Food influences so many of our travel decisions these days, so if you plan your trips based on cuisine you’ll have a hard time deciding between Vietnam and Thailand. Both countries have excellent eats on offer, with plenty of zingy, fresh flavours and comforting hot noodle dishes.
Thai food has all the classics known the world over, like pad Thai or massaman curry, and is heavy on the coconut milk and shrimp paste. But Vietnamese cuisine is gaining in popularity too, thanks to its simplicity and healthy nature – try bánh mì (sandwiches) filled with raw vegetables and sweet minced pork, or enjoy a comforting pho (rice noodle broth).
If you love a good party, both Thailand and Vietnam present excellent options. Full moon parties abound on Thailand’s islands (the original being Ko Pha Ngan), and even when there is no full moon, beach bars and nightclubs keep the good vibes going every night. In the capital of Bangkok, the party scene is equally wild, with bars serving beer towers and cocktails in buckets down the main backpacker thoroughfare, Khao San Road – though avoid its seedier side and ignore the tuk-tuk drivers offering lifts to less salubrious late-night activities.
Vietnam’s nightlife scene is a little more subdued, and while you will find clubs in its big cities, the after-dark highlight here is bia hơi. Brewed in small bars, or sometimes even in people’s living rooms, this local lager is sipped from small glasses while sitting in tiny plastic chairs, often on a street corner as a frenetic city buzzes around you. There’s no more Vietnamese experience than this.
Both Thailand and Vietnam have a coastline, the former lapped by the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, and the latter washed over by the South China Sea. But there is one clear winner here: for its pristine sands and sheer variety of beaches, Thailand is the place to go.
Vietnam’s coastline is long, and there are a few fun stops along it (Hoi An is delightful and Nha Trang and Da Nang make great enjoyable city breaks), but the beaches here can often be polluted and facilities are nowhere near as sophisticated as its neighbour. In Thailand, you’ve got an overwhelming choice of beach break destinations, from the coast spreading east and west from Bangkok and the islands strung out in the Andaman sea.
Both Thailand and Vietnam have fascinating culture, but the Thailand’s temples win out for their sheer splendour. Bangkok’s Grand Palace is a striking introduction to Buddhism for any first-time visitor, with its shimmering gold stupas and serene-faced Buddhas, and elsewhere in country you’ll find incredible structures like the pristine Wat Tham Pha Plong surrounded by jungle just, or the intriguing Wat Rong Khun at Chiang Rai. Entirely white on the outside, it’s painted with eye-popping, colourful murals depicting modern vices on the inside – a fascinating commentary on modern life.
There are hundreds of religious and cultural festivals throughout Thailand too, which offer an insight into the country’s traditions and beliefs like nothing else – Songkhran, the Thai New year, is the most exciting of all.
Modern culture abounds in Bangkok, too. The Bangkok Art & Culture Centre is a great place to start, then you can delve into the local art scene at independent galleries like Kalwit Studio and 100 Tonson Gallery.
July 18, 2016