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Bali or Thailand: Which Southeast Asian paradise should you visit?

Apr 02, 2024 by Jamie Gallerani

Sun-dappled beaches, ancient temples, welcoming locals, relaxation and adventure in spades—you’ll find it all as you travel from Bali to Thailand! While each destination has its own magic (one is an Indonesian island and one’s a country all its own, after all) it can still be tough to pick which to visit on a tour of Southeast Asia. Wondering how Thailand beaches stack up against Bali beaches? Curious about food in Bali versus food in Thailand? Read on to find out which spot you should visit. Whether you choose Bali or Thailand, you’re sure to have a remember-this-forever adventure.

nusa dua beach bali phi phi islands thailand

Would you rather: have a beach day in Nusa Dua on Bali or the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand?


Thinking about beach days may help you answer the Bali versus Thailand question. If you’re headed to Indonesia, you’ll find that quintessential sun-and-sand moment in Nusa Dua, a resort area that’s sitting pretty as Bali’s most luxurious retreat. There are hotels, restaurants, and all the amenities you could want—and the seaside scenery invites hours of lounging on white sand. Talk about bliss. “Nusa Dua is a highlight simply for relaxation,” said staffer Tom while sharing 7 destinations in Asia to have on your travel radar. “If you’re going to Bali, you want that beachside experience.”

Tour that takes you there: Dip your toes into this seaside oasis by adding the Nusa Lembongan Catamaran Cruise & Lunch excursion on our Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour. You’ll climb aboard a catamaran at Nusa Dua’s Benoa Harbor and be whisked to a beach club for leisure time on the Bali beaches (or adventure on the water).

Experience bliss in Bali


If dreaming of Thailand brings limestone cliffs rising up from turquoise water to mind, you have the Phi Phi Islands to thank. The six islands in this chain are just about as pretty as you can imagine, and are some of the best islands in Thailand to visit. “Phi Phi (pronounced pee-pee), is literally paradise,” said staffer Kevin. “There are little to no cars on any of the islands and everywhere you look offers an incredible view of the Andaman Sea. It feels like you are in a movie—which makes sense, as it was the place where The Beach was filmed.”

Tour that takes you there: Paradise awaits (literally) on our Phi Phi Islands Cruise, Snorkeling & Lunch excursion. Add it during a free day on Phuket Island on our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket, and get ready to cruise on a speedboat, don a snorkeling mask, and tuck into a leisurely lunch as you admire the Thailand beaches.

Get a taste of paradise in Phi Phi
sate lilit bali pad thai night market thailand

Would you rather: taste sate lilit on Bali or pad thai in Thailand?


From rice and spices to fruit and fish, there are a lot of simple, fresh ingredients that make food in Bali so delicious. While you won’t find a lot of beef served by the mostly Hindu population, you won’t miss it—especially when you taste sate lilit, a quintessential Balinese dish. It’s a regional version of satay, and is made from minced fish or meat like pork, grated coconut, coconut milk, lime leaves, and spices, which is then wrapped around a stick of lemongrass and grilled.

How to taste it on tour: You’ll find foodie moments galore on our Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour. Pop by a street cart or a warung (a small, traditional eatery) to try sate lilit and other specialties. Or, visit one of the island’s captivating night markets, where culture springs to life.

Taste sate lilit while exploring Bali


Food may help you pick between Bali versus Thailand. All we can say is there’s a lot to love about Thailand’s spicy-salty-sweet cuisine, and pad thai is one of the many can’t-miss dishes in Thailand. Everything from egg, shrimp, chicken, and tofu can be tossed in this stir-fried rice noodle dish, which is topped with bean sprouts and crushed peanuts. Grab your chopsticks and dig in—it’s one of the best street foods to eat in Southeast Asia.

Thai food tip: Round out a big bowl of pad thai with some Thai tea. Condensed milk, tea, and sugar make this the perfect chilled sip on a humid Thai day.

How to taste it on tour: If Thailand’s culinary scene makes your traveling heart sing, then opt for our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket. This trip will introduce you to the country’s many regional dishes as you travel from north to south, and includes market visits, a Thai cooking class, and a Lanna Family Home-Hosted Dinner excursion option.

Tap into your inner foodie in Thailand

Would you rather: learn about Balinese Hinduism on Bali or Theravada Buddhism in Thailand?


Fun fact: Indonesia may be a mostly Muslim country, but Bali is the exception to the rule. Brahmins from India brought the Hindu religion to the island in the first century A.D., and the Balinese Hinduism of today is practiced by more than 85% of Balinese people. It’s a blend of traditional Hinduism, ancestral worship, and animism (where natural objects like water and rocks are revered). So, all this explains the more than 10,000 Hindu temples on the island!

How to learn about Balinese Hinduism on tour: Set off on our Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour to stop at the Elephant Cave temple, a mysterious Hindu archaeological site. Then take a dip in the cleansing pool at Holy Spring Temple, where you’ll learn about water’s significance to Balinese people and take part in a water purification ceremony.

Immerse yourself in Hinduism


In Thailand, daily life and Theravada Buddhism go hand-in-hand, and digging into the religion that more than 90% of the population practices is a beautiful way to get to the heart of Thai culture. This form of Buddhism emphasizes meditation, monastic life, and the pursuit of personal enlightenment. You’ll feel the devotion as you hop from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok to the many Buddhist shrines in the provincial town of Chiang Rai—spotting saffron-robed monks as you go.

Thailand travel tip: Be sure to wear clean, hole-free socks—you’ll need to take your shoes off in all the Buddhist places of worship!

How to learn about Buddhism on tour: Our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket is full of immersive moments, and one of the most memorable is chatting with a Buddhist monk at the Wat Suan Dok Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai. You’ll get the chance to ask questions and learn how the monks of the temple live.

Chat with a Buddhist monk on tour

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ubud monkey forest bali changchill elephant sanctuary

Would you rather: explore a monkey forest on Bali or an elephant sanctuary in Thailand?


Moss-covered statues, quiet temples, hundreds of long-tailed macaques—there’s wonder everywhere you turn in the Ubud Monkey Forest. Visiting this lush forest and temple complex is one of the top 7 things to do in Bali for a never-ending adventure, especially if monkey spotting is on your Bali bucket list.

Responsible travel tip: Enjoy watching the monkeys, but don’t feed them, and be sure to give them their space (unless a curious macaque chooses to hop on your shoulder, of course!).

Tour that takes you there: The Ubud Monkey Forest is a highlight on our Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour.

Uncover the Ubud Monkey Forest


Like Bali, Thailand is teeming with diverse species, which make themselves at home in lush forests and coastal areas. While you’re sure to spot everything from birds to monkeys, no trip to Thailand is complete without seeing Asiatic Elephants. This is the country’s national animal, and you’ll get your moment to witness them in their happy habitat while visiting the ChangChill elephant sanctuary (one of the many must-visit hidden gems in Thailand). Another elephant experience? Taking an exploration walk in the Koh Lanta Following Giants Elephant Sanctuary in Southern Thailand. Talk about unforgettable.

Tour that takes you there: You can set off on our Highlights of Southern Thailand: Bangkok, Phuket & Krabi tour to visit the Following Giants Elephant Sanctuary. Or, choose our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket to visit the ChangChill elephant sanctuary. Either way, you’ll see these gentle giants in a safe environment, where rehabilitation and protection are always top of mind. “Stopping to see the elephants was an experience in itself,” said traveler Sarah. “We were able to feed them, watch them bathe, and walk around the grounds with them.”

Explore an elephant sanctuary
rice farm bali organic farm thailand

Would you rather: explore a rice farm on Bali or an organic farm in Thailand?


If thinking of Bali brings sprawling green rice terraces to mind, you’re right on the money—Bali scenery like this is as iconic as it gets. Indonesia is the third-largest exporter of rice in the world, after all, and this sacred grain is one of Bali’s staple foods. In fact, Balinese people view it as a gift from God and a symbol of life.

Travel tip: Put Bali on your April travel list. Indonesia is one of the best places to travel in April for fewer crowds and more sunshine—and to see Bali’s rice fields at their lushest and greenest!

Tour that takes you there: You’ll visit a rice farm in Ubud on our Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour. Learn about rice production, sip coconut water, pick up rice-cooking tips, and sit down for a scenic lunch in the rice field.

Learn and lunch in Bali


Picture it: You hop aboard a boat to an organic Thai farm, where you sample fresh fruit, sip a homemade coconut drink, and do some hands-on planting with the local farmers. If you think this sounds like a travel dream, we’re right there with you! Farms like this are true must-visit hidden gems in Thailand, and seeing how produce is grown will give you a unique perspective on Thailand’s economy, culture, and cuisine.

Tour that takes you there: You’ll get to learn about eco-friendly practices as you visit an organic farm and take in the beautiful Thailand scenery on our Grand Tour of Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & Phuket. “This is a truly unique experience that many travelers to Thailand won’t get,” said staffer Kevin. “Thai cuisine is all about fresh ingredients, and many dishes are relatively simple. Visiting this farm and doing a hands-on activity gives our travelers a tactile appreciation for that.”

Do some farming in Thailand

Would you rather: take a yoga class on Bali or get a Thai massage in Thailand?


Beginning the day with a personalized morning yoga class on Bali? Yes, please. This island is a deeply spiritual place, and the town of Ubud in particular is packed with yoga studios and wellness retreats. Find out just how serene an island escape can be as you get your stretch on during a guided class.

Tour to consider: Our Bali & Java: Culture & Landscapes of Indonesia tour includes a morning yoga session, which is the best way to kick off a day of exploration. If you’re a yoga lover, this may help you answer the Bali versus Thailand question!

Start your day with yoga


The massage scene in Thailand is renowned, and seeking out a bit of extra relaxation is one of the 20 quintessential things to do in Thailand that deserve all the hype. At just around 500 baht ($15-20 USD with tip), getting a massage is a relatively inexpensive way to both treat yourself and experience Thai culture.

Thai massage tip: Expect your Thai massage to be different from those you may be more familiar with in North America. Oil isn’t used during an authentic Thai massage and you stay fully clothed. That’s because the masseuse focuses more on pulling and stretching the muscles in your body, as opposed to performing a kneading motion.

Tour to consider: If you’d like to lean into me-time on tour, then our Thailand for Solo Travelers: Bangkok, Phuket & the Islands tour is just the ticket. It includes pockets of free time, where you can slip away from your new friends for a full-body massage. Getting the chance to treat yourself is one of the many reasons why every solo traveler should visit Thailand.

End your day with a massage

Thailand vs. Bali? The choice is up to you! Whether you visit Bali or Thailand, you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable adventure! Find your tour of Asia today.

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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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