Bali vs Thailand? Two of the top digital nomad destinations in Southeast Asia are without a doubt Bali and Thailand. We’ve talked about Bali many times, but we also love Thailand. At first glance, they’re quite similar: tropical climate, beautiful beaches galore, low cost of living, lots of wifi cafes… so how to choose one over the other?
Cost of Living
The cost of living is incredibly low in both destinations, compared to western countries. Overall, Thailand is a bit more budget-friendly than Bali on most counts, but only by the tiniest of margins.
In Bali, you can live as cheaply as 10 USD/night in a shared hostel room, or around 15 USD/night in a basic guest house or homestay. Of course, you can also live like a king in beautiful hotels and villas for 100 USD/night or more. The most expensive areas in Bali are Seminyak, Canggu, Nusa Dua and Uluwatu, and prices vary significantly depending on how close you are to these areas.
In Thailand, hostels start as low as 5 USD/night. You can get bungalows for 15 USD/night, hotel rooms for 40 USD/night, and resorts at 50 USD/night. Top luxury resorts can cost up to 1,000 USD/night. Prices also depend on where in Thailand you’re staying; accommodation in Phuket, Bangkok and Chiang Mai will be more expensive than elsewhere.
“Warungs” are Indonesian restaurants that offer super tasty local dishes for as low as 3.50 USD. If you’re on a really tight budget and know the right places, you can get around Bali on about 10-12 USD per day on food. Bali also offers lots of western cuisine at higher prices, though “higher” in this case is still cheap at around 8 USD on average for a good meal. It’s also a haven for vegetarians and vegans, at least in the more touristy areas. Depending on what you like to cook for yourself, eating out three times a day can actually be about the same price as cooking your own meals in Bali.
The local Thai cuisine offers more variety than local Indonesian fare, while in many places also being able to compete on the western cuisine front. Where Thailand really shines compared to Bali is the incredibly yummy, varied street food you can find on almost any corner, where a meal can cost as little as 2 USD. So if you’re on a really tight budget, Thai food is the better of the two options.
Side note: Canggu and Ubud in Bali, as well as Chiang Mai in Thailand, are especially popular among remote workers because of the many wifi-friendly cafes and restaurants located there.
Alcohol is comparatively expensive in Bali. If you’re not sticking to your Bintang beers at around 2 USD per bottle, you’ll be paying around 6 USD per glass of wine and 8 USD per cocktail. The reason is that most alcoholic drinks are imported. There are cheap local wines, but a single sip is usually enough to convince most people to stick to the imports, no matter how much more expensive.
Thailand also outdoes Bali in the drinks department, with the cost for a beer starting at around 1.50 USD. The price for cocktails and wines depends a lot on the venue. At markets, a cocktail can cost as little as 3 USD, but can go up to about 12 USD at fancier places. In general, though, alcoholic beverages are cheaper in Thailand than in Bali.
First off: Thailand is a huge country (513,120 square kilometers), whereas Bali is a small island blip in the whole of Indonesia (5,780 square kilometers). Getting around Bali, all its amazing places to see and things to do, is far easier than doing so in Thailand.
Traveling in Bali
In Bali, most people ride a scooter everywhere on the island. In fact, going by scooter is often faster than taking a car, because scooters allow you to zip in and out of the at times heavy traffic with more ease. But if you don’t feel comfortable on a scooter, hiring a driver for the day is easy and cheap at 35-40 USD, especially if you’re traveling in a group.
Other cheap alternatives to getting around the whole island are rideshares like Grab or Gojek. There are also the typical cabs, called “taksis” (though we’re not big fans because they’re highly overpriced). Travel- and adventure tour companies also provide mini buses for bigger groups, making them another great way to get around and meet new people along the way.
Just as a reference point: It takes about 3.5 hours to drive from Uluwatu in the very south, to Lovina in the very north of the island by car in moderate traffic.
By comparison, driving from Narathiwat at the southernmost tip of Thailand up to Chiang Rai in the very north would take about 25 hours. Good thing you don’t have to drive, but can catch a plane to get closer to a lot of the popular places. Where Bali has only the one airport in Denpasar (at least until 2022, when the new airport is scheduled to open), Thailand boasts eleven international airports alone, making it quick and easy to travel great distances within the country.
If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to spring for a flight to get across the country, though. Thailand’s long-distance buses are comparatively cheap and most of them are surprisingly comfortable these days. You can also save time and accommodation costs by hopping on a night bus and arriving at your new destination in the morning.
Scooters are popular for getting around more local and city areas here, too. In the big cities like Bangkok, public transport is probably a safer alternative, though, especially if you’ve never ridden a scooter before. Tuk-tuks are another cheap, fun and typical way to experience more of “the real Thailand” in city areas. And ferries take you from one island to the next.
Both Bali and Thailand are generally very safe to go to, even for women traveling solo. Violent crime is uncommon, but petty crime like theft, pickpocketing, phone-snatching or burglary do occur, especially in touristy areas.
As anywhere, general caution and awareness are advised. Keep your bag facing the side of the road, not the middle; secure it across your body, not just on your shoulder; don’t walk with your phone held out in front of you; check your ATM of choice for possible skimming devices before every withdrawal.
Getting into all the ins and outs of safety issues and recommendations for both destinations would fill an entire post, so please check out this link for detailed safety recommendations for Thailand, and this link for detailed safety recommendations for Bali.
Southeast Asia and Drugs
One major thing both destinations have in common, that can get you in a lot of trouble, is drugs. Many western tourists aren’t aware of this, so let’s be crystal clear here: Do not buy, carry, use or especially smuggle drugs. It could cost you your life – no joke!
Execution or life-long imprisonment is a surprisingly common punishment for smuggling drugs, especially in Indonesia, and being a tourist or expat won’t save you from that fate. In fact, you may end up being made an example of. If offered to buy or use, the best thing is to walk away. In Kuta, Bali’s biggest tourist destination, cops frequently pose as dealers, and carrying just two tabs of ecstasy or pot can result in huge fines and multi-year jail sentences.
Thailand also retains the death penalty for drug abuse, but employs it more rarely than Indonesia. You may just end up in a Thai prison for decades or even the rest of your life instead – not exactly something to aspire to, either.
In both Thailand and Bali, temples, markets and religion play a vital role in daily life. Thai people are mostly Buddhist, while Bali is Indonesia’s only Hindu island. The country of Indonesia is about 90% Muslim, with Bali marking the exception with 83% of people on the island identifying as Hindu.
The famous Thai monks in ritual orange clothing are a common sight in Thailand’s numerous and impressive Buddhist temples with golden and white marble Buddha statues. In Bali, handmade offerings for the many Hindu gods are laid out in front of houses and on street corners, and festivals and religious ceremonies are an almost weekly occurrence.
When entering temples in both destinations, please take off your shoes and make sure your knees are covered; in Thailand, you should also cover your shoulders.
If you’re dreaming of white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, Thailand is the more obvious choice of the two destinations. With hundreds of miles of just such beaches, palm trees swaying in the wind and amazing dive- or snorkel sites just a short swim away, you’ll find a whole new definition of “paradise”.
As a volcanic island, most beaches in Bali have black, or at least darker, sand. While they’re still beautiful and almost every single sunset over the island’s west coast is absolutely gorgeous, Bali beaches don’t have quite the same paradise-y feel to them that Thai beaches do. There are some exceptions to this, for example Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Nusa Penida, and the Gili Islands, all of which have lighter beaches.
Things to Do
Where to begin? There are so many things to do in both Bali and Thailand, that we could fill a blog post on each activity alone, so we’ll limit ourselves to the more unique activities in each destination.
In Bali, look out for these amazing things to do:
- Volcano hiking
- White water rafting
- Bathing in waterfalls
- Exploring rice terraces
- Visiting temples
- Jungle trekking
- Snorkelling and diving
- Mountain biking
For more Balinese activities, check out this list of 52 Awesome Things To Do in Bali.
In Thailand, get ready to:
- Dance the night away at full moon parties
- Stroll over Night Markets
- Hop from and to the famous Thai islands Koh Samui, Phi Phi Island, Koh Phangan, just to name a few
- Visit elephant sanctuaries
- Snorkeling and diving
- Visit temples
- Get a Thai massage
- Try Thai street food
- Watch a Muay Thai fight
Check out this list of 35 Things to do in Thailand for more amazing things to do.
Timing alone may be your deciding factor. Traveling to either country during dry season is far more comfortable than during rainy season. The cool thing here: Bali and Thailand have their rainy seasons at opposite times of the year.
In Bali, the rainy season lasts from around end of October to end of April. December, January and February can be especially hot, wet and muggy, to the point where a five-minute walk down the road leaves you drenched in sweat. Dry season from May to September, on the other hand, is far less humid. Nights actually cool off to a slight chill, to the point where lots of people riding their scooters will actually be wearing sweaters.
The same goes for Thailand, but in reverse. Here, the rainy season lasts from July to October, making it more comfortable to live there from November to June.
Keep in mind, though, that dry season equals high season for tourists, so prices for accommodation will be a bit higher in both Bali and Thailand in their dry months.
Bali vs Thailand: 4 Key Differences
To recap, let’s look at the major differences that will help you make your decision between Bali and Thailand.
- The Costs – Overall, Thailand comes off as a little cheaper in prices for accommodation, food and drinks. If you’re on a super tight budget and plan to mostly stay in one place, Thailand is the better bet. If you like to travel around, though, definitely take the next key factor into account:
- The Distances – Getting around the island of Bali is far easier than touring the whole country of Thailand, which is approximately 88 times larger. A scooter will get you almost anywhere in Bali, whereas in Thailand you’ll need to hop on planes, buses or ferries to cover greater distances. Travel times are much longer and costs higher.
- The Seasons – Weather-wise, the best time to travel to Thailand is from November to February, while Bali is most comfortable from June to August.
- The Beaches – Thailand wins on the paradise beach front, though Bali definitely has the better, more exciting surf breaks.
- The Food – Local Indonesian or Balinese food is yummy, but less varied than the local Thai cuisine, known in particular for its fun and amazing street food culture. On the other hand, a wide variety of western dishes and tastes are available in both destinations, with Bali coming out ahead on veggie/vegan options.
Join Our Coliving Experience
Do you have a better idea about your personal winner in the battle of Bali vs Thailand? To be honest, we think both are beautiful countries and absolutely worth exploring. But maybe we can give you another incentive: WiFi Tribe is currently residing in Bali. Check out our coliving experience in Canggu, Bali, and apply to join our group of intrepid coworking and coliving travelers right now.