so you’re more likely to hear people complaining about negative experiences from Thailand as a result. If you take necessary precautions with your phone and wallet, you don’t have much to worry about in either country.