There are many popular destinations when visiting Thailand with Bangkok and Phuket being among the top choices. However, each one offers its own unique experiences from the other. So it may be hard to decide on which city to visit if you have limited time for vacation in Thailand. Choosing between them will depend on your interests, budget, timing, and preferences.
Here we do a comparison of some of the highlights each city provides to help you make a more informed decision. If you can do both, even better! There is no way you can make a wrong choice as just traveling to Thailand is the right decision. This beautiful country has so much to offer and you may want to come visit multiple times over the years.
What is Great About Phuket?
Explore the Tropical Beaches
The Phuket province is most famously known for its many beautiful beaches and this is probably where you will want to spend most of your leisure time just relaxing in the sand and soaking up the sun. You of course have Patong Beach, known for being the longest beach in Phuket. It’s one of the busiest tourist spots here with many restaurants, hotels, and water activities to keep you busy all day. The nightlife here is very active as well so you will be in for an exciting time.
Other nearby popular beaches include Kata Beach, Nai Harn Beach, and Karon Beach. Most can be either crowded or empty depending on the time of year that you go and that day’s weather so be prepared. The water is very clean though with magnificent turquoise colors.
Aside from that you have water activities such as jet skiing, paragliding, snorkeling, and scuba diving. We do recommend you read and review these offers before choosing one as sometimes there are scammers targeting tourists who do not know any better.
Indulge in Relaxation and Holistic Wellness
Focusing on the physical, spiritual, and mental well-being of both the locals and tourists, Phuket has become a central location for wellness and spa treatment centers as part of the whole package. You will find the city and beachfront filled with top luxury resorts catering to your pampering.
Choose private villa options with amazing panoramic ocean views while enjoying a laid-back atmosphere. Find yourself at any of the many yoga and breathing classes offered at these locations. Consider trying acupuncture while you are here. It’s a great way to hit the reset button on yourself and refresh with a new perspective. These are perfect for a luxury traveler or someone who just wants to treat themself for once.
Enjoy an Island Hopping Adventure
Phuket also serves as a great starting point to explore. Consistent boat tours leave Ao Por Pier to take you around the water and nearby islands if you don’t feel like sitting in one place and want to explore. Sightseeing tours are just one of the top things to do in Phuket. You have the Phi Phi and Khai Islands to start, along with the always-popular Phang Nga Bay.
When you explore these islands, you are stepping into what is pretty much-untouched land. They are filled with lush jungles, large caves and coves, and towering limestone cliffs. Panak Island contains a mangrove forest you can select to kayak and canoe through. Khao Phing Kan is the movie famous “James Bond” Island from “The Man with the Golden Gun”.
The views are stunning and worthy of some photography and Instagram shots. Most of these are day tours with lunch and snacks served during the afternoon. If you are hoping to explore a lot of the islands you should stay in Phuket for at least three to four days.
Head inland for Nature and Elephants
Once you go away from the water and head further in, you will be able to explore the lush jungle and variety of nature and animals here. There is the Khao Phra Taeo National Park northeast of Phuket, which has some beautiful trails with stops like the Ton Sai waterfall to jump in for a splash and enjoy the cool waters. It is open to all comers but easier to book a local guide to help navigate and make it part of a day tour. There are opportunities to spot the local wildlife such as gibbons, boars, and lemurs if you keep your eyes open.
The best choice is to visit the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary which is located next to the Khao Phra Taeo National Park. Thailand has a mix of both ethical and unethical treatment of its elephants. Steps are being corrected but it is a long process. It’s a wonderful sight here where you can watch the elephants roam the acres of land without any trouble or human mistreatment. Guides will show you the reasons why these animals need to be protected as you observe them from a distance as they roam about their natural habitat.
What is Great About Bangkok?
Dive into the Rich Cultural Heritage
You will find when visiting the capital of Thailand, that Bangkok is the historic and cultural heart of the country. This metropolis offers a wide range of experiences and attractions to explore. Here you can explore both the traditional and more modern aspects of Thai culture.
We suggest you start by viewing all the temples (Wat) that are located in the city. Find a temple tour that not only will help you acclimate to the urban city but also show you some of the highlights of these architectural marvels. This is a personal favorite but you will see many of these temples as you explore more of Thailand.
Bangkok also offers a variety of galleries and museums in the city for you to visit and explore. From the famous Jim Thompson house to the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center. You have the National Bangkok Museum For those looking to learn more and party maybe a little less these are great places to view exhibitions and displays of Thai history and art. It’s worthwhile even to explore here for just a few hours in between your itinerary.
Experience the Nightlife Extravaganza
When the sun goes down, the neon lights up the buildings and you can hear the musical beats echoing through the streets. Bangkok’s nightlife is well known around the world as a near-legendary place. It offers something to everyone looking to embrace the experience here at nighttime. From infamous nightclubs, world-class international DJs, live music venues, and classic lounges and rooftop bars, Bangkok has something to suit every taste and mood.
Khao San Road is famous for its backpacker-friendly nightlife. Here is where you should start your evening. It’s a great place to get a feel for the nightlife as well as meeting fellow travelers and backpackers. Everyone is very open and friendly and you’ll be enjoying “buckets” together in no time. These small buckets are filled with the alcoholic beverage of your choice and are super cheap so pace yourself. I met two Australians randomly while checking it out for the first time and we just hit it off.
Patpong and Soi Cowboy are popular red-light districts if you are looking for more adult entertainment with many go-go bars and nightclubs. It’s a fun street to explore but it’s not for everyone and we recommend not going alone if you are solo traveling. And don’t feel like you have to go into any of the places when you’ve got men and women calling you from the front entrance. The neon lights and ambiance are what make the location popular for tourists and ex-pats. Mostly a great place to just people-watch with a beverage after a long day exploring.
Please be aware of and respectful of local customs and laws while enjoying Bangkok’s nightlife. Remember that the nightlife scene in Bangkok is diverse and be aware of your surroundings. It’s constantly changing so there are always new places to explore and recommend.
Devour in the Culinary Food Scene
Bangkok is a paradise for self-titled foodies, and you can spend your whole day just exploring the city and sampling all the different street food vendors along with the standard restaurants. There are top Bangkok dishes you can try like Guay Tiew Kua Gai and classic Mango sticky rice but always be up for trying something new. Scorpion on a stick is a surprising treat for example and not bad after a few drinks.
Make it a priority to take a food tour while you are here. It’s both informative and a delightful treat for yourself. You’ll learn about the cooking techniques as well as some backstory on those particular dishes. Grab a Tuk Tuk and hit the road to take you to all the popular food and night markets in the city. You have the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and Maeklong Railway Market, two of the most popular markets in the city with constant foot traffic.
The Chinatown neighborhood of Bangkok has some of the best street food. This is where you get to savor the various dumplings, topped off with some tasty pastries. You will find Yaowarat Road lined with enough food stalls to keep you well-fed.
Or if you want take a dinner cruise along the water. This is a great way to add in some more sightseeing as you glide by some of the larger Wat temples along with the Grand Palace. It’s buffet style usually for all the guests so make sure you aren’t too picky on what you would like to have.
Where to go in Thailand?
Each city and surrounding area has its positives and negatives. There is no wrong choice but it will ultimately come down to your preferences or those of the group.
Choose Phuket if you’re looking for a lazy beach vacation, many fun water activities, Zen-like relaxation, and a paradise island experience.
Choose Bangkok if you’re interested in a rich culture, long and meaningful history, fantastic shopping options, delicious street food, and a bustling popular urban hub for travelers from all over the world.
This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash