Thailand vs Vietnam – Where Should I Go?

Trying to decide whether to travel to Thailand or Vietnam? Choosing between these two countries is like choosing between two favorite children! I visited Southeast Asia for my 40th birthday trip a few months ago and fell in love with both countries!

Before visiting, I assumed that Thailand and Vietnam would be very similar, but I was really surprised by how different these neighboring countries could be. I honestly don’t think you could go wrong with either choice (or just be like me and choose both), but I wanted to try and help you make a decision if you can only pick one.

Thailand vs Vietnam

Thailand

Let’s talk about Thailand first, since that’s where I started my trip. The things I was most excited about in Thailand was beach time and the food! Neither one disappointed! If you decide to visit Thailand, here are some things to think about.

Travel Captions for Instagram

1. Beaches & Islands: Thailand is famous for its stunning beaches and plentiful islands. Places like Phuket, Koh Samui, and Krabi offer warm clear water, amazing snorkeling, and vibrant nightlife. Perfect if you want to play in the sand, swim in the sea, and maybe even go on a snorkeling adventure. Thailand’s beaches definitely win in my book.

2. Food: Thai cuisine is renowned worldwide and is a favorite of mine. Street food in Bangkok, like pad Thai, mango sticky rice, and Tom Yum Goong are delicious. We booked a private villa through Samsara Villas Rom Trai and had a private chef to cook us Thai food three meals a day. It was amazing!

3. Cultural Sites: From the Grand Palace in Bangkok to the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai’s serene temples, Thailand offers a deep dive into the history and culture of Southeast Asia. The Thai people are very proud of their religion of Buddhism and their temples, which are plentiful!

Vietnam

1. Diverse Landscapes: Vietnam is known for its diverse landscapes, with the terraced rice fields of Sapa and the limestone karsts of Halong Bay. I was really surprised at how different the landscape of Vietnam was! It felt very unique. We visited a few beaches in Vietnam and they were nice, but the sea was rougher and less clear than in Thailand.

2. Food: Vietnamese cuisine is a blend of flavors that balance sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. Dishes like pho, banh mi, and fresh spring rolls were amazing. There were a lot more dishes in Vietnam that I did not know about but ended up loving Vietnamese food. It felt like more of a culinary adventure and the food seemed lighter and healthier than the food in Thailand.

3. History and Culture: Vietnam’s history, marked by its colonial past and the Vietnam War, offers many learning opportunities. Visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City or the Imperial City in Hue could provide a deep historical context that’s both educational and profound. The US has a lot more of a connection to Vietnam through the Vietnam War, so there is that to consider. Vietnamese culture was very different than Thailand’s.

Here are some direct comparisons for Thailand vs Vietnam

Natural Beauty

Both Vietnam and Thailand are beautiful countries, but their landscapes are different with a wide variety across the region, so there’s really not a clear winner here.

Khao Sok National Park

Thailand – Thailand’s land is beautiful and has 156 National Parks! The jungles and mountains are absolutely gorgeous, but the beaches are where Thailand really shines! White sands, turquoise warm waters, and tropical islands make it an obvious choice if you are looking for a beach destination.

Rice paddies at Tam Coc

Vietnam – The land in Vietnam felt very different to me than Thailand. A lot of massive limestone hills and cliffs, terraced rice paddies, and much less developed in the countryside. There are only 34 national parks in Vietnam vs Thailand ‘s 156! The country’s diverse landscapes were a real surprise to me and part of the charm was seeing the rice workers in the field. We visited a few beaches and they were nice, but the water was choppier and not as clear as in Thailand.

Cultural Experiences – Thailand vs Vietnam

While geographically close, Thailand and Vietnam have different cultures and it was fun to get a taste for both!

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, one of the most famous temples in Thailand

Thailand – The main cultural experience in Thailand for me was visiting the Buddhist temples. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that has not been colonized. So it felt very Thai and authentic without a huge amount of colonization influence, but it definitely felt very modernized, especially in the cities.

A water puppet theater show in Hanoi, Vietnam was a cultural experience complete with live music!

Vietnam – Vietnam felt like more of a cultural experience for me than Thailand did. Possibly because Vietnam is a communist country, it felt very much more removed from the Western world than Thailand did. It was fascinating to see the difference. The Vietnamese are much less religious than the Thai.

Food – Thailand vs Vietnam

Both of these countries have delicious cuisine, and while they both used noodles and rice as staples, I found the local food to be so different in each country!

Thailand – I knew I would love the delicious food in Thailand. It was easy to find favorites and fun to try new to me dishes. Thai food is globally beloved for its bold flavors and balance of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty. Dishes like pad Thai, Penang curry, Tom Yum soup, and mango sticky rice were some of our favorites.

Vietnam – I was less familiar with Vietnamese food, but I ended up loving almost everything I tried. Vietnamese dishes emphasize freshness and simplicity, with pho (beef or chicken noodle soup), banh mi (sandwiches), and fresh spring rolls being staples. The use of fresh herbs and vegetables made everything taste so fresh and healthy! As someone who loves mint, cilantro, and basil, I really loved it!

Family Friendliness – Thailand vs Vietnam

While I didn’t go to Thailand and Vietnam with my kids, I tried to pay attention to how family-friendly each country was and I have to say, I’m not sure if there’s a clear winner here. I think Vietnam or Thailand would both be great for families.

Thailand – With a well-developed tourism infrastructure, Thailand is very accommodating to families. Resorts and hotels often have family-friendly amenities and services, including kids’ clubs, family rooms, and activities designed to explore Thai culture in an engaging way. If your kids love beaches or want to see lots of animals like monkeys and elephants, I think Thailand would be the best choice.

Vietnam – While slightly less developed in terms of tourism infrastructure compared to Thailand, Vietnam is no less welcoming to families. If you visit Vietnam, you’ll notice that the Vietnamese people seem to love children. I do feel like English was less used in Vietnam, so that may be an issue, but kids are so good at bridging the communication gap. Vietnam offers a more raw and authentic experience but still provides plenty of opportunities for family adventures, especially if your kids are into cultural experiences and history.

Getting There & Visa and Entry Requirements- Thailand vs Vietnam

Both country’s major cities have several international airports. I flew into Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok, and out of Hanoi, but there are several options like Chiang Mai in Thailand and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. The prices flying from the US were the same to Thailand and Vietnam. I did not need a visa for Thailand, but did need one for Vietnam. So that is something to consider when trying to decide between Vietnam vs Thailand. The visa free entry was definitely a plus for Thailand. But the visa entry fee for Vietnam was not much and easy to do, but you do have to plan ahead.

Cost – Thailand vs Vietnam

I have a lot of people asking me how much we spent in Thailand vs Vietnam. Both Vietnam and Thailand are considered affordable destinations, especially when compared to Western countries. However, Vietnam generally tends to be slightly less expensive than Thailand in terms of accommodation, food, and internal transportation. We definitely spent less on food in Vietnam. Transportation and activities seemed to cost around the same. Both Thailand and Vietnam were fairly inexpensive destinations and if you’re from the US, your money will go far.

Thailand uses the Thai Baht and Vietnam uses the Vietnamese Dong. Some places took cards or Apple Pay, but I felt like Thailand almost exclusively used cash, while card payment was slightly more available in Vietnam.

Both of these Southeast Asian countries stole a piece of my heart and I really loved my time in both of them. I hope I’ll be able to make it to other S,outheast Asian countries sometime soon. Hopefully you’ll be able to make it to both too, but if not, I hope this comparison of Vietnam vs Thailand was helpful and you’ll be able to pick the country that’s right for you.

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