A boat on Ha Long Bay.

Vietnam vs Thailand: 22 Must-Know Comparisons

With so many incredible countries to choose from, picking a destination to visit in Southeast Asia is challenging. Here’s the good news: It’s hard to go wrong when comparing Vietnam vs Thailand as the best vacation spot.

Both Vietnam and Thailand offer unique tour activities, delicious cuisine, and gawk-worthy architecture. But they also have enough differences that make choosing between these countries easy for some people.

I spent four months between Vietnam and Thailand. I allowed two months per country, exploring Vietnam from south to north and Thailand from north to south.

So, whether you’re dreaming of lounging on white sand beaches or trekking through rice terraces, I’ll share my biggest takeaways on the must-know differences and similarities between Thailand and Vietnam.

An Overview of Vietnam vs Thailand

If you need to make a decision ASAP about whether to visit Vietnam or Thailand, the chart below can help.

Development for tourismUnderdevelopedWell-developed
GeographyMountains, beaches, rice fields, cavesMountains, beaches, rice fields, dry plaines
English spokenFew peopleMany people
CusineBroth-based noodle soups, sandwiches, spring rollsFried noodles, fried rice, coconut milk-based curries
Good beachesFewYes
CostCheapSlightly more costly
Street food optionsLotsLots
Visa requiredOftenUsually not
SafetyVery safeVery safe

Here’s the bottom line if you don’t have time to read the rest of this article: Thailand is a better option than Vietnam for people with little travel experience or who want more modern comforts.

In contrast, Vietnam is a great choice for people who want to immerse themselves in local cultures with fewer tourists around and who are comfortable being in situations where they don’t always understand what’s going on around them.

15 Differences: Vietnam vs Thailand

Thailand and Vietnam share more differences and similarities, which can be great or frustrating depending on your travel style.

1. Different Histories

Many people think of the Vietnam War when they hear the word “Vietnam.” The Vietnam War is still an all-too-recent part of Vietnamese history for many locals, some of who are still suffering from the repercussions of Agent Orange, their offspring included.

But Vietnam has a history long before Saigon fell to the People’s Army of Vietnam in 1975, becoming the Ho Chi Minh City it’s called today. For over 1,000 years, Vietnam was under the hands of the Chinese empire. After being ruled by several dynasties, it was then colonized by the French.

While Vietnam is currently basking in the relatively newfound freedom of running its own country, Thailand’s history looks different.

Thailand, which went by Siam at the time, was the only country in Southeast Asia that avoided colonization by Europeans and other countries. Despite Thailand being an independent kingdom since 1350, it became influenced by Western ideas, which are still felt in Thailand today.

That’s not to say that Thailand escaped war, though. During its thousands of years of history, many armed struggles ensued in a fight to maintain its independence.

2. Different Political Systems

From a governmental perspective, when comparing Vietnam vs Thailand, these countries are extreme opposites.

In 1975, the Republic of South Vietnam merged with the North Vietnamese forces, creating a single Communist Party of Vietnam.

From my experience in Vietnam and listening to several guides speak in both northern and southern Vietnam, there’s very much a more capitalist mindset in south Vietnam and a more communist mindset in north Vietnam.

That said, Vietnam has a looser communist economic structure than some other communist countries; Vietnam has a mixed economy, which includes international trade memberships with organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

In contrast, Thailand has a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.

So, while Thailand has a king and queen, it has a prime minister as the head of government. It also has a bicameral National Assembly, which exercises power.

Thailand’s economy combines private economic freedoms with government planning and regulation. Like Vietnam, it’s an APEC member, along with a member of other trade organizations.

3. Tourism Development

A cafe overlooking Bangkok.
A cafe overlooking Bangkok, Thailand.

Thailand is the clear winner when comparing it to Vietnam in terms of tourism development.

Although I loved my time in Vietnam, it was a near-daily struggle to get by, with few locals speaking English. Even in tourist hubs, the level of English spoken was well below that of Thailand.

Vietnam also doesn’t have as robust of a tourism board as Thailand. From my experience, getting information about different tourist attractions isn’t as easy or accurate.

Needless to say, after spending two months wandering through Vietnam as a solo female traveler, I felt like I had landed in tourist heaven when I arrived in Thailand.

That may be good or bad, depending on your travel style.

Vietnam’s lack of tourism development is a positive for many. Travelers who enjoy more off-the-beaten-path destinations with untouched nature and wildlife that hasn’t been spoiled by overtourism will undoubtedly relish Vietnam’s more authentic atmosphere.

4. General Development

It might come as no surprise that when comparing Vietnam and Thailand regarding general development, Thailand is more well-developed.

Thailand does a better job than Vietnam of keeping up with highway maintenance, marking crosswalks, and installing wheelchair-accessible facilities. Thai drivers also have a culture of stopping for pedestrians rather than driving around them as the Vietnamese do.

Many big cities in Thailand have modern high-rises and malls, with Bangkok being the king of modern metropolises.

Much of Thailand’s development is thanks to it being a richer country. Locals in Thailand make an average income of about double that of the Vietnamese. Thailand also receives significantly more tourists. And, thus, more tourist dollars.

But that’s not to say everywhere you visit in Vietnam will feel undeveloped. Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling city, with lots of cute cafes where students and remote workers spend their days.

As expected from a well-developed city, you’ll also find high-end accommodations and restaurants in Ho Chi Minh.

5. Architecture

When comparing Vietnam vs Thailand, Vietnam has Japanese-inspired architecture like this bridge.
A Japanese bridge in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Some parts of Vietnam, such as Hanoi’s old town, have a French colonial feel. But, overall, there’s no mistaking that you’re in Asia when visiting Vietnam or Thailand.

In addition to French-inspired buildings, Vietnam’s architecture is influenced by the Chinese. So, you’ll encounter lots of ornate temples and steep roofs.

If you’re an architecture buff, visiting Hoi An in central Vietnam is a must. This UNESCO town has preserved many Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese-influenced buildings.

Thailand also has temples, but they tend to be fancier and flashier than those in Vietnam, not to mention the different purposes they serve.

The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) are must-see architectural masterpieces in Bangkok. They have steeply-sloping tire roofs and open-air spaces with many beautiful gardens, a classic Thai architectural style.

Thai architecture also has lots of shiny gold (or gold-colored painted) temples and stupas, which are bell-shaped.

6. Geography

Thailand is larger than Vietnam by over 150,000 square kilometers. However, when comparing Thailand vs Vietnam, both have a range of beautiful geography to explore.

Part of that is because these countries share borders with Cambodia and Laos.

Vietnam has narrow, low-lying coastal plains, and many of them, given that this country follows the coastline. It also has the Mekong Delta to the south and countless hilly terrain in its interior—and even off the coast in areas like Ha Long Bay.

You may not think Vietnam and caves are synonymous, but Vietnam has the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, which sits within Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

Thailand also has its fair share of national parks. Khao Yai is a UNESCO-listed national park near Bangkok with thousands of square kilometers of forest and grassland. Furthermore, its third-largest national park, Khao Yai, has over 50 kilometers of trails, taking visitors by some impressive waterfalls.

National parks aside, Thailand’s landscape is a combination of sandy beaches, mountains, dry plains, and river plains.

Aside from Cambodia and Laos, Thailand shares borders with Myanmar and Malaysia. In contrast, Vietnam shares its border with China.

7. Climate

Vietnam and Thailand are similar climate-wise in the sense that both countries are long, so they cover a range of climatic conditions.

But of the two, Thailand is warmer than Vietnam.

I traveled to southern Vietnam in December and was thrilled by the heat and humidity. But by the time I made my way north to Hanoi in January, a damp cold chilled me to the bone, though the temperature rarely dropped below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

When I flew from Hanoi to Chiang Mai in February, Chaing Mai’s warm days allowed me to defrost. That said, like southern Vietnam, southern Thailand remains hot and humid year-round.

Since the climate in Vietnam and Thailand vary according to the destination you visit, I encourage you to do region-specific research before booking your trip so that you know what to expect weather-wise.

8. Religion

When comparing Vietnam vs Thailand, there are similarities and differences between their religions.

Officially, Vietnam is an atheist country. They place a large emphasis on their ancestors, often building and going to temples to worship their deceased loved ones.

That said, many Vietnamese people practice a combination of Confucianism, Taoism, and Mahayana Buddhism. As a multi-religious state, people are free to practice the religion of their preference in Vietnam.

In contrast, Thailand is firmly a Buddhist country, with as much as 95% of the Thai population practicing it. Most Thais are Theravada Buddhists, which is the oldest form of Buddhism still practiced today.

As with Vietnam, visitors are welcome to enter Thai temples as long as they dress appropriately (no shorts or exposed shoulders).

9. Cuisine

You’re in for a treat cuisine-wise when visiting Thailand and Vietnam. But the number of calories you consume during your vacation will likely vary drastically—assuming you eat like a local, in local-like portions.

According to WorldAtlas, Vietnam is the thinnest country in the world. While poverty levels contribute to this number, Vietnamese cuisine has many broth-based noodle soup dishes rich in fresh herbs and vegetables.

Of them, pho (pronounced “fuh”) is the most classic Vietnamese dish. It contains rice noodles doused in beef or pork bone broth.

Fresh and fried spring rolls are other popular favorites, along with banh mi, a French-inspired and herb-packed sandwich.

If you’re lucky enough to visit both Vietnam and Thailand, consider visiting Thailand first. In most cases, Thai food is more calorie-dense than Vietnamese food, meaning you might have a chance to shed some weight in Vietnam before returning home.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, pad Thai is among Thailand’s most famous dishes. Pad Thai is a rice noodle stir-fried dish loaded with your meat of choice, fried egg, and veggies.

Tom yum goong is another popular dish in Thailand. This spicy shrimp soup comes with a listful of ingredients ranging from fish sauce to kaffir lime leaves.

My personal favorite is Thailand’s curries made with coconut milk. Green curry is the spiciest of Thai curries.

Both Vietnamese and Thai food is spicy, though the Vietnamese usually offer chili peppers on the side so people can add their own spiciness. In contrast, spices are often built into Thai cuisine, so be sure to ask for little or no spice if that’s your style.

10. Social Interactions

One of Thailand’s nicknames is “The Land of Smiles.” I couldn’t agree more.

The Thais are incredibly friendly, welcoming people. Placing one’s hands together in prayer form and bowing with a smile is a common way for Thais to greet one another and show gratitude.

I encourage you to join the locals in this beautiful practice. If you’re like me, you might become so accustomed to it that you do so to random strangers once you return to your home country, sparking stares.

If you travel to both Thailand and Vietnam, you’ll notice that the Vietnamese aren’t as gregarious with strangers as the Thai.

This isn’t to say that the Vietnamese are unfriendly; it’s just that they tend to express it differently.

From my experience, Vietnamese go above and beyond to ensure you’re comfortable and happy—but they may not always look happy about doing it.

So, don’t feel bad if you’re not greeted by large smiles from locals on the streets of Vietnam. The Vietnamese value a more reserved character, especially around people they don’t know. You’ll simply be having an authentic experience. And if you get to know some locals well, you’ll likely find they warm up to you as they allow you into their inner circle.

Of course, these are generalizations about the Vietnamese and Thai. You’ll encounter divergences in these personality types, as with social-cultural norms in most parts of the world.

11. Beaches

If you’re trying to decide whether to visit Thailand or Vietnam for your beach vacation, the choice is easy: Head to Thailand.

Thailand is notorious for having white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and countless beach resorts.

Island hopping is a particular favorite in Thailand, with Phuket and Koh Samui being popular spots. Diving and snorkeling are also common activities at islands like Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi, where tropical fish will greet you.

In contrast, Vietnam isn’t known for having great beaches.

Despite having over 3,000 kilometers of coastline, much of the coast is undeveloped for tourism. The water is also murky in many areas, and the northern beaches are too cold for swimming and sunbathing year-round.

That said, there’s an archipelago of 16 islands in southern Vietnam that’s a great place for tourism and coral reef exploration, especially Con Dao. Phu Quoc, which sits in the Gulf of Thailand, is also a wonderful option.

12. Nightlife

When comparing Thailand vs Vietnam, you can find nightlife in both of them. But Thailand has a bigger reputation for parties.

One of the most classic ways to get your party on is by attending a full moon party. Full moon parties take place on many Thai islands, but the most popular is in Koh Phangan.

Bangkok is also a party haven, ranging from the backpacker’s Khao Soi Street to red-light areas like Nana Plaza.

Furthermore, while the Vietnamese respect people from different backgrounds and gender orientations, Thailand is known for embracing it.

The Thai transgender community is strong, particularly in tourist areas and big cities like Bangkok, where ladyboys can be their true selves in public with little worry about discrimination.

For this reason, and despite ongoing struggles for transgender people to have equal rights at the government level, Thailand attracts tourists from the LGBTQ+ community.

While ladyboys and parties certainly aren’t synonymous, many tourists are drawn to Thailand’s massive LGBTQ+ party scene.

Vietnam also has a nightlife scene in certain areas. Ho Chi Minh City has its own version of a backpacker’s street called Bui Vien. Hoi An in central Vietnam showcases nightlife in a different “light,” for people place floating candles in the river after dark, and the evening street food scene is thriving.

13. Street Vendor Styles

A street vendor frying bananas.
A street vendor frying bananas.

I’ve yet to meet a tourist that enjoys being hassled to buy souvenirs—or anything, for that matter. And yet this is exactly what happens in many tourist-packed areas in Southeast Asian countries.

Vietnam is among them.

But Thailand is a different story. You can walk by street food stalls and through markets without a single vendor asking (ahem…bugging) you to buy their product.

It’s a welcomed, peaceful shopping experience.

Furthermore, many street food stalls and vendors in Thailand have set prices displayed. Haggling is still okay in some cases, especially if you’re buying multiple items.

In contrast, it’s rare to see a sign showing the price of goods at street food stalls and markets in Vietnam. So, you’ll need to practice some heavy-duty bargaining skills before arriving.

14. Bed Comfort

Bed comfort is a strange point to bring up when comparing Vietnam vs Thailand. But my experience with the beds in Vietnam and Thailand was so consistently different that I can’t help but mention it.

From my experience, the beds in Thailand are much more comfortable than in Vietnam.

Like, to the moon, earth, and back to the moon again more comfortable.

With one exception at a host family stay in Sapa, all of my beds in Vietnam were painfully firm. My bones dug into them, waking me up throughout the night.

I even checked the mattress at my Airbnb in Hanoi, convinced I was sleeping on a slab of plywood.

Nope, it was a mattress.

If you like firm beds, you might be tickled pink with Vietnam’s mattresses. If you don’t, I recommend splurging on 4-star and 5-star accommodations to increase your chances of a relatively more comfortable mattress experience.

15. Visas

For many nationalities, it’s easier to travel to Thailand than to Vietnam.

Thailand has a long list of countries where citizens can enter visa-free for 45 days. (Note: The number of days you can stay in Thailand visa-free is known to change, so check before making plans).

Furthermore, it’s easy to extend your visa in-country in Thailand.

Not so in Vietnam.

Vietnam requires most people to apply for and pay for a visa before arriving. It’s a fast and low-cost experience for most, but it’s still a hoop to jump through compared to Thailand.

Furthermore, extending your visa in-country is impossible in Vietnam (at least, this was the case during my trip).

So, I had to fly from Vietnam to Thailand and back to Vietnam in one day to get another 30-day visa.

7 Similarities: Vietnam vs Thailand

Despite Thailand and Vietnam’s many differences, below are aspects that these destinations share.

1. Budget-Friendly

Whether you choose to visit Vietnam or Thailand, you’ll likely save a lot of money compared to vacationing in your home country.

So, you can stuff yourself full of yummy Vietnamese food and temple hop across Thailand.

That said, of the two countries, Vietnam is slightly cheaper than Thailand.

Of course, the destination you visit matters; it’s far more economical to take a Sapa trekking tour in northern Vietnam than a 2-night Ha Long Bay cruise.

Similarly, the northern city of Chiang Mai in Thailand is cheaper than bustling Bangkok.

2. Safety

Vietnam and Thailand are both very safe countries. I traveled both countries alone as a woman and never had a single incident where I felt uncomfortable or unsafe.

From a government perspective, the United States Department of State (DOS) labels both Vietnam and Thailand as a Level 1, which is their safest ranking.

That said, they offer a caveat for Thailand, recommending travelers reconsider travel to Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla due to civil unrest.

The good news?

Those aren’t major tourist attractions in Thailand. So, it’s unlikely you’re planning on visiting them anyway.

Are you interested in learning more about safety in Southeast Asia? Check out my guide on safety in Vietnam, written from my perspective as a solo female traveler.

3. Diverse Tourist Activities

The patio of the Grand Palace, Bangkok.
The Grand Palace in Thailand.

Both Vietnam and Thailand offer a range of unique tourist attractions and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Some must-do experiences in Vietnam include:

  • Taking a Ha Long Bay cruise
  • Trekking in Sapa
  • Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels
  • Explore a floating market on the Mekong Delta
  • Watch lanterns float down the river in Hoi An

As for Thailand, some of the best things to do there include:

  • Seeing the Grand Palace in Bangkok
  • Visiting an elephant sanctuary (Elephant Nature Park is the best-rated because of how they care for the elephants)
  • Island hopping in the south
  • Eating your way through night markets
  • Hiking to Doi Suthep

4. Scams Are a Thing

When you’re comparing Vietnam vs Thailand, tourist scams abound in both countries.

The good news is that these scams are rarely dangerous from a safety standpoint. However, they can leave you with significantly less money than you intended to part with or with a tour experience different than from what you were told.

One common scam in Thailand is vendors telling you they’ll take you to a humane elephant rescue sanctuary. There are many “sanctuaries” around Thailand, but don’t be fooled—most of these sanctuaries put their elephants to work for tourists and don’t treat them as well as they should.

It pains me to say this, but I’m among the tourists that inadvertently signed up for the wrong sanctuary. So, book directly through Elephant Nature Park’s website, for they’re the original and genuine sanctuary.

I’m not receiving any perks for sharing Elephant Nature Park’s name; I’m just passionate about money flowing to legit organizations—especially when they involve the humane treatment of animals.

Regardless of what country you choose to visit, one of the best ways to avoid scams is by researching and booking tours online. That way, you can read reviews and pay a set price.

5. Best Time of Year to Travel

Thailand and Vietnam have similar seasons for the best time of year to travel—November to March or April is the dry season in most regions.

And most importantly for people wanting to avoid excessive heat, November to April is relatively cooler in Vietnam and Thailand. The northern regions of these countries can be downright cold during the heart of winter.

In contrast, the rainy season kicks in around mid-May and typically lasts until September or October. These months also come with humidity and warmer temperatures.

Of course, location matters; southern Thailand and Vietnam are often warmer than the north.

Keep in mind that pricing-wise, hotels sometimes raise their prices in popular tourist spots during Western holidays such as Christmas in December.

6. Grab Is the Go-to Taxi

When comparing Thailand vs Vietnam, both destinations are easy for foreigners to take a taxi thanks to the Grab app.

Grab is the Uber of Southeast Asia, and you’ll have the choice to hire a car, van, or scooter.

As a single traveler, I always booked a Grab scooter unless I was going to the airport with my luggage, for it was a cheaper and faster way to travel.

Thai and Vietnamese laws require scooter drivers and passengers to wear a helmet. Nevertheless, riding on the back of a scooter is undoubtedly more dangerous than riding in a car.

7. Range of Accommodations

Whether you decide to stay in Thailand or Vietnam, you’ll have many accommodation options.

Both Thailand and Vietnam have hostels and luxury 5-star hotels depending on the location, though you’ll have a greater number of upscale accommodation options in Thailand.

What I love about Vietnam is that homestays are also a popular option, which is both budget-friendly and offers travelers the opportunity to have a cultural exchange that they wouldn’t have at a hotel.

Traveling Between Thailand and Vietnam

The fastest way to travel between Thailand and Vietnam is by flying. Many airlines, including Vietnam Airlines and AirAsia, offer cheap direct flights to many Vietnamese and Thai cities.

You can also opt to travel between Vietnam and Thailand via land by going through Laos or Cambodia. Just be sure you check the visa requirements, as these countries have them in place for many people.

Once in Thailand and Vietnam, you can travel around these countries by taking domestic flights, trains, or buses.

FAQs About Vietnam vs Thailand

Do you still have questions about visiting Vietnam or Thailand? If so, read on to see if I answer them here.

What is the difference between Thailand and Vietnam?

Some of the biggest differences between Thailand and Vietnam are their economic and political structures, primary religions, and cuisines.

Is Thailand or Vietnam prettier?

Thailand and Vietnam are both beautiful countries; it’s impossible to say that one is prettier than the other.

Small, mountain-like islands are common sightings along the coastline of both destinations. Thailand and Vietnam also have lots of countryside and rice fields.

Is Vietnam more developed than Thailand?

Vietnam isn’t more developed than Thailand. It lacks the infrastructure, income, and tourism dollars that Thailand has, placing Vietnam well behind Thailand in terms of development.

Which has better beaches—Thailand or Vietnam?

Thailand has better beaches than Vietnam. Phuket, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Koh Phi Phi are some of the most popular islands in Thailand for beach vacations.

Vietnam isn’t devoid of pretty beaches, but they’re few and far between compared to Thailand.

Does Vietnam have any nice beaches?

Some of the nicest beaches in Vietnam are on Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands.

That said, Vietnam isn’t known for having many nice beaches. Thailand is a better choice for a beach vacation.

Is Vietnam richer than Thailand?

Vietnam isn’t richer than Thailand. Thailand has a GDP of $7.07 million USD compared to Vietnam, which has a GDP of only $3.76 million.

Is Thailand cheaper than Vietnam?

Thailand isn’t cheaper than Vietnam, but not by much. While you’ll spend more money on food, accommodation, and tours in Thailand, it’s still a budget-friendly country to travel to for visitors coming from the West.

Is Thailand or Vietnam safer?

Thailand and Vietnam are essentially equal in their safety rankings.

Due to civil unrest in small sections of Thailand, Vietnam is technically a bit safer. However, travelers can feel confident about having a safe trip to most parts of Thailand and Vietnam as long as they take basic safety precautions.

What do Thailand and Vietnam have in common?

Thailand and Vietnam have lots of coastlines and rice fields, similar climates, and diverse tourist attractions. Both countries are welcoming to foreigners, though the locals may express it in different ways.

So, Is Vietnam or Thailand Better?

A temple surrounded by flowers.
A temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I’m so grateful to have had the chance to visit both Thailand and Vietnam, and I truly can’t say that one is better than the other—what’s best for one person might be less than ideal for another.

So, I hope this Vietnam vs Thailand comparison has helped shed light on which country is the best fit for your vacation.

If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to help.

I’d also love to hear your feedback after your trip. Did you choose to visit Thailand, Vietnam, or both? What similarities and differences did you notice?

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