We don’t envy you having to decide between Bali or a Thailand trip, that is one tough decision. However, we’ve done some of the legwork by putting together a top-notch guide that looks at these beautiful southeast Asian countries, which will make deciding where to take your next trip a little easier.
The first things we think of in southeast Asia are the beautiful palm-fringed beaches where you can sip coconuts and laze in a hammock before cooling off in the blue sea. The good news is that both Thailand and Bali have got kilometres of beautiful sandy shores! But how do they compare?
Travel to: Southeast Asia
Beaches in Bali
The island of Bali is surrounded by beaches. There are powdery white sands in the south where you can watch the sunset in the Indian Ocean, at others you can lounge at beach clubs, or go swimming and surfing. In the eastern and northern parts of Bali, you’ll find pristine volcanic black-sand beaches, ideal for snorkelling and diving.
Read more about Bali with our most popular articles here:
- Where to Stay in Bali: From Bungalows to Villas and More
- Bali Vs Hawaii: Which Island Escape is For You?
- 4 Incredible Indonesian Islands That Aren’t Bali
- Bali in 9 Spectacular Images
Beaches in Thailand
There’s something magical about Thailand, something that can only be experienced first hand. The inviting, friendly atmosphere will have you mesmerized within moments. For the best beaches in Thailand head down south where all of the idyllic tropical islands are found, from secluded beaches to party islands where the famous Full Moon party is held every month. The beaches in Thailand are picture-perfect, and the sea is mostly calm, making it haven for diving and snorkelling.
Read more about Thailand with our most popular articles here:
- Ultimate Thailand Packing List for a Solo Traveller
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- 2 Weeks in Thailand for Every Budget
- We Rank 11 of Thailand’s Islands
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What to see and do in Bali
Kuta, Legian & Seminyak
When you reach Bali for your tour or travels, you will arrive in Kuta, a buzzing town that is both loved and hated by travellers around the world.
Upon arrival at the international airport of Bali to either start your tour or solo travels, you will be in Kuta – a busy town that is both loved and hated by travellers around the world. The beautiful stretch of ‘sunset beach’ begins at the airport stretches all the way to the end of Seminyak, where watching the sun disappear from the sky is magnificent!
Kuta, Legian and trendy Seminyak are located side by side, and it is one buzzing area that never sleeps, home to plenty of shops, restaurants, beach clubs and nightlife.
Ubud is the cultural heart of the island, fringed by rainforest, river valleys and rice paddies. It is also considered the go-to place for yoga, health food, visiting wilderness reserves and spiritual healers making Ubud is enchanting. Around the town there are lots of things to do such as rafting, visiting local craftsman villages, cycling through the rice paddies and seeing natural rainforests.
The southern tip of Bali (Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Bukit Peninsula)
In this part of Bali, you will find the most beautiful beaches somewhere between the dramatic limestone cliffs and hills. Sunsets are amazing as well, and the sea is a paradise for surfers and for those wanting to swim.
Amed is tranquil, unspoiled by tourism and just so easy to fall in love with! This sleepy village borders a calm sea with beautiful coral gardens and colourful sea creatures. Amed is surrounded by nature with the sacred Mount Agung, Bali’s highest volcano, as the backdrop. Enchanting!
The tourist town of Lovina is famous for dolphins. Every morning hundreds of these impressive marine animals can be spotted out at sea, not too far from the coastline. Furthermore, Lovina is a great base from where to explore the waterfalls, hot springs and temples of northern Bali.
When heading to the dramatic cliffs of Uluwatu, be careful about the monkeys. Many of them are specially trained by the bystanders to snatch people’s accessories – including cellphones and glasses. The tourist will then be forced to ask one of the bystanders to retrieve the items back and thus be compelled to “tip” him for it.
Most people who visit Bali don’t end up anywhere north of Denpasar which is a shame. A trip to Bali is certainly not complete without heading out to experience the tranquil and creative nature of Ubud as well as its many charming cafes and restaurants. Bebek Bengil, in particular, is recommended for its crispy duck.
One reason why Bali is such an appealing destination is because it offers so much to every type of traveler. Whether you are an adventure seeker, a family with kids or a solo traveler looking for a place to unwind, there is always a part of Bali that has you covered. The only obvious type that comes to mind is someone looking for a cold or winter destination. Bali is warm all year round. – Bino, I Wander
What to see and do in Thailand
The infamous and vibrant city of Bangkok is where you will most likely start your trip in Thailand. Bangkok is alive and will intoxicate your senses sights and sounds. Most people love it or hate it, but a trip to this county is not complete without visiting Khao San Road, the backpacker’s haven of Thailand. If you’re searching for the hub of activity in Bangkok, this market strip is where you need to go.
The atmosphere is infectious. The street is filled with the scent of freshly made Thai food, the local vendors can be found selling the finest goods, and it is home to some of the most inexpensive guest houses and bars, perfect travellers on a budget!
Chiang Mai & Pai
To escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, head north to Chiang Mai for an immediate change of pace where you will be surrounded by dozens of decadent temples. The cooler climate and nature are an alternative backpacker’s scene. Explore the many food markets and allow your taste buds to experience the unique flavours of northern Thai cuisine, organize a local hill-tribe trek or sit back and take in the beauty of the area.
If you’re travelling to northern parts of Thailand, you won’t want to miss the laidback town of Pai with its backdrop of picture-perfect mountains. In Pai, you can set your sights on the many kayaking and rafting adventures that can be found, or take it easy with a gentle trek to the Lahu, Lisu, and Karen villages.
Ko Phangan & Ko Tao
These two islands are much-loved travel destinations for snorkelling, diving and full moon parties. The islands have beautiful beaches, tons of like-minded travellers and diving addicts, massage salons and parties. Ko Tao is quieter than Ko Phangan.
Ko Phi Phi
Glossy brochures showcasing Thailand more often than not feature the beautiful bay of Ko Phi Phi, with its idyllic shore, traditional long-tail boats and white sandy beaches with swaying palm trees. Ko Phi Phi is a lively tourist town that attracts lots of travellers and it was one of the filming locations for The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Spend your days here hopping off to the nearby Maya Bay, go rock-climbing across the jagged cliffs that tower over the island or snorkel through the blue-hued waters.
Phuket is one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations. A big island in the Andaman Sea, surrounded by idyllic beaches and home to countless nightclubs, markets and tourist attractions. Phuket has something for everyone. If you are not into the party scene and nighttime shows in Patong, head to the other side of the island to get away from the crowds and enjoy the natural beauty instead.
Bali vs. Thailand: Culture
Both Thailand and Bali have rich cultures where temples, markets, and religion play a big role in daily local life. Thailand is mostly Buddhist, while Bali is the only Hindu island of Indonesia, different from the Hindu culture of India, making it truly unique. In Thailand, you will see tons of impressive Buddhist temples with golden and white marble Buddha statues, visited by the Thai monks in ritual orange clothing.
In Bali, you will see little handmade offerings for the many Hindu gods on every corner of every street and in front of almost every house. You will see ceremonies on the streets and hear mystical music echoing from the temples, even from a distance.
Both countries have adapted to tourism, and therefore it’s relatively easy to get around only speaking English. When entering temples in Bali and Thailand, be sure to take off your sandals and cover your knees with a sarong. In Thailand, you will also need to cover your shoulders. Bargaining is also part of the culture in both Thailand and Bali. Don’t get annoyed, try to see the fun of it, stay friendly and play the game. Do note that once you have settled on a price, it is rude not to take it.
Most of Indonesia is Muslim and therefore not pork-friendly, but the Balinese absolutely love it! There are lots of local eating places selling ‘babi guling’ or suckling pig, as we know it. Apart from that, Bali is similar to the rest of Indonesia, with fried rice (nasi goreng), fried noodles (mie goreng) and chicken saté.
Want to taste the best of Indonesian cuisine? At the local warungs, you can get a plate of nasi campur. Just point at the dishes on display that you want with your rice. This style of dining is a great way to get to know the local flavours and be sure to try the crispy tempeh and the rendang.
When you are in Thailand, you have to get a plate of pad thai – a noodle dish sold by street vendors and at local markets. The Thai green and red curries are also delicious! Do let them know if you are not into spicy food, or you will be on fire! The Thai people love meat, fish and seafood, all cooked with fresh herbs and local spices. Make sure to try the sticky rice with mango for dessert.
Bali vs. Thailand: Getting around
Thailand is perfect for travelling around using public transport. There are buses, trains and planes leaving from A to B all the time and it’s cheap. Bali is less tourist-friendly for backpackers on a budget wanting to travel around the island. There are shuttle buses and private chauffeurs, but they are on the expensive side in comparison with Thailand’s public transport. However, since Bali is small, it is great to circle the island at least once on a motorbike, something you could never do in Thailand because it’s too simply too big.
If you’re looking to travel Bali, make sure you do your research on visas and the visa extension process. The government is quite strict on visas in Indonesia, and you can end up paying a lot of money if you overstay your welcome!
We loved Ubud in central Bali. Take a tour of the rice terraces, hike up Mount Batur for sunset, and make sure to stop by The Yoga Barn for a yoga class. There are also a ton of great restaurants in Ubud, and many that cater to healthy eating, which we love! A few of our favorite restaurants in Ubud are Kafe, Sayuri, Kismet, Atman, Bali Buddha and Taco Casa!
As well, Uluwatu in the south is an amazing place to spend at least a day. The landscape is dramatically different from central Bali and the beaches are very unique. We also loved Canggu, and a visit to Canggu isn’t complete without a stop at Crate for an amazing brunch!
Bali has something for everyone. Canggu and Uluwatu cater to the surfing and yoga crowd. Seminyak and Kuta have beach clubs and night clubs that you can party until all hours at. Ubud has a slow vibe and a vibrant health and wellness community through the plentiful yoga studios and food options.
Nusa Dua has resort upon resort upon resort. And that is just a few of the many places that you can visit in Bali. Do your research beforehand to choose the best place for you and what you like to do when you travel! – Amanda & Ryan, The World Wonderers
Bali vs. Thailand: Budget
Thailand has got the Thai Baht and Bali the Indonesian Rupiah as the local currency, and both destinations are cheap. Prices for food and accommodation are similar in the main tourist destinations of Thailand and Bali. When going off-the-beaten-track somewhat, Thailand might be a little cheaper than Bali.
If you’re unsure about your travel plans, don’t forget to explore the option of joining a group tour for a hassle-free planning experience if you’re unsure of where to go next. Plus, you can meet other like-minded travellers!