Bali vs Thailand, a guide to choosing which is better

Bali vs Thailand | A Brutally Honest Comparison

Bali or Thailand, Thailand or Bali?

With decisions like these, it’s a tough life right?

While both destinations are incredible, and in an ideal world you could travel to Bali Thailand (and everywhere else in SE Asia), I’m assuming you’re here because you have limited time and need to figure out whether it is better to visit Bali vs Thailand in your situation.

Well, don’t worry: I’ve got you covered!

In this post I’ll go over the pros and cons of Thailand vs Bali, and help you figure out whether Bali or Thailand is best in your situation.

Why should you trust me?

Well, because I know my stuff! I’m an American travel blogger who has been traveling non-stop for more than 6 years. I’ve been to both places multiple times on my trip, and even lived in Thailand for a few months recently.

Before we get into the weeds of Bali vs Thailand, I’m going to answer this question right away:

Which is better, Bali or Thailand? 

The short answer is: You can’t go wrong with either Bali or Thailand!

There are some significant differences between the two to consider — mainly that Bali is one island in the much larger country of Indonesia. But they are both are amazing (it’s no wonder they are both among the most popular destinations in Asia), and I’ll happily return to both Bali and Thailand.

So use the guide to help you pick, but be confident in whatever destination you choose because I think you’ll have an incredible vacation at either spot!

Bali vs Thailand: A Quick Guide to Choosing

Here’s what I’m going to do in this guide:

First, I’ll quickly make the case for picking each of Thailand and Bali.

Second, I’ll cover 6 key differences between the two.

Lastly, I’ll give you 3 questions you need to ask yourself in order to decide if Bali or Thailand is best for your situation!

The Case for Picking Thailand over Bali

Bali Thailand - the case for Thailand
Thailand fast facts

Thailand is beautiful and relatively safe (though you should still consider buying travel insurance for Thailand due to the crazy roads!).

Thailand is ALSO huge, and has something for everyone. I mean, just check out these 17 awesome places to visit in Thailand and you’ll see what I mean – there’s just so much variety to do!

So whether you’re a backpacker doing some Thailand solo travel, a family on vacation, or a couple on honeymoon.

Want to bounce between tiny sun-soaked islands until you find your perfect slice of paradise?

Great. Thailand has HUNDREDS of islands to choose from.

Or maybe you’d rather enjoy some time in the mountains, visiting with elephants and exploring temples by day, while relaxing enjoying the culture by night?

Thailand has that too. Just head on up to Chiang Mai, Pai, or Chiang Rai and you’ll feel like you’ve left the islands for an entirely different country.

Or maybe you’re a city slicker who needs public transport, pulsating nightlife, and modern shopping centers?

Well, Bangkok is a world class city. And, with so many things to do there, it’s just waiting to be explored.

Sometimes bigger really is better right?

The Case for Picking Bali over Thailand

Bali vs Thailand: The Case for Bali
Bali fast facts

Bali isn’t a country. It’s one island within Indonesia. So of course it is much smaller than Thailand. As a travel destination, however, it packs in so much that you’ll hardly notice it.

You can wake up for a sunrise hike of Mount Batur (an active volcano), spend the afternoon staring over rice terraces and exploring the Monkey Forrest, and still be back at Seminyak beach in time in time to sip a drink while watching the sunset!

If you’re looking for a place to relax, Bali has everything you need. From long stretches of beaches, tons of boutique hotels and resorts, and a world-famous culture known for welcoming visitors, it’s no wonder so many people fall in love with Bali.

But Bali is also a great place for adventure seekers. There’s quality surfing here, not to mention rafting, hiking, ATVs, and more. So while Bali may be the underdog in terms of size, there is still more than enough to spend a week in Bali or even more.

And while not quite as cheap as Thailand, costs in Bali are remarkably affordable. For example, you can hire a private driver for about $45/day! Which means Bali is a great place to enjoy some luxury on a budget.

6 Key Differences Between Bali and Thailand

Bali Thailand - Koh Lanta Island
Koh Lanta in Thailand

There are a lot of similarities between Bali and Thailand. Both are amazing destinations with incredible beaches, great food, welcoming cultures, tons of history, gorgeous temples, stunning landscapes, and lots of quality accommodation.

With that said, there are a few differences that matter when choosing Bali vs Thailand:

#1 Thailand is MUCH bigger

There is one HUGE difference you need to be aware of when comparing Thailand vs Bali: Thailand is an enormous country consisting of islands, cities, mountains, islands, and much more. Bali is a single island within the much larger country of Indonesia.

So you need to be aware upfront that comparing Bali vs Thailand is a little like comparing apples and oranges, at least without knowing where specifically in Thailand you want to go.

#2 Bali is Easier to Get Around

Bali, meanwhile, is just one island (albeit a large one) within the country of Indonesia. Bali packs a ton into such a small space, so I wouldn’t discount it based on size in this match up.

And the flip-side of Bali’s smaller size is that it’s much easier to get around. It’s only a few hours between destinations, and many tourists even opt to just set up a single base and use it for day trips around the island.

#3 They Have Different Rainy Seasons

Bali’s location closer to Oceania means it has a different monsoon season (October – April) than Thailand (July – October).

I’ve visited both during the rainy season and, honestly, the rain isn’t THAT bad (usually just flash storms that blow over quickly). But, still, if you can, it’s better to visit outside the rainy season.

#4 Thailand Has Better Beaches

In my opinion, the beaches on the Thai islands blow Bali’s beaches out of the water. The sand is just so much nicer, and the water clearer. Not that the beaches in Bali are bad … Thailand’s beaches are just THAT good.

#5 Bali Has More Activities Per Square Kilometer

The really nice thing about Bali is that you can do so many different things in such a compact area. You can go rafting, surfing, climb volcanos, visit monkeys, or tour the amazing rice terraces — often all in the same day!

Thailand has a lot to do, don’t get me wrong. It’s just more spread out than in Bali.

#6 Cost is About the Same, But Thailand is Cheaper for Backpackers

Both Bali and Thailand are pretty budget-friendly destinations. And if you’re a mid-range or luxury traveler, you’ll find tons of cool accommodation options (like hidden jungle retreats) at a reasonable price in both destinations.

With that said, the story is a bit different for backpacks.

According to the Price of Travel index for backpackers, Thailand’s cities clock in a hair cheaper than Bali. It’s not a huge difference (a strong case can be made for Bali as a backpacker destination), but for backpackers on a tight budget, I would probably say Thailand is a better bet.

Prices are very different depending on whether it is high season or not, though, so bear that in mind as well.

Bottom Line: 3 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Bali Thailand or Elsewhere

Bali Thailand: a flower in Bali
Balii Thailand – you can’t go wrong either way!

First, remember what I said at the start of this post:

You can’t go wrong choosing Thailand OR Bali. Both are incredible and you will have a great trip either way!

But if you still can’t narrow it down, here’s a few questions that I’d ask to decide on Thailand vs Bali:

#1 When is Your Southeast Asia Trip?

Since Bali and Thailand have different rainy seasons and high season, this is an easy way to choose between the two.

For example, if you are traveling in July, Bali is going to be more pleasant weather-wise (though see here for a good list of what to pack for Bali), although you’ll have to contend with high season prices.

#2 Which Flights are Easier and Cheaper?

This is a simple one but don’t overlook it! If you’re coming from Australia, for example, Bali is going to be a bit closer and perhaps a bit cheaper. But Thailand’s Bangkok airport is one of the largest in the world and often you can find great deals there as well.

#3 Do You Want to Explore A Lot or Minimize Travel?

As I mentioned above, size is one of the chief differences between Thailand and Bali.

So if you have the time and the desire to explore a lot of different destinations, you’ll find more variety in enormous Thailand. But if you’re on a limited schedule, or just don’t want to move around that much, Bali may be better in your circumstance.

***

That’s it for this quick guide on picking Thailand vs Bali! I hope it’s been helpful and I would love to hear your thoughts. Just scroll to the bottom and leave me a comment!

And, if you’re looking for something fun to read, check out my tips for how to travel alone in Thailand!

Lastly, if you’re on Pinterest, you can pin this post here:

Bali vs Thailand: How do you choose which of these great Southeast Asia destinations is best for you? Check out this quick guide to picking. #bali #thailand #southeastasia
Pin Bali vs Thailand on Pinterest!

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36 Comments

  1. Thanks for the info Nate! I’m cashing in a travel credit for a 9 day trip in early March and trying to choose somewhere warm, lush and foreign with enough variety to explore somewhere new every day or two. I’ve been to Thailand before (~3wks in the jungle, 4 days in Pattaya Beach) and loved it. Think I might just go back!

    1. Thailand is beautiful! I’m actually currently in Ao Nang. A bit touristy but Railay beach if world class. Do let me know if I can help enjoy your trip!

  2. Thanks. Which has the best medical facilities if you are unlucky enough to get sick? BALI or Phuket? Thanks for your advice.

    1. Hy
      My Huby had an bacterial infection and within 1 our we had a doc and a nurse in our hotel. We were in Bali, 3 weeks ago. I needed antibiotics, had an infection too, i even got the same antibiotics i get here, at home in Switzerland.

  3. No surf in Thailand, Bali has some of the best waves on the planet and has a round in the WSL world championship.

    1. Yes it does…Nai Harn beach in the very south of Phuket, it’s only a small break but can be a whole lot of fun when the conditions are right.

    1. October is shoulder season in Bali, and also in large parts of Thailand. It’s still going to be fairly wet in either destination. Still, I’ve traveled to both during the monsoons and it can actually be refreshing (it doesn’t rain all day – more like really intense and short downpours once or twice a day). Chiang Mai and the north of Thailand are probably the driest places to go during October.

  4. Hi Nate … I’m going back to Thailand in February of 2023. First stop is to Phuket to scuba dive. I’ve never been to Phuket before so any advice is welcome. Then I’m going to Chiang Mai which I’ve been to before but this time I want to go to Chiang Rai, Pai and wherever I find interesting. Do you have any suggestions as to places to visit around there? I’m going solo so I have a lot of flexibility.
    Thanks so much,
    Carol from Florida USA

    1. The first thing I would say is to research visiting the north (especially Chiang Mai and Pai) in the later part of February. That is “burning season”, when the air becomes covered in smoke from fires that are systemically set to clear farmland. The exact start of burning season varies each year, but usually starts sometime in February and continues through April. In general, I would not advise traveling to the north during burning season, so I’d consider either skipping it or trying to visit in the early part of the month.

      Phuket is beautiful and, in fact, a place that is on my personal itinerary for this coming January. It is much more developed than the smaller Thai islands. From there, you can check out several nearby islands include the famous Koh Phi Phi and lesser known places like Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai. You could also continue across the sea to Krabi, which is one of my favorite beach towns.

      If you like scuba, I’d say look into Koh Tao. Although February is a little rainy there and it’s a little hard to get to, Koh Tao is generally considered to have some of the best diving in Thailand.

      For more, you can see our article on where to go in Thailand. Hope you have a fun trip!

      1. Hey, Nate,
        I just got back from Thailand earlier this year. My favorite part was island hopping (Railay was my favorite. I’m looking to travel again for a few weeks in December. I have been considering Bali and read there are small islands around it. Do you know if it’s similar to Thailand in that way? Stuck deciding going back to a place I loved or trying something new.
        Thanks

        1. Bali and all of Indonesia is great too! Yes, there are smaller islands around Bali – you can easily go to nearby Lombok (a large island like Bali, with a different vibe) and the Gili islands (smaller islands more similar in vibe to Koh Tao or Koh Phi Phi). Indonesia is an island chain nation, so there are many more islands to explore even beyond that!

    2. Dear Nate:
      I am coming to Bali in mid January 2023 from the U.S. my round trip flights are in and out of Singapore. For example my return flight from Singapore to New York is 10:30pm. I am booking my flight from and back to Singapore after visiting Bali. I want to know how early a flight I need to catch to be 100% sure not to my flight from Singapore to NYC. I am fully aware of the 3-2-1 rule. I simply don’t know if there are often delays from Bali to Singapore. There is a flight, for example, flies from Singapore at around 5pm, arrives in Singapore around 7:30pm, perfect for connection. But since the ticket is not part of the longer flight, I am afraid of any reasons that may caused delays. Jan. 20 is part of the rainy season. Do rainy seasons see flights not able to fly? Am I worrying too much about it? What is your suggesting of the flight time that I should observe to book the ticket. Thanks.

      1. Have you thought about spending a night in Singapore? It’s a great place to see, especially all lit up in the evening. And a great train to and from the airport. Alternatively, you could risk the connection, but there’s always a risk when it’s not part of the same booking.

  5. Hey Nate!
    Its our first anniversary in December 2022, the next month. We are planning to go to either Thailand or Bali. Really confused between the two but overexcited too. Though your guidance really helped to get a clearer view of the two. But still I want your suggestion on the below 3 things and let me know which is the best for us.
    1) I am an explorer and want to explore way too much wherever I go from either two, so which will you suggest?
    2) Which is better in terms of weather in December?
    3) Want to do water sports activity, scuba diving for sure so which would be better for overall water sports?
    Kindly suggest on these basis
    Thank you in advance!

    1. Sounds like a fun trip! I would suggest Thailand given what you’ve described. December is rainy in Bali, and most days you will have rain (though it can still be pleasant during this time!). Thailand is bigger than Bali, being that it’s a country versus a single island, but both have plenty to explore. For water sports, I think Thailand is better. Check out Koh Tao for diving.

  6. Hi Nate,
    We are planning to visit to either Thailand or Bali, but confused since both are equally beautiful. We, me & my husband loves less crowdy & calm places. Which of these will be more suitable then? Also I want to know which of these place has places where kids will enjoy? like zoo or aquarium etc.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Preshita – you can find family friendly places in both. I would choose based on the time of year you plan to visit, so you get the best weather. May to September is better for Bali. October to April better for Thailand.

  7. Thankyou so much Nate.
    I would also want to know The Dolphin show and the Tiger kingdom in Phuket is open all over the year or only in specific months or dates?
    so can plan accordingly.

  8. My husband and I are traveling to Bali September of 2023 and we are trying to plan where to stay. We would love to be on the beach, although I am not sure if this is really possible from the research I’ve done so far. My husband loves to hear the waves crashing and would like to try and find a place that he could have that. We also are thinking of an airbnb/vrbo instead of a hotel. What are you recommendations? Thanks

  9. Hey man, I’m going to Thailand this coming January. I’m hitting Phuket, Phi Phi, and Krabi after I’m done with Bangkok. Do you recommend hitting them in any specific order? Thanks

    1. All great places, and I actually have a similar trip coming up myself. You can either fly into Phuket, take a boat to Phi Phi, take another to Krabi and fly out of there. Or do the reverse route. I would pick based on which flights are better for you.

  10. Hello Nate,
    So I’m trying to plan my 40th birthday day March 2023. I plan on having large group travel however in this group we have party goers, beach lovers, nature lovers, activities junkies! My questions:
    Should I book extended stay in one place or break up the stay to visit different places?

    Is there an ideal area that can accommodate what everyone is interested in?

    What are some places that we just have to see or visit?

    Some good places to eat that can accommodate the picky eaters and those who wanna try new things?

    Most importantly how can I enjoy my 40th birthday with a bang?!

    Is it easier to hire a host for large group?Thanks for your guidance

    1. Both Bali and Thailand could work well for group trips. There is something for every type of traveler you mention in both Bali and Thailand. Certainly, moving around with groups is always a challenge, which is one of the benefits of Bali – that you can pick a single place to stay and just do day trips from there around the island.

      In terms of places to eat, see, etc – can you narrow down a bit more where you want to go? Within Bali, I’d suggest Seminyak, or within Thailand maybe Ao Nang would work well for a group.

      1. So I definitely wanted to do Thailand for sure! I just want to create the perfect experience for everyone while enjoying my 40th bday. I’m stuck on figuring out how many days is good enough and what part of Thailand would be best for everyone to enjoy themselves. I was thinking Bangkok but I wasn’t seeing the air bnb that I like. Phuket was a suggestion mention by someone who visited but said it’s very secluded in rainforest where they stayed. So I guess I need to know your opinion on best place to celebrate my bday?! Places I must visit.

  11. Hi
    I have a question for you about flying to Bali from Bangkok, not sure you can answer it. To minimize luggage costs on flights, do you know any tips for that? I guess that would also include domestic flights within Thailand

    1. In general, most budget airlines in Asia will give you a relatively small hand carry allowance (e.g., 7 kg) and will charge for any checked or carry on bags beyond that. If you book with the flagship carriers, such as Thai Airways, the baggage allowances are often more generous (especially for international flights). So when pricing a flight, the main tip is to just be sure to calculate that in when deciding if the budget flight is worth it or not.

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