Do you find yourself dreaming of working remotely from picturesque beaches, exotic jungles, and peaceful rice paddies? If you’ve been considering traveling to Southeast Asia as a digital nomad, you’ve without a doubt seen recommendations for Bali and Thailand—two of the top digital nomad destinations in the world. These locations are favorites among nomads and expats alike for good reason—both offer a lifestyle perfectly suited for those who crave a balance of adventure, comfortable living, and excellent temperatures year-round.
At first glance, these two idyllic locations might seem similar: tropical climates offering beautiful beaches and jungles, low cost of living, and countless high-speed WiFi cafes built with remote workers in mind. However, there are a few key differences that distinguish Bali from Thailand and vice versa. So, how do you choose one over the other?
Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with either destination—both are exceptional in their own way. Before you choose which destination to travel to on your next adventure, explore what sets these nomadic hubs apart and which piques your interest most.
At a glance: Bali vs. Thailand
Bali vs Thailand. Both destinations offer out-of-this-world adventures, unparalleled beauty, riveting cultural norms, and the ideal ‘office backdrop’ for remote workers. Several key differences that set these two nomad hotspots apart, but here is a quick snapshot comparison of what you can expect in Bali and Thailand:
Best time to go: May – October (Rainy season spans November through March)
Best areas for remote workers: Pererenan, Canggu, Ubud, Uluwatu
Weather: 70 – 90℉ average with high humidity
Cost of living: $1,000 – $1,400 USD/month
WiFi: Widely available, 25 – 40 Mbps
Best time to go: November – April (Monsoon season spans July through October)
Best areas for remote workers: Chiang Mai, Koh Phangan, Pai
Weather: 70 – 95℉ average with high humidity
Cost of living: $1,100 – $1,700 USD/month (depending on part of the country)
WiFi: Widely available, 200- – 225 Mbps
What to consider when choosing your destination
There are a number of factors you’ll want to consider before choosing between Bali and Thailand. First, consider what kind of lifestyle you’d like to live. Are you looking to immerse yourself in the mountainous jungle, or relax along the crystal-clear water of a beach? Do you envision yourself living in shared accommodation, like a co-living space? Or are you hoping to live in a villa by yourself?
Factors like safety, WiFi speeds, visas, and things to do will also influence your quality of life. Here’s what you should consider when making a decision:
Cost of Living
Both Bali and Thailand offer an affordable cost of living—especially when compared to many Westernized destinations. However, the cost of living in each location is heavily dependent on the area you stay in and the type of lifestyle you lead.
Overall, Thailand has a reputation for being more budget-friendly than Bali. However, if you spend your time in more expensive destinations, like Bangkok or one of Thailand’s many lavish islands, you can expect to pay higher prices for accommodation and food. Other cities, like Chiang Mai, Pai, and Koh Phangan, are more affordable—expats can live comfortably in these areas for as little as $1,000 USD/month.
Bali offers an affordable cost of living as well. Again, your monthly expenses will be dependent on the area you live in, the type of accomodation you choose, and the lifestyle you pursue. In general, you can expect to spend as little as $1,000 USD/month to $1,400/month in Bali for comfortable accommodation, living expenses, and transport.
There is a wide range of accommodation options to choose from in Bali and Thailand—from luxurious private villas to shared guesthouses and hostels. Choose between living along the beachy coastlines, bustling city centers, or among rural rice paddies.
In Bali, you can live as cheaply as $10 USD/night in a shared hostel room or $15 USD/night in a basic guest house or homestay. Of course, you can also choose to live in lavish hotels and villas for $100 USD/night or more. The most expensive areas in Bali are Seminyak, Canggu, Nusa Dua, and Uluwatu. Prices vary significantly depending on how close you are to these areas and the type of accommodation you choose.
In Thailand, hostel prices start as low as $5 USD/night. You can stay in bungalows for as little as $15 USD/night, hotel rooms for $40 USD/night, and resorts for $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 areas like Phuket, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai might be more expensive than other parts of the country.
Weather: what to expect and what season to travel
Bali and Thailand are two places renowned for their gorgeous weather—but both destinations go through seasons of incredibly rainy weather that may not be ideal for travelers looking for a sunny island experience. Before you book a plane ticket, consider when you’re looking to travel—this could influence where you go.
In Bali, the rainy season lasts from around the end of October to the end of April. December, January, and February can be especially hot, wet, and muggy—just a five-minute walk down the road could leave you drenched in sweat. Dry season lasts from May to September and is far less humid. Nights can become slightly chilly, so you’ll see many people riding their scooters home in the evenings with a sweater on. If you’re in a beachside area, like Canggu or Uluwatu, expect to encounter different weather than inland areas, like Ubud and Munduk. The further you go inland and upwards, the colder, rainier, or increasingly humid it can become.
On the other hand, Thailand’s rainy season lasts from July to October, making it more comfortable to live there from November to June. Island destinations, like Koh Phangan, offer sun-soaked beaches and chilly evenings, while Northern Thailand has a mountainous climate. If you’re living in a city like Chiang Mai, expect to face humid, warm temperatures during the day and colder temperatures in the evening.
Keep in mind, dry season typically equates to high season for tourists in both destinations, so the cost of living will be slightly higher than usual during drier months. Luckily, Bali and Thailand have rainy seasons at opposite times of the year, meaning you can seamlessly travel between the two destinations during their ideal seasons.
Both Bali and Thailand are generally very safe countries for remote workers, backpackers, and female solo travelers alike. Violent crime is uncommon, but petty crime—like pickpocketing, phone-snatching, or burglary—do occur, especially in touristy areas.
As anywhere, it’s important to be generally cautious and aware of your surroundings. Keep your bag in front of your waist, not along the roadside of your body. Don’t walk with your phone held out in front of you. Check your ATM of choice for possible skimming devices before every withdrawal. Be hyper-vigilant past sundown and never carry all of your valuables on you at once.
Southeast Asia and Drugs
One major commonality between Bali and Thailand: neither destination tolerates drugs. In fact, if you are caught carrying, buying, or using drugs in Bali or Thailand, you can get in a lot of trouble. It could cost you your life—seriously!
Execution or life-long imprisonment is a surprisingly common punishment for smuggling drugs, especially in Indonesia. Being a tourist or expat won’t save you from that fate. If offered to buy or use drugs, the best thing you can do is to walk away. In Kuta, Bali’s biggest tourist destination, cops frequently pose as dealers, and carrying as little as two tabs of ecstasy or grams of pot can result in huge fines and multi-year prison sentences.
Both countries retain the death penalty for drug abuse, but Thailand employs it more rarely than Indonesia. Don’t believe us? Check out these cases of the infamous “Bali Nine” or more recently the death penalty a Frenchman smuggling drugs to Lombok was sentenced to.
In both Thailand and Bali, temples, culture and religion play a vital role in daily life. A majority of Thai people are Buddhist, while Bali is Indonesia’s only Hindu island. The country of Indonesia is about 90% Muslim, with Bali as the exception. 83% of Balinese people identify as Hindu.
Thai monks are infamously dressed in vibrant orange robes. It’s common to see groups of monks among Thailand’s impressive Buddhist temples, decorated with ancient inscriptions, golden accents, and white marble statues.
In Bali, handmade offerings made for the many Hindu gods are placed in banana leaves and laid out in front of houses, cafes, and street corners each day. It’s impossible not to witness a Balinese cultural event during your stay—festivals and religious ceremonies are an almost weekly occurrence, often filling the streets of Bali with colors, music, and dance.
In both destinations, it’s respectful to remove your shoes and cover both your knees and shoulders when entering temples or religious spaces. You may find that some co-working spaces, spas, and venues ask you to remove your shoes before entering as well.
Things to Do
Where to begin? There are so many things to do in both Bali and Thailand—the possibilities are endless. While we can’t detail every activity available, we can provide a brief overview of the unique things to do that attract most travelers to these destinations.
Things to do in Bali:
- Hike a volcano
- Go white water rafting
- Bath in a waterfall
- Explore rice terraces
- Visit a Hindu temple
- Go jungle trekking
- Try surfing
- Go snorkeling and diving
- Experience mountain biking or ATVing
- Travel to the Gili Islands
- Visit Nusa Penia or Nusa Lembongan
There’s no stopping what you can do in Bali. For more ideas, check out this list of 52 Awesome Things To Do in Bali.
Things to do in Thailand:
- Dance the night away at a full moon party
- Stroll the night markets
- Eat out-of-this-world street food
- Hop to and from Thai islands, like Koh Samui, Phi Phi Island, and Koh Phangan
- Take a day trip to an elephant sanctuary
- Go snorkeling and diving in tropical waters
- Visit a Buddhist temple
- Get a Thai massage
- Watch a Muay Thai fight
Looking for more ideas to inspire your Thailand bucket list? Check out this list of 35 Things to do in Thailand.
Throughout South East Asia, you’ll find a mix of traditional and international cuisine at an affordable price tag.
In Bali, “warungs” are traditional restaurants that offer tasty Indonesion dishes, like Nasi Goreng, for prices as low as $2 USD. You’ll also find countless beautiful cafes boasting fantastic coffee, international cuisine, and an abundance of vegetarian and vegan options—many of which offer free, high-speed WiFi. It’s not hard to find Western cuisine in Bali, but you’ll pay more for it. A nice meal will cost you $10 – $25 USD and a lavish meal could cost as much as $50 USD. However, if you’re budget conscious, you can easily spend as little as $10 – 12 USD/day on food eating out.
In Thailand, you can expect to find a wider variety of food options at traditional Thai restaurants compared to Bali’s warungs. While there are countless nice restaurants to choose from throughout Thailand, the meals that are bound to keep you coming back for more will be found on the street. Thai street food is delicious and affordable. Nearly every Thai destination will offer street food throughout the day, especially at the night markets. Thai food can cost as little as $1.50 USD.
When it comes to drinks—namely alcoholic beverages—prices can vary greatly between Bali and Thailand. In Bali, unless you’re drinking local Bintang beers, you can expect to pay around $6 USD for a glass of wine and $8 USD for a cocktail. Most alcohol has to be imported to the island from overseas, making the cost of alcoholic goods increasingly expensive. If you’re a non-drinker, there are plenty of other drink options to choose from while in Bali. Fresh juices, kombuchas, and restorative beverages—like Jammu—are widely available at cafes, restaurants, and shops.
Thailand outdoes Bali when it comes to alcohol. The cost for a beer starts at around 1.50 USD, while the cost of cocktails and wines is dependent on the venue. At Thai night markets, a cocktail can cost as little as $3 USD, while fancy restaurants can charge $12 USD per drink. In general, alcoholic beverages are cheaper in Thailand than in Bali.
Getting around Bali and Thailand are two very different experiences. Bali is a relatively small island—a mere mapped dot compared to the whole of Indonesia (5,780 square kilometers). Thailand is huge in comparison (513,120 square kilometers). In Bali, you’ll largely navigate the island by way of a motorbike or car. In Thailand, you’ll be much more likely to use planes, trains, boats, and buses.
Traveling in Bali
In Bali, there is currently one international airport in Denpasar. 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 heavy traffic with more ease. If you don’t feel comfortable driving a scooter yourself, apps like Gojek make it easy to order a ride on the back of someone else’s motorbike. Hiring a driver for the day is also easy and relatively cheap, with prices averaging $35 – 40 USD per day.
In addition to rideshare apps, there are also typical local cabs, called “taksis.” These can be overpriced and less reliable than other transport options. While Bali is a small island, the winding, dusty roads and diverse natural ecosystem can make routes longer. For reference, it takes about 3.5 hours to drive from Uluwatu (in the very south) to Lovina (in the very north) by car in moderate traffic.
Traveling in Thailand
By comparison, driving from Narathiwat at the southernmost tip of Thailand up to Chiang Rai in the very north would take about 25 hours. It’s no wonder driving isn’t the preferred mode of transport in Thailand!
Luckily, there is a range of transportation options at your disposal. Planes, trains, and long-distance buses are all affordable, generally comfortable, and widely accessible ways to navigate the country. Thailand boasts eleven international airports—making it increasingly easy to quickly get from one place to another.
Boats and ferries are an easy and scenic way to navigate between Thailand’s gorgeous islands. Like Bali, you’ll see many people driving around cities and islands on motorbikes. However, in the biggest cities, like Bangkok, public transport is probably a safer alternative—especially if you’ve never ridden a scooter before. Tuk-tuks are another cheap, fun, and common way to experience Thailand.
Nature: Beaches, mountains, and more
Both Bali and Thailand offer a range of landscapes rampant in natural beauty. If you’re dreaming of white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters filled with tropical fish, an adventure to Thailand’s islands is ideal. But if you’d prefer black sand beaches with ample opportunities for adventure sports, like surfing, diving, and snorkeling, Bali might be a better option.
Beaches in Thailand give a whole new meaning to “paradise.”
Thailand is renowned for its postcard beach views and idyllic white coastlines. Bali, as a volcanic island, has black sand beaches and often darker water. 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, especially in areas like Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Nusa Penida, and the Gili Islands.
Bali offers more exciting surf destinations than Thailand’s beaches.
While many people tend to think of Bali’s beaches, the island has a diverse natural ecosystem to explore. In the north and central parts of the island, you’ll find steep mountains and waterfalls surrounded by thick jungle. In Ubud and surrounding areas, you’ll find tree-lined roads full of monkeys, banana leaves, and palm trees. Volcanoes, waterfalls, lakes, rice paddies—this little island has a ton of natural wonders to explore.
Thailand’s nature varies from north to south of the country. Find endless mountain landscapes in the north and stunning tropical coastlines in the south. Some areas, like Chiang Mai, are famous for attracting wild elephants, tigers, and leopards. The islands, on the other hand, are full of palm trees, sand bars, and are famous for their underwater activities.
An element you’ll definitely want to consider before choosing a destination is what visas are required and available. Are you looking to travel to the country for less than 30 days? If so, you might not need a visa. But if you’re looking to stay longer-term, you’ll likely need to apply for a visa.
For a stay of 30 days or less, you don’t need a visa. You’ll just receive a tourist visa stamp when you pass through immigration at the airport. You’ll have to leave the country when those 30 days are up—an extension isn’t possible.
If you’re staying for 60 days or less, you can buy a Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) for 35 USD or 500,000 IDR at the airport before passing through immigration. This visa is valid for 30 days but you can extend it for another thirty (60 days total).
To stay longer than 60 days, you can try to get a social visa or KITAS work permit visa. These visas are valid for up to six months.
For a stay of 30 days or less, you don’t need a visa. You’ll receive a tourist visa stamp when you pass through immigration to enter the country.
If you’re staying for 60 to 90 days, you can buy a single-entry visa that lasts 60 days but can be extended once for a further 30 days by applying at the Office of Immigration Bureau. It costs about 38 USD or 1,200 THB.
6 Key Differences between Bali and Thailand
To recap, these are the major differences that will help you decide between Bali and Thailand.
#1 Thailand is MUCH bigger
Bali is a tiny island within Indonesia, while Thailand is a massive country full of numerous big cities. If you prefer being able to travel around a destination quickly and “see it all,” then you might enjoy Bali more. If you’re looking for a destination that offers a range of different cities—each full of its own sub-culture, activities, and climates—then Thailand is an ideal choice.
#2 They have different rainy seasons
Rain can put a damper on your travel plans—literally. Depending on the time of year you’re looking to travel and how much sunshine you’re hoping to catch, one destination might be a better choice than the other. Bali’s rainy season spans November through March, while Thailand’s runs from July through October.
#3 The landscapes and beaches are very different
You won’t’ find many white sandy beaches and piercing blue waters in Bali—those are much more common in Thailand. Bali offers volcanic beaches, mountains, jungle, and rice paddies. Thailand has a range of different landscapes running from north to south of the country—from thick jungle and mountain ranges in the far north to picturesque islands full of palm trees in the south.
#4 Cost of living varies
Of course, this is largely dependent on the kind of lifestyle you lead while traveling and working remotely. Thailand is notoriously less expensive than Bali overall. However, cities like Bangkok, Thailand are likely to be more expensive than living in Ubud, Bali when it comes to the cost of living.
Expect to pay a little more for private accommodations and luxurious villas in Bali, plus some of the international cuisine found in tourist areas. In Thailand, you can expect to pay more for transport than you would in Bali since distances are much further.
#5 Bali is quicker to get around
Getting around Bali is much easier than touring the whole country of Thailand (which is nearly 88 times larger in size). A scooter will get you almost anywhere in Bali, whereas in Thailand you’ll need to take a mix of planes, trains, boats, and buses to access all the country has to offer.
#6 Each destination suits a different lifestyle
Both Bali and Thailand are fantastic places for remote workers, but each location suits a different lifestyle. Thailand has better beaches than Bali, so if you’re looking to indulge in a little slice of beachy paradise then this might be the better option for you. Northern Thailand offers big cities and remote villages alike, with stunning jungles and mountainscapes surrounding them. Getting around Thailand takes longer, but you have more diverse activities to try and destinations to explore.
Bali is ideal for surfers and yogis who want to live a short motorbike ride away from everything. With amazing cafes and restaurants within a short distance of one another—almost all of which boast high-speed internet and a laptop-friendly workspace—you never need to travel too far.
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