indonesia vs vietnam

Indonesia vs Vietnam: Your Guide to Choosing

Two amazing countries, both located in Southeast Asia, but oh, so different and yet equally beautiful and interesting! It is tough having to decide where to go so we decided to thoroughly compare the two.

Capital cityJakartaHanoi
Most popular destinationBaliHo Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)
Natural attractionBorneoHalong Bay
Nightlife destinationJakarta and BaliHo Chi Minh City



While Indonesia is mostly a Muslim country infused with some hints of animism there are also islands and areas following Catholicism and Hinduism. It is a dynamic melting pot spread out over the 1700+ islands that Indonesia is home to. Vietnam mixes Buddhism with Confucianism and Taoism, known as Tam Giáo which translates to ‘triple religion’. Buddhism, influenced by the Chinese culture, is leading in the country.


Vietnam has over 20.000 pagodas and Indonesia has got tons of Hindu and Buddhist temples as well, dating back to ancient days, before Islam arrived at the country. When entering a pagoda or a temple, always remember to take off your shoes in order to be respectful. In Indonesia, it is also appropriate to wear a sarong covering your knees as well as something to cover your shoulders and breasts.


Where to begin describing the highlights of such massive and stunning countries? Well, I gotta start somewhere, but do realize that it is only the tip of the iceberg.


The land of rice paddies, tobacco plantations, coconut groves, active volcanoes, emerald rivers, dense tropical jungle and islands, so many islands!

indonesia vs vietnam
Photo by Dikaseva on Unsplash

Borobudur Java

This ancient temple complex, located in ‘special region of Yogyakarta’ on the island Java is probably the most famous tourist attraction in all of Indonesia. While most people go to see the sunrise at Borobudur, I enjoyed going a bit, avoiding the crowds and really allowing myself to get enchanted by the beauty of this impressive archaeological site.

Lake Toba Sumatra

This is the world’s largest crater lake and the island in the middle, Pulau Samosir, is home to the indigenous Batak Tribe. Nature is beautifully untouched, the culture and architecture of the Bataks are unique and intriguing and you can be sure to find peace of mind here at Lake Toba in the north of Sumatra.

Orang Utans

These human-like apes are native to Indonesia and they are living in the dense tropical rainforests of Sumatra and Kalimantan. You can go on a jungle trekking to spot them in their natural habitat, alongside other monkeys and creatures of the forest. Head towards the national parks of these islands and be amazed!


Though Bali attracts millions of tourist every year, this little Hindu island doesn’t lose its magic and the advantage of being a popular tourist hub is that Bali is home to beach clubs, world-class restaurants, and boutique shops. Traveling away from the busy tourist towns brings you to beautiful beaches, holy temples, mountains and rice paddies.

Travel to: Bali

Komodo Island

During the boat trip to see the Komodo Dragon, the largest lizard in the world that only lives on Komodo Island near Flores, you will sleep on the boat deck beneath a million of stars, you will see hundreds of bats fly over during sunset and sunrise and you will get to go snorkeling with the magical manta rays. Definitely one of my traveling highlights!

Gili Islands

No traffic whatsoever! Only horse cards, bicycles, and beaches. The three Gili Islands, located just offshore at the island Lombok have something for everyone; nature and tranquility, beaches and parties and snorkeling and diving.


All the islands in Indonesia are volcanic and they feature majestic holy mountains that you can climb or admire from a distance as the sun rises. If you are up for a good hike, put Mount Bromo and Mount Ijen in Java, Mount Agung in Bali and Mount Rinjani in Lombok on your bucket list.


People mostly travel to Vietnam for the culture and the breathtaking sites of nature. Here are some of Vietnam’s highlights:

Photo by Fré Sonneveld on Unsplash

Halong Bay

Probably one of the most beautiful sites of nature in the world, Halong Bay features tons of rocky limestone islands scattered around the emerald waters of northern Vietnam. A place where fairy tales were invented! Hop on a boat on a clear sunny day to make the most out of your trip and make sure to pinch yourself to see if you are not dreaming…

Mekong Delta Floating Market

Another thing Vietnam is famous for are the floating markets – an extraordinary way of getting your grocery shopping done. The Mekong River is home to numerous floating houses and markets, colorful, playful, scenting, and lively, surrounded by magnificent rice paddies.

Hoang Lien Son – Hmong Villages trekking

Hoang Lien is the highest mountain in Vietnam and it is home to indigenous tribes and villages that you can visit during nature treks in this area of northern Vietnam. A great way to see the raw untouched nature and get a glimpse of the local culture.

Travel to: Vietnam

Hoi An – UNESCO Town

Hoi An is an atmospheric ancient trading port town, named as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Colorful and lively, Hoi An has adapted to tourism with trendy tea houses, restaurants and lounge bars and yet the old charm still remains. Travel a bit out the center, and you will find beautiful cycling routes through the rural life and landscapes of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh Cu Chi tunnels

Marks of the Vietnam War are visible in Ho Chi Minh where you can wander through the Cu Chi underground tunnels that lie beneath the city. A scary yet intriguing place, a former hiding place for Viet Cong soldiers and a war memorial park in these modern days.

When you are in Ho Chi Minh City, don’t miss a night in the backpackers’ area. There are plenty of pubs and bars, as well as local restaurants that offer authentic Vietnamese food. If you want to do something different, you can sign up in cooking classes or volunteer activities in villages. Carry light clothes as the weather in Vietnam is quite hot. Even though Ho Chi Minh City is the commercial hub in Vietnam, it is still an interesting place to visit because it is a good mix of history and modernization. – Claire, First-Time Travels

Yok Don National Park

The largest national park in all of Vietnam. It is a bird paradise and a sanctuary for the endangered Indian elephant, the Indochinese tiger and leopard and the red wolf.

Southern Beaches

Beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Vietnam, but actually, it should! There are lots of them and they are no less beautiful than the beaches in Thailand or other popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia.

For me Sapa was my number one place we visited in Vietnam. It just seemed to have everything that makes this country so special. Amazing landscapes, unique culture and adventure around every corner. Up here it’s easy to think the town itself is a little spoilt by tourism, but head out trekking with one of the local H’Mong guides, through remote tribal villages, jaw dropping rice terraces and immerse yourself in the culture up here in one of the many homestays and you will see that there is many authentic experiences to be had up here.

A little more off he beaten track and again for me the most intense experience in our 7 weeks on bikes through the country was riding the Ho Chi Minh trail along the border with Laos. This is not for the faint hearted and involved riding for 2 days through isolated mountain passes, tiny villages where the whole tribe would come to greet us and virtually no petrol station or help if needed. We had to carry our own fuel and food and ride through some challenging terrain before finally heading into the unforgettable scenery of Phong Nha Khe Bang. Tiring, mentally taxing but absolutely amazing.

I also have to mention the canyoning in Da Lat, leaping 11m into a narrow waterfall was certainly a heart racing challenge in beautiful scenery. – Nic & Paul, The Roaming Renegades


Surely one of the main reasons to visit these amazing countries is to get a taste of the authentic local food. Both are delicious but very different. One thing the Indonesians and the Vietnamese share in common, and that is that they like it hot. Hot as in painfully spicy, that is…

vietnam food
Photo by Alice Young on Unsplash


The Indonesians like to eat with their hands and rice takes part of almost every meal. The rice is eaten with an array of richly flavored dishes such as fried tempeh, sambal eggs, chicken or fish curry or the famous Rendang beef stew. Chili is added on the side, in case it’s not spicy enough for you already.

Here’s a short list of the most delicious Indonesian dishes:

  • Sambal: this chili-based sauce is a staple at all Indonesian tables
  • Satay: meat skewers marinated in turmeric, barbecued and then bathed in a hearty dose of peanut sauce
  • Bakso: savory meatball noodle soup appreciated also by Barack Obama!


In Vietnam, you will learn how to eat your food with chopsticks! I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get enough of those bowls of hot steaming Pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup that comes with either chicken, beef or prawns and a whole lot of local spices and herbs. Absolutely yummy! The fresh spring rolls Goi Cuon are also not to be missed and for breakfast, you can try the bahn mi banquets or the bahn xeo pancakes.

Must try food for us is Bahn Mi. It’s like a cheese, egg and salad baguette (you can get meat but we are veggie) that you can buy on the street most notably in Hanoi and Hoi An. It’s got influence from the French era here and is made in a very Vietnamese way and is of course dirt cheap! – Nic & Paul, The Roaming Renegades

Here’s a list of the most famous Vietnamese dishes:

  • Pho: salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef
  • Cha ca: sizzling chunks of fish seasoned with garlic, ginger, turmeric and dill on a hot pan tableside
  • Banh xeo: crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs

For young people, I think the nightlife in Saigon is definitely a must. The drinks are cheap and the sitting culture is very odd but worth the experience. If you have more time, you should definitely look into staying with local host families where you will get the chance to eat, speak, live and breath a culture that is far away from yours. Most Vietnamese families don’t speak English so take this chance to be in a challenging environment. It will change your life! – Trisha, P.S. I’m On My Way

southeast asia transport
Photo by Đức Mạnh on Unsplash

Getting Around


In Indonesia you can’t get around to making use of the planes and/or boats as the country is huge, comprising thousands of islands. Depending on which Island you are, you can use the local Ojeks or Rickshaws (bicycle and motorbike taxi’s) and Bemo’s to move around in the cities and towns. You can also drive a motorbike yourself if you can and dare. For long distance travels, take the bus, train or hire a private car with a driver.


Frequent trains and open tour buses can move you across the country affordably and comfortably. Lots of travelers choose to hire or even buy a motorbike to get around by themselves independently, selling the bike again at the end of their trip. Around the cities, you can move around easily by hopping on a Xe Om motorbike taxi or a Cyclo bicycle rickshaw.


Indonesia and Vietnam are comparable in price and both very affordable. You can enjoy a good meal for less than USD $2 and there are accommodations for every budget. Both countries have their own currency; the Rupiah in Indonesia and the Dong in Vietnam. Be prepared to pay more for your beers and cocktails in Indonesia because the country applies a crazy high import tax rate on alcohol.

Be prepared to be ripped off. Vietnam is one of those Southeast Asian countries who are known for heavily hustling so if you don’t have the stomach (and skills) for dealing with it, it might affect your travel mood. The trick is to be firm (sounds like a very complex word) but if they feel like you know what you are doing, they will get off your radar.  – Trisha, P.S. I’m On My Way

Phrases and Words

Here some useful words and phrases to use while in


Selamat pagi
Good morning
Apa kabar?
How are you?
Kabar baik
I’m good
Apa in?
What is it?
Dua orang
Two people



Xin chao!
Tam Biet
Toi la…
My name is…
Xin loi
Excuse me

So, which one is better?

Both countries are amazing. According to many travelers, Vietnam is more ‘off the beaten track’ than Indonesia, even though is safe to travel around. Indonesia is more developed and so more expensive, but it has definitely amazing beaches.

Stephanie went out to see the world and never came back. From the lowlands of Europe, she traveled eastwards and she is still on the way to seeing the rest of the world. She loves being out in nature, meeting people of different cultures, making music and writing blogs about her travel experiences.

walking with suitcase
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