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Vietnam and Thailand are the most popular holiday destinations in Southeast Asia. They are similar in climate and food, though obviously different in culture, lifestyle and travel experience.
Below we list five major differences between the two countries, to give you a quick overview and help you decide which to visit first. These are based on our own travel experiences, investigations, and partnerships with local operators.
|Vietnam …||Thailand …||Vietnam or Thailand?|
|Culture and history||… is influenced by three main religions — Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism — with a lifestyle inherited from the French colonial period.||… practises Theravada Buddhism (90%+ of the population) along with a western lifestyle.||Vietnam|
|Convenience of travel||…is okay to travel to and within the country, but a bit more effort required.||…offers easier and faster access to and within the country.||Thailand|
|Cost and currency||… accepts USD or dong; street vendors prefer dong, while most hotels and restaurants accept USD.||… accepts only Thai baht (although some prices are quoted in USD), and uses various types of card.||Thailand|
|Travel experience||… boasts diverse landscapes and authentic local experiences, with charming old quarters and ancient towns.||… is proud of quality beaches and comfort of travel, featuring Buddhist temples and festivals.||Vietnam|
|Heads up for the downside||… sometimes has issues with cheating and is not so convenient at New Year.||… has more issues with cheating, theft and porn deals, and is quite touristy.||Vietnam|
Chinese occupation has left a profound legacy in Vietnam, especially in the form of Confucianism and Taoist deities, which impact customs, traditions and beliefs. The legacy of French colonialism is most visible in distinctive French architecture.
Thailand’s culture, on the other hand, has developed in the direction of Theravada Buddhism, and many exuberant festivals are connected to both Buddhism and the changing seasons.
There are major cultural differences between Vietnam and non-Asian countries, and such differences attract westerners, many of whom prefer to escape to a destination with big differences than to one which is too similar to where they live.
The main religious belief in Vietnam is a combination of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, similar to other East Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea. These countries are all greatly influenced by Confucianism and Mahayana Buddhism.
People over 50 years of age in the northern part of Vietnam may still feel some hostility towards westerners, because of the Vietnam War, but most locals are nice to visitors.
Many overseas Vietnamese are returning to Vietnam and bringing with them Western cultural influence. Everyone is learning English and designer-clothing is common in the streets.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and the former king, Rama IX, who reigned from 9th June 1946 to 13th October 2016, was greatly loved and respected by the people. His cremation was held on 26th October 2017.
The main religion in Thailand is Theravada Buddhism. Monks have very high status and they conduct numerous Buddhist rites, from festivals to daily blessings. Most teenage boys become novice monks for a while, about a year, to earn merit for their families.
The whole country is much influenced by western thought and lifestyle. Thai people are easily satisfied and they believe that life should be fun. The Thai people have a great passion for food.
Vietnam wins among American families and among travelers who want to experience a bigger contrast in cultures compared with their home countries.
Vietnam’s internal transport system is becoming more convenient, with air transport already good, though the country’s road and rail transport infrastructure needs more upgrading. Organized trips, from day-tours to long-haul itineraries, are common. Many travel companies operate in Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City.
Thailand is highly developed in tourism with numerous airlines serving both international and domestic routes. Local transportation is convenient and tuk-tuks driving through the streets bring even more fun to the Thai experience. Thousands of tour agencies in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and renowned beach destinations like Phuket, make it easy for visitors to find appropriate travel service.
There are not that many international flights from western countries to Vietnam, only a few from big cities such as San Francisco, Paris, Sydney and Beijing. Most international flights from western cities need at least one connecting flight through Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Bangkok.
Vietnam Airlines, the country’s official international carrier, provides direct flights. Other international airlines like Cathay Pacific, Air France, Qantas and Thai Airways also serve Vietnam. A trans-pacific journey from the USA or Europe takes over 20 hours.
Thailand is served by far more airlines, from all over the world. Direct flights are available from North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. For example, Thai Airways operates direct flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok, British Airways and United Airlines offer a connecting service from New York. Qantas provides direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne.
Domestic flights in Vietnam are very convenient, and there are many flights between the main cities. However, domestic buses are not as good as those in Thailand. Trains are also available in Vietnam, but their facilities are quite basic.
For quick travel and comfortable experiences connecting between major cities, airline transportation is recommended. Two domestic airlines — Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific Airlines — serve most of the routes.
Travel around Thailand is easy and convenient. There are many domestic flights, and two airports in Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi (BKK) is one of the busiest airports in Asia, used for both international and domestic flights. The older Don Muang Airport (DMK) now mainly serves as a hub for Thai Air Asia, Nok Air and other budget airlines, providing domestic flights.
Buses in Thailand are generally in good condition and some long-distance buses even include a meal or snack, with water. Trains are also a good way to travel in Thailand, but they are a little bit slow and may be in poor condition; possibly okay for those who are staying a long time in Thailand or for those who simply love taking trains.
There are three ways of obtaining a visa for Vietnam — via a Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate, an E-Visa, or a Visa on Arrival. The E-visa is a pilot electronic visa system launched on 1st February 2017: visitors can apply for a 1-month single-entry visa by paying USD 25 via the official immigration platform.
Thailand is much more convenient with respect to visas. Passport holders from 57 countries, including the citizens of most European countries, Australia, and the US, can enter Thailand for up to 30 days without acquiring a visa beforehand. Click here to see the Tourist visa exemption scheme.
Vietnamese people engaged in tourism can speak English, but it is not as popular on the streets as in Thailand. In Thailand, English is more common, and many people in the cities can speak English. English is obligatory for children from kindergarten onwards.
Thailand wins with regard to convenience and comfort. Vietnam offers an easier taste of authentic local life.
Both Thailand and Vietnam are developing countries with a relatively low cost of living and labor, so a holiday in either country is generally affordable and good-value. They offer high-quality resorts, restaurants and tours, at prices matching a wide range of budgets.
Compared with other Asian countries, the cost of hotels in Vietnam is low. The cost of a local 4-star hotel is around USD 60, while an international 4-star hotel is about USD 100 per night, much cheaper than in China, Japan, or Korea. All major cities offer accommodation ranging from budget guesthouses to 5-star hotels.
Thailand can not only meet the backpackers’ on-a-budget requirements, but can also satisfy those who looking for a luxury experience. No matter where you are, you can choose from between budget hostels right up to the most luxurious resorts. Accommodation in Thailand is generally good value. Continue to read How Much Money for Visiting Thailand.
You can use dong or USD in Vietnam. It’s always best to carry some VND to be used for small change when purchasing street food or dining at a local restaurant. Some local shop owners or taxi drivers may add their own exchange fees or won’t give change if you pay in USD.
Exchanging currency in Vietnam’s major cities is easy and reliable, and the airport is the most comfortable place to do it. Alternatively, you can withdraw money from ATMs, though you might be charged two commissions (one by the local bank and the other by your issuing bank). The exchange rate from USD to VND currently hovers around 1:22,500 and a bottle of water costs around 5,000 VND.
Thai baht is the only currency accepted in Thailand, although some shop owners still quote prices in USD. It’s easy to exchange Thai baht in most cities, as exchange booths are conveniently located in central places or near popular tourist attractions. The current exchange rate from US Dollar to Thai Baht is about 1:31.37.
Most airport exchange counters operate 24 hours a day. ATMs can be found in all cities and most banks charge 200 baht (about 6.5 USD) for withdrawing with a foreign bank card.
Both countries offer high-value travel experiences from hotels, restaurants, and guided tours to entertainment activities.
Most visitors begin their Vietnam trip in Hanoi, before taking in several UNESCO World sites like Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An, as well as the Mekong Delta, and ending in Ho Chi Minh City. Authentic experiences in combined tours are designed for you to be inspired by street food discovery in the narrow alleys, a cooking class outside the ancient town, or a boat trip through a lively market.
Thailand is renowned for excellent beaches and profound Buddhist culture. The country’s many pleasures can be experienced from an classical itinerary starting in Bangkok, moving to neighboring historical parks like Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, then heading to the north to visit Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and ending at the beaches.
The culture is one of the most important attractions in Vietnam. Narrow alleys in the Old Quarter, the oldest and most lively commercial district in Hanoi, attract many visitors, with their historic charm and noisy street sights.
The Ancient Town of Hoi An has earned the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an impressive cultural legacy including its Chinese Assembly Hall, Japanese Covered Bridge, museum in a French-colonial house, and roadside cafes. These create a leisurely ambience for visitors to enjoy.
Hiking trails in the mountainous northern area leading to ethnic minorities are highlights of Vietnam. Natural scenery is better than in Thailand and the cruises in Ha Long Bay and boats on the Mekong River are unique.
Vietnam does have some good beaches, but they are generally not as attractive as those in Thailand.
The tourist resources in Thailand are rich, both in cultural attractions like the ruins of the ancient Lanna kingdom and in high quality beaches of the upper Andaman Coast. The land-based scenery is dominated by temples, however, which may lead to aesthetic fatigue.
Beach destinations like Phuket, Ko Samui ; and Krabi offer beautiful beaches and resorts with stunning views. Most high-end resorts are elegant, and well equipped with spas, swimming pools, fitness clubs and other facilities. The traditionally-dressed staff will give you warm service with Thai smiles.
A wide variety of water activities from sailing, waterskiing, windsurfing, fishing, and diving to snorkeling, makes the coastline an ideal paradise for aquatic fun.
Vietnam is one of the best countries for having an authentic travel experience. Whether you're taking a cooking class, a cycling tour to the countryside, or a boat trip to the floating market in the Mekong Delta, you’ll be able to come closer to the country and understand it better.
In Thailand, your travel experience might depend on the comfort of your hotels, good service attitudes or the kindness of locals. If you want to know more about local life, head to its local markets and try the street food.
Vietnam wins in diverse landscapes and authentic local experience. Thailand offers more relaxing beach holidays and exciting nightlife.
Though most local people are exceptionally friendly and helpful, tourist traps and scams come in various forms. Some are straightforward fraudulent charges, while others may be connected with porn deals. The following will highlight some common traps for you to avoid when traveling.
Cheating in the shops can be one of the most annoying problems for travelers to Vietnam. Shops may attract customers by advertising lower prices, but the price may increase at any time and you may end up pulling out more money than what was originally asked for. Continue to read Vietnam Tourist Traps and Scams.
In addition, cheating may even happen as you change money. Since the denominations of dong are very large, sometimes travelers may be confused by the trail of “0”s; so please pay attention when changing money, paying or receiving change.
Another problem is the inconvenience when traveling in Vietnam during Vietnamese New Year (late January to mid-February). Since New Year is a time for family reunion, local people will migrate back to their hometowns before New Year. Most shops, offices or businesses will close for a week and the traffic will be extraordinarily busy.
Cheating of some kind may also happen in Thailand. Some restaurants have two menus, one for locals and the other with higher prices for foreigners. Some tuk-tuk drivers may tell you they can take you to visit many temples and you need only pay 20 baht.
After visiting a few ordinary temples, they'll convince you to go to massage shops and tailors they recommend. The prices in those shops will certainly shock you, for they will be two or three times higher than the normal prices. Continue to read How to Avoid Tourist Traps in Thailand.
Thailand’s medical system is very good compared with Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, and relative to American or European medical costs, it is cheap.
Porn deals are hard to avoid in Thailand. The sex industry generates upwards of 100 billion baht each year. When you travel in Thailand, you will be vulnerable to being caught up in this. Please note that some people may try and earn money from you via sexual transactions.
Theft of credit cards and passports is common in Thailand. Therefore, it’s best to buy insurance for personal property to protect against loss.
Vietnam wins in general honesty and simplicity. Thailand is relatively not quite so safe and porn deals are not uncommon.
Asia Highlights will help you plan your trip to Vietnam or Thailand, using our professional service. We tailor-make your trip to match your interests, time and budget, and make your holiday smooth and enjoyable.