When planning a trip to Southeast Asia, it doesn’t take long for the old ‘Vietnam vs Thailand’ question to come up – especially if this is your first trip to the region! Don’t worry, we’ve all been there!
Here at South East Asia Backpacker, we’ve spent years travelling in the region and still face this dilemma every time we return!
So, using our own experiences and the wisdom of our backpacking community over on Facebook, we’ve compared the two countries. This will help you choose which to visit first (because let’s face it – you should definitely visit them both if you can)!
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Thailand vs Vietnam
Getting to Thailand or Vietnam – Which Is Easier?
Getting to either Thailand or Vietnam is simple enough. Both are well served by international airports but it’s marginally cheaper and easier to fly into Thailand. Suvarnabhumi Airport, near Bangkok, serves as a huge hub for much of Southeast Asia!
Both countries have relatively friendly relations with their neighbours and crossing land borders to or from either country is an easy process. You shouldn’t have any problems getting to Thailand or Vietnam.
Visa and Entry Requirements for Thailand and Vietnam
While Thailand is slightly easier to enter than Vietnam, neither country is particularly challenging.
Thailand offers a 30-day VOA (Visa on Arrival), to citizens of most countries. You can extend this visa once while in the country. If you want to stay longer, you’ll need to do a border run. You can also apply for a 60-day tourist visa online before arriving in Thailand.
👉 Read More: Thailand Visa Guide
Technically, proof of onward travel can be requested when entering Thailand, so make sure you plan for this.
Vietnam offers a visa exemption to travellers from 25 countries, including most EU nations and the UK. For citizens of countries not included in the exemption scheme, a 90-day eVisa is available. Get yours online from the official government website. In 2023, the Vietnamese visa process was improved and the time you’re allowed to spend in the country was extended – it used to be just 30 days with an eVisa!
You may be asked for proof of onward travel when entering Vietnam. Anecdotally, it’s more likely to happen when entering under the visa exemption scheme. Most travellers entering Vietnam on an eVisa won’t be asked – but there’s always a chance, so plan accordingly!
👉 Read More: Vietnam Visa Guide
Getting Around Thailand and Vietnam
Both Thailand and Vietnam have good public transport systems, so travelling around is easy enough. Unless you’re getting well off the beaten track, you can travel around both Thailand and Vietnam without knowing the local language – people are generally helpful and will assist you wherever they can!
Thailand has a better ‘backpacker infrastructure’ meaning you can arrange most long bus journeys at your hostel or accommodation. In Vietnam, it can be slightly more challenging but is still possible for the vast majority of travellers.
They’re both so easy to travel, but Thailand has a bit of everything, so I think Thailand would be best [for a first-time traveller]. But deffo go back to Vietnam if you can, it’s a beautiful country.Danni Wilkins – Regular Traveller To Southeast Asia And Member Of The South East Asia Backpacker Community
Trains, buses and planes are all common transportation options for longer journeys in both countries. For shorter trips, taxis and motorcycle taxis (Xe Oms in Vietnam) are the norm. Tuk-tuks are everywhere in Thailand and are the perfect budget-friendly way to get around. You’re unlikely to find many tuk-tuks in Vietnam.
Vietnam vs Thailand – Climate
Both Vietnam and Thailand are tropical countries with wet and dry seasons. There isn’t a huge amount of difference between the two but Vietnam sees more regional change in weather thanks to its shape and geographical features.
It’s worth noting that due to climate change, seasonal weather and temperatures are becoming less predictable and severe weather events are getting more common at any time of year.
The average temperature in Thailand ranges from 18-38°C, while in Vietnam, the average temperature ranges from 10-35°C, depending on where in the country you are.
Best Time to Visit Thailand or Vietnam
There’s never a bad time to visit either Thailand or Vietnam. The climate varies a lot in both countries, so when one part is experiencing the deluge of rainy season, another will be calm and dry!
Avoid Northern Thailand during hot season (March-May). This coincides with burning season when Chiang Mai regularly records some of the worst air quality in the world. However, Songkran, the Thai festival celebrating Buddhist New Year, also takes place during this time and Chiang Mai has the biggest celebrations!
In Southern Thailand, the rainy season changes depending on which coast you’re visiting. The Andaman Coast (west) experiences monsoon season from June-October while the Gulf of Thailand (east) has the most rainfall during October and November.
November to April is considered the best time to visit Vietnam but you’ll have a great time no matter when you visit. Avoid central Vietnam (Danang, Hue, Hoi Ann, etc.) between September-November if possible. Recent years have brought severe typhoons and flooding to the area. If you visit Vietnam during February, be prepared for Tet, the Vietnamese festival which celebrates the arrival of Spring – you’ll need to book accommodation well in advance!
👉 Read More: Southeast Asia Climate Guide
Vietnam vs Thailand – Costs and Currencies
While neither country is expensive to visit, Vietnam is cheaper than Thailand for backpackers.
- Thailand uses the Thai Baht as their currency. $1USD is approx. 35THB.*
- Vietnam uses the Vietnamese Dong. $1USD is approx. 25,000VND.
Expect to spend $20-$60USD per day in Thailand, depending on your travel style. In Vietnam, you can get this down to $15-$50USD per day.
To stick to the cheaper end of these budgets, you’ll need to stay in dorm rooms, avoid partying too much and stick to budget-friendly tours and activities. You’ll also need to choose street food for most meals and walk instead of getting taxis wherever possible.
*Remember, exchange rates fluctuate regularly. Always check for the most up-to-date information before exchanging money.
Thailand vs Vietnam – Travel Scene
Both Vietnam and Thailand feature prominently on almost every Southeast Asia travel itinerary – and for good reason! Both countries are widely accessible and have fantastic infrastructure for backpackers and international travellers.
Thailand is the more popular of the two, with more than 11 million visitors in 2022 compared to 3.6 million visitors to Vietnam. Both of these numbers are down significantly on pre-pandemic levels but the percentage difference is about right. Vietnam gets 25-35% the number of visitors compared to Thailand.
This can make Vietnam feel like more of an adventurous choice as it’s easier to get off the beaten track. Outside the main towns and cities, the infrastructure for tourists diminishes quickly, so you can find a more challenging travel experience if that’s what you’re looking for.
Thailand has the most developed backpacking scene in the region. It’s been a hub for backpackers in Southeast Asia for more than 50 years. But, contrary to popular opinion, you can still get well off the beaten track in Thailand. Ignore the jaded backpacker who keeps telling you “Thailand is just too touristic now man…” Instead, jump on a bus head an hour or two away from the classic backpacker routes and you’ll experience a Thailand that very few travellers ever see.
You’ll find similar backpacking crowds in both Thailand and Vietnam. Hostels in both countries range from super basic to classy AF and are generally very budget-friendly. Overall, accommodation in Vietnam is cheaper than in Thailand.
Safety in Thailand and Vietnam
Thailand and Vietnam are both very safe countries. But that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong. Crime can happen anywhere and you should always keep your wits about you when travelling. Serious crime is very uncommon in either country but pickpocketing and bag snatching can happen. Women should be especially wary when out at night but the threat is likely no larger than you are used to at home.
Tap water in Vietnam and Thailand is considered unsafe to drink. You should stick to filtered, boiled or bottled water when visiting either country. When buying cooked food in Thailand or Vietnam, make sure it’s fresh. Street food is safer than most people expect but avoid certain vendors if you have concerns about their hygiene practices. The same is true of small local restaurants. Some travellers report a big difference in hygiene standards between Thailand and Vietnam, with even the smallest Thai restaurants being spotlessly clean!
Accommodation Options in Vietnam and Thailand
Both Vietnam and Thailand offer a range of accommodation options, from the cheapest dorm beds to high-end luxury.
Whatever level of comfort you’re looking for from your trip to Southeast Asia, you’ll find it in either Vietnam or Thailand!
That said, there are some notable differences between the two countries. In Vietnam, homestays are more common – though it’s important to note that many are more like BnBs rather than a true immersive homestay experience.
The overall quality of hotels, hostels and other accommodation options is marginally higher in Thailand but cheaper in Vietnam. Honestly, most backpackers won’t notice too much of a difference between the two – there are great options, as well as crappy ones, in both countries!
Thailand vs Vietnam – Nightlife
When it comes to nightlife, Thailand and Vietnam offer very different experiences. Sure, you can find a party in either country but the prevalence, longevity and type of parties tend to differ between the two.
Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, practically vibrates with energy when the sun goes down. You’ll find everything from small local bars, backpacker havens, night-long bar crawls and if you’re into it, more exotic clubs…
But it doesn’t just stop in Bangkok. You’ll find a good night out in any major town or city – especially if there’s a big tourism scene! If you’re looking for a classic backpacker rite of passage, don’t miss a ‘moon party’ on Koh Phangan! What started off as a bunch of pals meeting once a month for a gathering on the beach has turned into one of the world’s most famous nights out and turned Koh Phangan into the place to party in Southeast Asia.
In 2022, cannabis was decriminalised in Thailand allowing an explosive increase in the plant’s popularity as a recreational drug. You can now buy cannabis in many forms from smoke shops and dispensaries across the country. Laws around other drugs are still strict though, so avoid dabbling too much! You should also be aware that these are turbulent times for Thailand’s cannabis laws and talk of re-crimanalizing the plant for recreational use are in full flow.
Both are beautiful. But I think Thailand has more to offer especially for nightlife, but definitely skip across to Vietnam if you have time.Seon Mcdonald – Regular Traveller To Southeast Asia And Member Of The South East Asia Backpacker Community
Vietnam is a little more sedate, with less of a raucous party culture. Vietnamese bars offer a place to chat and catch up with friends, rather than spots to go wild. In Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be able to find a wider range of bars and clubs than in other parts of the country. However, don’t expect the party to go on ’til sunrise. Most clubs and bars are forced to shut at midnight by law.
While on paper, Thailand is a better party destination than Vietnam, it’s not necessarily a better place for a beer. Vietnam is famous for Bia Hoi (Fresh Beer). Often touted as the cheapest beer in the world, Beer Hoi is an institution for the people of Vietnam. Served in old glasses and delivered fresh from the brewery every day, Bia Hoi shouldn’t be missed! Plus, at around 5,000-11,000VND (20-50 cents) a glass, it would be silly to drink anything else!
Thailand vs Vietnam – Food
Contrary to what Instagram would have you believe, Southeast Asia isn’t all about eating insects and arachnids. Sure, there are some oddities within Asian cuisine but every Southeast Asian country has a varied and exciting food scene. Thailand and Vietnam are two of the biggest hitters in this regard.
Broadly speaking, Thai food is spicier than Vietnamese food – and we’re talking blow-your-tiny-head-off spicy, especially when you veer away from Pad Thai! Vietnamese cuisine features more raw ingredients, with a focus on freshness and a combination of textures. Don’t be surprised to find something delightfully crunchy and something unnervingly gelatinous in the same mouthful!
I prefer Thailand because I don’t eat meat (and [in my experience] Vietnamese restaurants straight up lie to your face about what’s in the food).David Goetze: Regular Traveller To Southeast Asia And Member Of The South East Asia Backpacker Community
The French influence on Vietnamese food is clear. Bread, cheese and wine can all be found with relative ease in Vietnam. In Thailand, you’ll be hard-pressed to find the same quality or quantity of European ingredients!
Thai cuisine offers a citrusy tang from Makrut Lime, the signature smell of lemongrass and a powerful punch from Thai Chili. Vietnamese food, on the other hand, is characterised by fresh herbs, fish sauce and a range of crunchy fresh vegetables. Beware, if coriander (also known as cilantro) isn’t your thing, you’re going to be amazed and horrified in equal measure at how many dishes it’s used in!
Vietnamese = more fish sauce. Thai seems lighter but it isn’t actually “better” (healthier). But this is just my personal opinion. Both are amazing. You can’t like just one – if you like Thai you will love Vietnamese and the other way around!Domi Nika – Rgular Traveller To Southeast Asia And Member Of The South East Asia Backpacker Community
First-time travellers to the region may initially struggle to differentiate too much between Thai and Vietnamese food – but it won’t take your palate long to notice the difference between ingredients, textures and flavours.
Languages Spoken in Thailand and Vietnam
The sole official language of Thailand is Thai. It’s a tonal language with multiple dialects, some of which are so different that linguists argue they are separate languages. But as a tourist in Thailand, you don’t need to worry about that. Even learning a few Thai phrases will put you head and shoulders above most travellers in the region!
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. It’s another tonal language heavily influenced by centuries of Chinese rule, decades of French colonialism and in recent years, English words have crept into the language, especially regarding technology and modern inventions. As with Thai, you won’t be expected to know the language when you visit but if you learn just a few phrases, you’ll be guaranteed a warmer reception than if you hadn’t bothered!
Thailand vs Vietnam – History and Culture
If this is your first trip to Southeast Asia, it doesn’t matter which country you visit, you’re in for a mild case of culture shock. Thailand and Vietnam are more similar to each other than they are to Europe or the USA but there are still some stark differences between the two.
Throughout recorded history, Vietnam has been ruled over by foreign empires and nation-states. The influence this has had on Vietnamese culture is clear to see. China ruled over Vietnam for centuries, bringing a blend of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism to the country. These are still the main religions today but 7% of the Vietnamese population are practicing Catholics. The presence of Christianity is partly due to French colonial rule and also because Vietnam has long been a target of missionaries.
Parts of Vietnam built during French occupation feature distinctive colonial-era architecture – look out for the Hanoi Opera House or the Presidential Palace for some of the most grandiose examples.
You’ll also notice a strong French influence on food in Vietnam. Baguettes are commonplace – without them, the famous Banh Mi would be impossible! Pastries are widely available and dairy products like yoghurt and cheese are much easier to find than in other Southeast Asian countries. Coffee culture in Vietnam was introduced by the French too.
In more recent history, the US invasion of Vietnam has left a lasting mark. There are still hundreds of thousands of unexploded bombs littering Vietnam and these reek new devastation on innocent people every day. The downstream effects of Agent Orange – a pesticide used to clear vast swathes of the jungle – has caused generations of babies born with severe disabilities. Throughout the country, you’ll bear witness to the damage this war caused to the people of Vietnam. And yet, they are still a friendly, happy population who welcome tourists with open arms!
By contrast, Thailand managed to avoid colonisation by European powers. This was due to an agreement between the French and British, who wanted a neutral territory to act as a buffer zone between their colonies of Myanmar and Malaysia (British), and Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (French). The relative independence of Thailand during this era means there is less influence Western influence on Thai culture.
Instead, the country clings to a more ‘authentic’ past – whatever that actually means.
Buddhism is the leading religion, with over 95% of Thais identifying as Buddhist. There are more temples than you could ever visit in a lifetime and monks are well respected within Thai culture. Many young boys spend a year or more living as a monk as part of their spiritual growth.
Two integral parts of culture in Thailand are Muay Thai and Thai Massage. Both are important practices in Thailand dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Both can be experienced by tourists visiting the country. After all, have you even been to Thailand if you didn’t get a massage and watch a fight?!
Thai people, in general, are known for being warm and welcoming – it’s not called the ‘Land of Smiles’ for nothing! Outside the Muay Thai ring, confrontation or losing your temper isn’t valued. Instead, helpfulness and calm are truly respected.
In both Thailand and Vietnam, there is a large focus on family and loved ones, especially during festivals like Tet or Songkran, where it’s common for large families to come together and celebrate.
For the people Thailand [is best], for history, Vietnam.Kayliegh Vice – Regular Traveller To Southeast Asia And Member Of The South East Asia Backpacker Community
Thailand vs Vietnam – Must-See Spots
No matter which you decide to visit, Thailand and Vietnam both play host to epic landscapes, beautiful buildings and wonderful experiences.
Must See Spots in Thailand
Without a doubt, Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. No matter where you go in the country, as long as you’re near a coastline, you’ll find stunning beaches worthy of a National Geographic cover. From well-visited spots like Koh Phi Phi, Kata Noi and Emerald Cave to lesser-known beaches such as Ao Manao, Ton Sai and Bottle Beach, you’ll find the stretch of sand you desire in Thailand!
When in Bangkok, don’t miss the Grand Palace. While it’s no longer the residence of the Thai Royal Family, it’s still used ceremonially and is a sight to behold! For ancient palaces, temples and cities, head to Ayutthaya – the ancient capital of Siam – or Sukothai.
Must-See Spots in Vietnam
While we’re talking about motorbikes, Vietnam’s Ha Giang Loop is a fantastic multi-day motorcycle trip. But you don’t need to travel by motorbike to get up close to Vietnam’s landscapes. Take a cruise around Ha Long Bay and neighbouring Lan Ha Bay and witness the astounding karst limestone formations that make you feel like you’re in Avatar!
South Vietnam has its fair share of beaches too, with Phu Quoc offering some of the best!
Hanoi, the bustling capital in Northern Vietnam, has to be seen to be believed. The city is so fast-paced, people often resort to googling: ‘How do I cross the road in Hanoi?’
The ancient citadel of Hue gives travellers a taste of ancient Vietnam, while My Son Sanctuary is Vietnam’s answer to Angkor Wat. And if you’re looking for a tailored outfit at rock-bottom prices, look no further than the port city of Hoi An!
For more modern history, don’t miss any of the amazing Vietnam War museums or the Cu Chi Tunnels for a sobering yet interesting view of the Vietnam War from the perspective of those being invaded.
Thailand vs Vietnam – Which Is Best for Me?
Both Thailand and Vietnam offer an amazing travel experience and choosing between the two can be a headache.
For first-time travellers to Southeast Asia, Thailand offers a slightly easier experience. The tourist infrastructure is more mature, the country is more geared towards English-speaking travellers and the beaches are some of the best in the world!
Vietnam, while slightly more challenging to get around, delivers a fascinating blend of ancient cultures, colonial empires and a recent war-torn history. You’ll still find nice beaches, although not as idyllic as those in Thailand, and the natural landscapes are out of this world. Vietnam is marginally cheaper too, so if you’re looking for the most budget-friendly adventure, the ‘Land of the Ascending Dragon’ is your best bet!
If you have plenty of time in the region, we recommend visiting both but starting with Thailand, purely for the fact that it is easier to navigate for beginner travellers. However, if you have limited time, stick to one. There’s no point rushing through both countries and missing out on a bunch of cool experiences, just so you can say you’ve been to both!