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The ultimate Asian showdown: Thailand vs. Indonesia.
These two are often pitted against each other when it comes time to plan a trip to Southeast Asia, and it’s not hard to see why. Both countries offer the utmost in adventure and relaxation, in addition to incredible landscapes, unique culture and cuisine, and some of the best beaches in the world.
But don’t be confused. Thailand and Indonesia are two very different countries, each with its own list of pros and cons. Before you decide which of these two icons to travel to, there’s a lot to consider.
Both Thailand and Indonesia will hit the mark if you’re searching for beautiful soft sand beaches and incredible landscapes. But besides the beaches, these lands couldn’t be more different.
This guide will give you a deep dive into each country to help you decide between Indonesia and Thailand.
Thailand vs Indonesia
If you’re stressing about deciding between Indonesia and Thailand, fear not. You really can’t go wrong no matter which place you choose – they are both incredible. But figuring out where to start planning your trip can be tricky, so consider what type of experience you want to have.
Indonesia is more of an off-the-beaten-path destination (with the exception of Bali) since the country is made up of more than 15,000 islands. Getting to and from the islands can be a bit hard to navigate, but there are a lot fewer tourists, which can be a huge pro.
Thailand has been around the block with tourists for decades, and this tropical country is well-versed in accommodating visitors. This makes planning a bit easier, but it also comes with big crowds and a somewhat less authentic vibe.
There’s a lot to break down, so we’ve put Indonesia and Thailand head-to-head in some of the key categories you’ll need to consider before your getaway.
Popular Entry Hubs
We know that both Thailand and Indonesia are in Southeast Asia, but where exactly are you going to fly into?
This is one of the first parts of planning any international vacay, and while it won’t make or break your trip, it’s important to consider which country is more accessible to you. You should also take into account your plans once you arrive – are you spending a few days in the capital, or are you heading straight into another itinerary with additional flights, trains or car rides?
Thailand has two major international airports – one in the capital city of Bangkok and one in Phuket.
The Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), also known unofficially as the Bangkok International Airport, is the larger of the two, and it’s one of the busiest travel hubs in Southeast Asia. That means you’ll find tons of flights in and out from all over the world and more options for direct flights than almost anywhere else in the region.
The Phuket International Airport (HKT) also caters to international travelers, but it mainly services other locations within Southeast Asia and Thailand specifically. You’ll likely fly through Phuket if you planning on visiting Thailand’s famed Gulf Islands like Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan, though it may not be your original point of entry.
There are also some smaller airports in Chiang Mai (CNX) and Krabi (KBV), that allow you to begin your adventure further north or south respectively, but you’ll likely pay more for these tickets, and direct flights are few and far between.
The main gateway to Indonesia is Jakarta, and the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (CGK) is where you’ll find the most international flights coming in and out of the country. Service is less frequent than at Thailand’s main entry points, and tickets may be a bit more expensive depending on where you’re coming from.
Bali also has a good international airport (DPS), though you may not be able to find a direct flight if you’re coming from far away.
If you want to start your Indonesian adventure in Sumatra there are plenty of international airports, though your best bet will likely be the Kualanamu International Airport (KNO) in Medan.
Before it’s time for wheels up and seats back, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct visa for entering either Thailand or Indonesia. For citizens of most countries, the process is pretty straightforward, but you’ll want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row to avoid any unwanted surprises.
Citizens of most countries can enter Thailand without a visa for up to 30 days. If you want to stay for longer than 30 days, you will need to apply for a visa. Popular long-term Thai visas include extended tourist visas for stays up to 60 days, digital nomad visas, and work permits for teaching English.
Note that visa requirements vary depending on your purpose of travel, where you’re coming from, and how long you hope to stay.
Just like Thailand, most travelers won’t need a visa for stays under 30 days in Indonesia. Once you’re there, you can apply to extend your visa for up to 60 days. There aren’t currently a lot of great options for work visas in Indonesia, though the digital nomad community is growing, and they may someday have a visa similar to Thailand’s.
Note that visa requirements vary depending on your purpose of travel, where you’re coming from, and how long you hope to stay.
Obviously, the weather can have a big impact on deciding between Indonesia and Thailand. After all, you don’t want to plan a beach vacation during the rainy season or a hiking excursion during the burning season! While both countries are in Southeast Asia, the climate differs greatly between the two.
As a rule of thumb, the best time to visit Thailand is from November through February. These are the “cool” (read comfortable) and dry months, which offer pleasant sunny conditions for all types of activities.
Not surprisingly, this is also when most tourists flock to the popular spots all around the country. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider visiting in the off-season. Just be sure to avoid Northern Thailand between March and May, as this is the burning season, and the air quality and visibility are poor enough for even the locals to head south.
Thailand’s southern coasts vary quite a bit when it comes to weather. The rainy season on the west coast occurs from April through October, while the east coast gets the most rain in September and December. Visiting during the rainy season is a great way to avoid crowds and steep prices, and it’s usually not as bad as it seems! Sure, there will be times when the downpours ruin a good beach day, but most days the rain only lasts for a few hours before the sun re-stakes its claim in the sky.
Indonesia’s islands are spread out across the Indian and Pacific oceans, but the climate is relatively consistent, with only a few exceptions. The dry season lasts from May through September, making summer the best time for most travelers. The exceptions are the Maluku and Raja Ampat regions, which get a lot of rain during this time.
Like Thailand, Indonesia’s rainy season shouldn’t scare you off completely. The wet months usually get a few hours of rain a day, then turn sunny and pleasant (if a bit humid). Those who want to avoid the crowds can expect fewer tourists and decent weather on either end of the dry season (think April and October).
Note that weather across this island nation can be a bit unpredictable no matter which month you visit. Always double (or triple!) check the weather before you depart and pack accordingly!
Cost and Currency
The worst part of any trip is creating a budget, but, alas, it is necessary. Southeast Asia is a budget-friendly destination no matter where you land, but let’s break down the currency and rough costs of Indonesia and Thailand.
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Thailand is generally considered to be a bit more expensive than Indonesia, but it all depends on how you like to travel. There are great accommodation options available for much less than that in the West, and if you’re on a backpacker budget, you’ll find hostels across the country for dirt cheap.
Food in Thailand is usually cheaper than that in Indonesia, especially if you’re dining on a lot of street food. There are also a lot more public transportation options and pretty affordable domestic flights, which will end up saving you a lot in the long run. Of course, if you want to live like a king, things will be more expensive, but it’s definitely possible (and easy, even) to keep costs low in Thailand.
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (RP)
Indonesia is one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia, which makes it a hit for backpackers and low-budget travelers. You’ll find cheap accommodation in guest houses and hostels across the country, and food is extremely affordable (especially street food and fresh produce from markets).
While Indonesia is undeniably cheap, you can wrack up a hefty bill here if you’re not careful. Certain regions like Bali are overly popular, which drives up prices significantly. It’s also expensive to hop between multiple islands, so if you want to stick to a smaller budget, consider choosing just one or two areas to explore. Transportation can also be expensive as public options are not as widespread, so keep these things in mind while planning and budgeting.
Beaches and Nature
You won’t want for scenery in either Thailand or Indonesia, and both offer soft sand beaches, unbelievable blue water, and lush landscapes. But away from the coast, the terrain varies quite a bit, and in turn, so do the activities available in each country.
Thailand is a tropical paradise that knows how to keep visitors coming back to its scenic shores time and again. There’s a little slice of paradise for every type of traveler, from luxury resorts to laid-back spots that have yet to be spoiled by hoards of tourists.
The gorgeous beaches are a huge draw to Thailand, but there are other stunning areas all around the country that should (but don’t) get the same attention. From the verdant hiking trails and raging waterfalls in northern Pai to the ancient temples and towering mountain ranges of central Thailand, there’s a lot more to feast your eyes on here than just the beaches, incredible as they may be.
Indonesia is as diverse as it is vast, which makes it a dream come true for those seeking unspoiled nature in all its forms. It should come as no surprise that this island nation is known for its stunning beaches, and you’ll find soft sandy stretches on any and all of the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia.
There are mountains for hiking, reefs for diving, and dense rainforests teeming with rare wildlife. There is also an impressive collection of volcanoes, pristine national parks, and sweeping rice patty fields. You’ll never tire of the ever-changing scenery in Indonesia, with new backdrops available every time you switch islands.
One of the best parts of traveling to a new place is trying out the cuisine, and both Thailand and Indonesia offer up dishes with fresh local ingredients and bold flavors. Southeast Asia, in general, is a mecca for foodies across the globe, so you know you’ll be eating good no matter which of these two countries you choose.
While it’s impossible to say which of these two counties has the better cuisine, Thai food definitely has more of a reputation. Thai food is famous the world over for delicious staples like pad Thai, Tom Yum soup, and colorful curries.
The cuisine of Thailand is characterized by its balance of sweet, sour, salt, and spice, creating a flavor bomb in the best possible sense of the word. You’ll find tantalizing eats everywhere you go, from the cheap street food in Bangkok to the fresh seafood in the islands, and everywhere in between.
Indonesian cuisine isn’t as popular as Thai food, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. This country is a melting pot of different cultures and religions, and the food is as diverse as the islands. You could travel Indonesia for months and never have the same meal twice, and even if you did, each island puts its own twist on things.
There are a few classic dishes present throughout the country, including Bakso (a meatball noodle soup, satay (juicy meat skewers), and beef Rendang (a tender beef dish with a rich and spicy sauce), among others.
Steeped in rich customs and traditions, both Thailand and Indonesia offer a kaleidoscope of cultural offerings. From festivals and historic landmarks to traditional music and ancient temples, both countries have a unique and interesting culture all their own.
Thai culture is heavily shaped by Chinese and Indian influences, and Buddhism is the main religion. You’ll find breathtaking temples all across the country, including the famous White Temple in Chiang Rai and the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Another noteworthy cultural attraction in Thailand is the ancient city of Sukhothai – the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam in the 13th century.
While these sites are impressive, one of the best ways to get a feel for Thai culture is by attending a festival. If you can, try to attend the biggest festival of the year, the Thai New Year celebration, or Songkran. Other ways to experience Thai culture include indulging in the street food and nightlife, both of which you’ll find plenty of in Bangkok.
Indonesia is home to a variety of religions and cultures, including Hinduism, Islam, Chirstianity, and Buddhism. Just like Thailand, Indonesia has some gorgeous temples, mosques, shrines, and other landmarks dedicated to dieties, including the Borobudur and Prambanan temples in Yogyakarta and the Tanah Lot temple in Bali.
Bali is often considered the cultural capital of Indonesia, and over the years it has gained a reputation as a retreat for those focuted on wellness. Don’t forget that Bali is just one small island of many in Indonesia, and there is a lot more to discover beyond this popular hot spot!
Transportation and Infrastructure
As both Indonesia and Thailand are famed for their stunning natural attractions, you’ll likely be doing a bit of traveling within either country you go to. It’s important to take into consideration the infrastructure of each country and how accessible transportation options are to tourists.
Getting around Thailand is fairly easy. They have a well-developed public transportation system, with trains going long distances and tons of bus options for journeys both near and far. There are also Tuk Tuks, songthaews (shared taxis), and motorbike rentals for the more adventurous, plus regular old taxis for those who are more comfortable with what they know.
Domestic flights within Thailand are affordable, and they’re faster than buses and ferries if you’re going long distances.
Unfortunately, Indonesia’s vast size and diverse geography make transportation a bit challenging. The easiest way to get from island to island is by plane, and you’ll likely find plenty of affordable domestic flights. Ferries might sound fun, especially if you’re pinching pennies, but you’ll likely spend all day getting from A to B, which isn’t ideal when you only have a limited amount of time.
Once you’re on an island, there are buses, boats, and rickshaws to transport you around, though these can be pretty slow and unreliable. You could also rent a motorbike, but road conditions are not ideal and local traffic can be chaotic. Your best bet for shorter distances is to hail a taxi and leave the navigation to someone else.
Capital Cities (Bangkok vs. Jakarta)
Thailand and Indonesia both claim chaotic capital cities with populations topping the 10 million mark. You’ll most likely pass through the capital city of whichever country you end up in, but if you want to spend a few days exploring after you lan, then check out this comparison of Bangkok and Jakarta.
Bangkok is Thailand’s bustling capital city. It sits near the base of the country’s inland section along the Gulf of Thailand, with the Malay Peninsula jutting out to the south.
Bangkok is a vibrant city, full of night markets, ancient temples, and other cultural landmarks. Thailand’s capital could be a full trip in itself, there’s simply that much to see and do here. Bangkok is also extremely beautiful. Modern skyscrapers rise up from the lovely Chao Phraya River that flows through the city, and there are plenty of parks and tree-lined streets mixed in with the 21st-century infrastructure.
Jakarta, on the other hand, leaves travelers feeling a little lackluster. This capital city is about the same size as Bangkok, but that’s where the similarities end.
Jakarta sits on Java’s northwestern end along Jakarta Bay. You won’t find the same towering skyscrapers or twinkling lights as you do in Bangkok, and while it certainly has its hidden gems, there simply isn’t as much to do in Jakarta. The population density is higher, so there are more people condensed into a smaller area, and you’ll feel and see the crowds more here than in Thailand. That being said, Jakarta is a bit cheaper for things like food and accommodation, though you probably won’t want to spend much time here before venturing into other areas around Indonesia.
Both Indonesia and Thailand are relatively safe countries. Both nations have low crime rates, though there are a few things visitors should be on the lookout for.
Violent crime is pretty low in Thailand, and you shouldn’t worry about your overall safety or well-being when you travel here. That being said, Thailand is fairly touristy, which comes with a few connotations. In terms of security, you’ll need to beware of pickpockets in big cities and crowded areas. You should also never leave your things unattended at the beaches, or leave anything of value in rental cars/motorbikes.
While both countries are considered safe for travelers, Indonesia will likely make you feel more at ease. You’ll likely be taking taxis rather than public transportation, which lessens the chances of pickpocketing. In addition, most of Indonesia is much less touristy than Thailand, so theft is not as big of a risk. Even still, follow the same advice as above and be sure to pay attention in crowded areas and don’t leave your things unattended at the beach.
Pros and Cons of Thailand and Indonesia
TLDR? Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of Thailand and Indonesia
Pros of Thailand
- Cheap and easily accessible public transportation
- Fun capital city and unique festivals
- Tons of cultural attractions across the country
Cons of Thailand
- Very touristy and overcrowded at times
- Forced animal tourism
- More expensive than Indonesia
Pros of Indonesia
- More authentic experience with fewer tourists
- Variety in everything: food, landscape, cultural sites, etc.
- More affordable
Cons of Indonesia
- Harder to navigate
- Big cities lack modern infrastructure
- The “influencers” of Bali
Top Places to Visit in Thailand
Bangkok – You’ll likely fly into Bangkok on your way into Thailand, and you should definitely take a few days to explore this vibrant city. Indulge in lots of street food, visit the night markets, and check out some ornate temples. A few days is all you need in this chaotic hub before moving on!
Kanchanaburi – Just east of Bangkok you’ll find the historic town of Kanchanaburi. This town is known for its part in WWII, specifically, the Bridge over the River Kwai, which many POWs were forced to cross. The area surrounding the city is also breathtaking, especially the waterfalls at Erawan National Park.
Ayutthaya – If you’re interested in Thailand’s gorgeous temples, don’t miss Ayutthaya. This ancient city was once a capital of the ancient kingdom of Siam, and you’ll find a stunning collection of ruins and majestic temples. This was once the largest city in the world, and the scale is truly unbelievable.
Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai is a fairly large and modern city, and it’s quickly becoming a favorite amongst digital nomads. There is a lot to see and do here, from histiroical temples and the stunning old city, to the enthralling night markets and top-notch restaurants.
Pai – Thailand is known for being pretty touristy, but if you want to get off the beaten path, head to Pai. This small community is known for its laid-back vibe, stunning scenery, and a whole lot of outdoor recreation, including hiking trails and waterfalls.
Gulf Islands – Looking forward to those beautiful beaches you’ve heard all about? You’ll find plenty of soft sandy stretches along Thailand’s Gulf Islands, and there’s a beach for every type of traveler. For great diving, hit up Koh Tao, for epic beach parties, head to Koh Phangan, and to relax in luxury, make a B-line for Koh Samui.
Krabi – If you’re more into beach bumming, then Krabi offers the perfect setting. Krabi is home to some of the best beaches in southern Thailand, and the landscape that surrounds them is absolutely breathtaking.
Phuket – Phuket is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand, and for good reason. It has everything most people look for on a Thai getaway – stunning beaches, crystal-clear water, and great nightlife. It also has a ton of tourists, but it’s still worth checking out.
Top Places to Visit in Indonesia
Bali – Bali is perhaps the most famous place in Indonesia, and lately, it’s been all the rave. Although slightly overcrowded, Bali is NOT underrated, and this verdant island has a lot on offer. From the lush rice fields of Ubud to the big waves of Uluwatu, you may never want to leave Bali!
Sumatra – Sumatra is one of Indonesia’s largest islands, located just off of Malaysia. This island is all about nature, with deep lakes, UNESCO-protected national parks, waterfalls, and a whole lot of unique flora and fauna.
Yogyakarta – Skip Jakarta and spend some time in Yogyakarta instead. Both are located on Java, Indonesia’s most populated island, but Yogyakarta offers a bit more bang for your buck. Yes, it’s a big chaotic city, but there are also ancient temples, awesome markets, and easy access to awesome adventures like hiking through volcanoes and traversing rugged caves.
Komodo Island – Wildlife enthusiasts cannot miss Komodo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the world’s largest lizards. The island is straight out of a fantasy, with Komodo Dragons lounging around lush forests and lazying on glorious white sand beaches. There are tons of other unique creatures here as well, plus plenty of trails to lead you through the rugged terrain.
Lombok – If you want the Bali experience without all the tourists, head to Lombok. Located just east of Bali, this island has a lot of the same features (some even say the beaches are better!), but it has yet to be discovered by the crowds. The exception is the Gili Islands which sit off of Lombok’s west coast, but these are still less frequented than Bali.
Raja Ampat Islands – Further easy, you’ll find the Raja Ampat Islands, famed for their colorful coral reefs and pristine beaches. This is a popular destination for diving, but the scenery makes it a hit with every type of traveler.
Sulawesi – Most of Indonesia is quite far off the beaten path, but if you really want a hidden gem, look no further than Sulawesi. Criminally underrated, this large island cluster packs a big punch with unique wildlife, crystal clear waters, friendly locals, and next to no tourists!
Who is Thailand better for?
Thailand is better for those who are new to traveling. The country is fairly easy to navigate with its many forms of public transportation, the tourism industry is well developed, and many attractions are geared towards travelers.
Who is Indonesia better for?
Indonesia is better for those who are looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination unlike anywhere else on Earth. It’ll take a bit more planning and effort to get around, but the lack of crowds and breathtaking and varied scenery make it all worth it.
Where is Bali?
Many people forget that Bali is part of Indonesia. Emphasis on the part. It is an amazing little island, but over the past few years, it has exploded in the tourism and wellness industries. There’s so much more to Indonesia than Bali, so don’t limit yourself if you choose Indonesia over Thailand.
If you want the Bali experience while exploring Thailand, check out the Krabi Islands – a stunning cluster of islands off the country’s western coast.