Thailand or Vietnam – which should you visit?

Can’t make up your mind between Thailand and Vietnam? It’s no wonder. Both countries offer the perfect backdrop for a multi-centre adventure, whisking you from bustling, east-meets-west cities and iconic historical landmarks to stunning beaches bordered by colourful coral reefs.

To demystify the dilemma, we chatted with Bekki Turner, Personal Travel Expert at Kuoni Manchester, who has explored both South-East Asia gems. Read on as Bekki and the team share insights to help you decide which country deserves the next pin on your map.

Railay beach, Krabi, Thailand

Beach bliss: Which country takes the crown for the best beaches?

Bekki’s take:

Thailand’s beaches are the main event in my book. The Instagrammable shores of Krabi come to mind first, but there are also the boulder-dotted bays of Koh Samui and the sun-kissed sands of Hua Hin, a quick jaunt from the capital. Plus, rustic islands like Koh Jum and Koh Chang are hard to beat.

Vietnam’s beaches might not get as much press, but there are some stunning spots if you know where to look. Central Vietnam, around Danang and Hoi An, has both quiet, sand-swathed coves and lively strips like My Khe Beach, buzzing day and night. Head further south to Phu Quoc for flour-white sands and luxury resorts.

Pushed to choose, Thailand gets my vote. Vietnam's beaches are beautiful and lesser-known, but Thailand's variety and sheer beauty give it the edge.

Ha My Beach at Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An was absolutely idyllic. Upgrade to a beachfront villa, and you'll have the sugary sands just steps from your room.” - Kirsty Faulks, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Solihull

I loved the private beach at Cape Panwa in Phuket. There were plenty of sunbeds under shady palms, excellent snorkelling at low tide and the hotel even has a quirky funicular from the lobby, so you don’t have to walk down the steps.” - Louis Hannis, Far East Team Leader, The Expert Hub

Hanoi, Vietnam

City showdowns: Which city has the most captivating chaos?

Bekki’s take:

This is tricky to answer – the gateway cities in both Thailand and Vietnam are so different, yet equally exciting. In Vietnam, Hanoi was my favourite city. It’s enormous, with charming French colonial buildings and bustling streets packed with bikes – you soon learn how to master the art of crossing them with confidence. Train Street was a highlight for me – cosy coffee shops line the tracks where you can relax with a drink and watch the train rumble past just inches away. Vietnam feels far less commercialised compared to Thailand. Even in the major cities, the focus is on small family-run businesses rather than the big chains we see everywhere.

Bangkok, on the other hand, is a city I adore for its markets and sky bars. Visiting again after many years, I found that it’s transformed into a polished, modern metropolis. You can still explore the sensory overload areas like Chinatown and Khaosan Road, but the city now feels cleaner and, in some parts, much calmer than I remember from my first visit.

In Ho Chi Minh City, stop by Ben Thanh market to soak up the vivacious atmosphere and mingle with the locals – our Saigon’s Highlights in a Day tour includes this and all of the key sights. If you’re a literature lover, visit the cute Book Streets in both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi and don’t miss the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, which was Vietnam’s first university, designed to educate the elite.” - Sammy Line, Training Executive

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Culture clash: Which country’s culture fascinated you more?

Bekki’s take:

I found the cultures of both countries incredibly intriguing. The Thai people are gentle and kind, with a profound respect for authority and royalty. Buddhism is central, shaping everything from the serene vibe of the temples to the daily practice of greeting others with a wai. The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand’s spiritual centre, is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. I’ve never seen anywhere as grand and colourful.

Vietnam’s culture varies from north to south, with a strong Chinese influence. In the north, Confucian and Taoist beliefs highlight the importance of elders and family values. I got a taste of the spiritual side of the culture during a walking meditation tour around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, where our local guide explained the principles of Ying and Yang.

Learning about the Buddhist way of life in Thailand was fascinating. Their ethos is open and accepting, focusing on day-to-day living. I can honestly say that the people we met were some of the kindest I've ever encountered.” - Jenny Stanniforth, Personal Travel Expert, Kuoni Meadowhall

Consider heading north into the mountainous regions of Thailand and Vietnam. In places like Sapa and Thailand's Golden Triangle, you'll have the chance to meet hill tribe communities and dive deep into their cultures. You could find yourself learning to craft bamboo instruments or joining a traditional dance.” - Ariana Feroz, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Aberdeen

Vietnamese spring rolls

A delicious duel: Which country had the best foodie experiences?

Bekki’s take:

Thailand’s street food is legendary. The night markets are filled with the enticing aromas of lemongrass and chillies, and flaming woks at stalls brimming with bold, flavourful favourites like pad Thai. One dish you have to try before leaving is mango sticky rice, a heavenly combination of juicy mangoes and creamy coconut-infused sticky rice.

Vietnam’s cuisine is similar but leans more towards freshness and vibrancy than spice. You’ve got to try the Vietnamese spring rolls dipped in nuoc cham and crusty banh mi sandwiches, perfect for grabbing on the go while exploring the ancient cities. But the standout for me wasn’t a meal – it was the coffee. The country has fantastic independent coffee shops like Café Giang in Hanoi. Egg coffee is a must-try – it sounds strange, but it’s sweet and delicious. And I still dream about the salt coffee I had on Hanoi’s famous Train Street.

While Thailand’s street food is rightly world-famous, Vietnam won me over with its fresh flavours and exceptional coffee culture.

We had the most amazing pho in a local restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. I had mine with well-done brisket and fried dough sticks to soak up all the amazing juices that had been marinating overnight.” - Sammy Line, Training Executive

The best food experience I had in Thailand was at Banyan Tree Phuket. I highly recommend the beef massaman curry with purple rice – it was perfection. One Thai dish I still talk about is tom yum, a spicy and sour soup considered the national dish of Thailand.” - Louis Hannis, Far East Team Leader, The Expert Hub

Au Co Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam

Special spots: Were there any places that left a lasting impression?

Bekki’s take:

Hoi An in Vietnam is one of the prettiest towns I have ever visited. The ancient Old Town, with its cobbled, lantern-filled streets, should be on any Vietnam itinerary. Another highlight was the Au Co Halong Bay Cruise. Everything from the food to the cabins was exceptional, and the activities were just as enjoyable as the sun-soaking sessions on the top deck. The 6am wake-up for Tai Chi was absolutely worth it for the still sunrise views over the bay.

An escape to tiny Koh Yao Noi feels like stepping back in time to the Thailand of 20 years ago. The locals greet you with warm smiles, and the island has a laid-back, authentic vibe that’s hard to find elsewhere. Don’t miss golden hour cocktails at the aptly-named Sunset Bar – the ‘Stars Killer’ cocktails are irresistible.” – Jenny Stanniforth, Personal Travel Expert, Kuoni Meadowhall

Cape Fahn Hotel, Koh Samui, Thailand

I left a piece of my heart at Cape Fahn Hotel in Koh Samui. This private island, accessible by a short land or sea crossing, feels incredibly special and exclusive. With only 22 villas, each with its own private pool, it’s the ultimate retreat for honeymooners. For romantic brownie points, book the ‘Feet in the Sea’ picnic or the Bath Butler service.” – Ariana Feroz, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Aberdeen

Elephant Hills Jungle Safari, Thailand

Final verdict: which country would you go back to first?

Bekki’s take:

Choosing between Thailand and Vietnam is no easy feat. For a well-established destination with wondrous beaches, adventure and relaxation, especially for a first trip to Asia, Thailand is perfect. Vietnam, on the other hand, offers more authentic, off-the-beaten-path adventures.

I’d happily return to both, but if I had to pick, I’d go back to Thailand first. There’s so much more I want to explore – I’d like to bring the whole family along and pair up Elephant Hills and Khao Lak. No matter which country you choose first, you’ll be itching to come back for more adventures in Asia.

Me and my husband can’t wait to go back to Vietnam. It felt refreshingly less touristy than Thailand. The incredible food, warm-hearted locals, captivating cities and breathtaking scenery tick all the boxes for an unforgettable, multi-layered adventure in Asia.” - Sammy Line, Training Executive

I love both places. Thailand has a deeply spiritual vibe, while Vietnam is rich in history. It would be hard to choose which one to go back to; however, if I had to, I would say Thailand. There’s more wildlife and tons of different things to do – experiencing the elephant sanctuaries and hill tribe culture of Chiang Mai is on my bucket list.” – Kirsty Faulks, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Solihull

Wat Mahathat,Sukhothai Thailand

Good to know

How to get there:

Planning your trip takes a bit of thought, but we’re here to help design a route that’s just right for you, ensuring everything from your connections to your overall journey is smooth.

For Thailand: You can fly non-stop to Bangkok on direct flights from the UK or fly to Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui via a hub airport – Dubai is a popular place to stop en route.

For Vietnam: There are direct flights to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City from London Heathrow via Vietnam Airlines. For more flexibility, you can also fly with award-winning carriers like Emirates and Qatar Airlines, which serve UK regional airports including Manchester and Edinburgh.

Where to go when:

Krabi, Thailand

Thailand: Best visited from November to February for cooler, dry weather.

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Vietnam: Ideal from November to April, with the south being warm year-round.

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Travel Tips:

A Thai cooking class is a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the local culture and flavours. You'll come back with the know-how to whip up Thai favourites like Pad Kra Pao and green curry. Many of these classes also feature a guided market tour, where you'll get up close with exotic ingredients and learn the traditional cooking techniques that make Thai food so unique and delicious.” - Ariana Feroz, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Aberdeen

Learning a few basic Vietnamese phrases can go a long way in enhancing your interactions with locals who really appreciate the effort. Don’t miss the chance to explore the city like a local by taking a Vespa tour.” - Kirsty Faulks, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Solihull

Chiang Rai, Thailand


Can’t decide between Vietnam and Thailand? Why not visit both? With our ‘The Curious’ Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand itinerary, you can experience a whirlwind tour of South-East Asia. Our Personal Travel Experts have firsthand experience in Asia. Talk to us and we’ll listen to what you love and plan an itinerary that’s perfect for you, sharing our top tips and favourite hotels.

This article featured expert advice from

Bekki Turner, Personal Travel Expert at Kuoni Manchester

Kirsty Faulks, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Solihull

Louis Hannis, Far East Team Leader, The Expert Hub

Sammy Line, Training Executive

Jenny Stanniforth, Personal Travel Expert, Kuoni Meadowhall

Ariana Feroz, Assistant Manager, Kuoni Aberdeen

This feature was created on 26th June 2024. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. Feature by Heather Flanagan.

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