Thailand or Malaysia? Which is the best travel destination?

Thailand or Malaysia? Which South-Eastern Asia Country should be your next travel destination? They are both internationally renowned beach destinations, but which one is the best? We will explore everything you need to know about each country and try to figure out if you should travel to Malaysia or to Thailand?

Both countries offer a wide variety of things to do, but they are most sought after because of their beaches, relaxed day-by-day, cheap prices, excellent food, and nature. So, we will use 16 topics to compare Thailand and Malaysia:

  • Tourist attractions;
  • Outdoor activities;
  • General beauty;
  • Beaches;
  • Culture and heritage;
  • Vibe;
  • Resorts;
  • Eco-friendliness;
  • Shopping;
  • Nightlife;
  • Food scene;
  • The people;
  • Travel facilities;
  • Travel safety;
  • Costs;
  • Tourist index;

Now, if you are looking for complete guides to Malaysia and Thailand, have a look at ours:

Malaysia vs Thailand – Travel Edition

Tourist attractions in Thailand vs Malaysia

Malaysia is a very eclectic country in terms of tourist attractions. It has all the natural things you would expect, like beaches, tropical forests, and highlands, but it also has History, colonial heritage, and temples. Plus, it has a very modern city with huge skyscrapers, parks, mega malls, and museums.

Malaysia is very family-friendly, with many child-friendly beaches, theme parks, and zoos/animal attractions. Some of the most famous attractions in Malaysia are Langkawi, Penang, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Taman Negara, and the Tioman and Perhentian Islands.

Visite as Batu Caves em Kuala Lumpur
Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In some ways, Thailand’s landmarks and attractions are similar to Malaysia, with famous beaches, rain forests, and a unique culture that evolved with much less influence of the Western world. Although very different, Bangkok also has its modern side with malls and parks.

However, Thailand seems to be more prepared for backpackers, solo travelers, and digital nomads than for families. Some of the most famous attractions include Kanchanaburi, Phuket, the Phi Phi islands, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Ayutthaya.

We are going to give a tie here. Both countries are packed with things to do, that surely won’t be a problem whatever your final call is. But note that the tourists in Thailand and Malaysia are slightly different.

Malaysia vs Thailand travel guide
Grand Palace Bangkok in Thailand | Malaysia vs Thailand travel guide

Outdoor Activities and Natural Beauty of Thailand vs Malaysia

Before visiting both countries, we thought that Thailand would win this item easily. However, it’s actually the opposite. In our opinion, Malaysian outdoor activities are much better than in Thailand.

Our favorite outdoor activity in Malaysia is hiking in the forests and national parks. Even small national parks have incredible hikes, like Penang National Park.

Though there are plenty of other things, like snorkeling and diving in the islands, Jungle trekking in Taman Negara, and exploring Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi, all the canopy walks spread over the country and obviously the beaches.

Malaysia or Thailand?
Penang National Park in Malaysia – Thailand vs Malaysia Guide

Thailand also has plenty of hikes, which aren’t as impressive as Malaysia’s. We did a few but only really enjoyed it in Kanchanaburi, but it was primarily because of the history of the place than nature. One extraordinary thing is the Erawan Falls, which is also in the Kanchanaburi region, and obviously some of the beaches.

So, for us, Malaysia is the better option for nature lovers.

Thailand or Malaysia
Hellfire-Pass-Trail, Thailand | Thailand or Malaysia, where should I go?

General Beauty of Thailand vs Malaysia

The natural beauty and the outdoor activities are very connected, it’s difficult to enjoy outdoor activities in places that aren’t nice… Fortunately, both countries are generally nice, with some really extraordinary areas.

In Thailand, we found the Kanchanaburi region incredibly beautiful, and Maya Bay is also wonderful (before it becomes crowded). The north of Thailand is also attractive and bucolic but doesn’t come close to the highlands and parks of Malaysia. Ayutthaya is also very interesting but in a different way. Koh Lipe is probably the most beautiful island in Thailand, rivalling any beach in the world, as you can see in this Koh Lipe, Thailand, travel guide.

Phi Phi Island in Thailand
Maya Bay Thailand | photo by happystock in Depositphotos

However, Malaysia takes it to the next level, the forests, parks, reserves, and national parks are incredible, and still, have plenty of wildlife. It’s not at a Costa Rica level, but it’s still enjoyable. The Geopark in Langkawi is also incredible, and the islands in East Malaysia are astonishing.

So, Malaysia also wins this in terms of natural beauty.

Which is the best SE Asia country?
Mangroves in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park | Malaysia or Thailand, where to go?

Who has the best Beaches? Malaysia or Thailand?

Both Malaysia and Thailand are world-renowned for their beaches, but which one has the best beaches? We have been to quite a few in Thailand and Malaysia and preferred the Malaysian ones. However, we were a bit disappointed a few times in both countries.

We found the beaches in the Perhentian islands to be absolutely wonderful, with warm water, soft sand, few people, and plenty of snorkeling opportunities right from the beach. Langkawi also has a few great beaches and some not-so-great, while Penang was very disappointing in this regard.

The only exception is Turtle Beach in Penang National Park, but I wouldn’t recommend Penang if the beach is all you care about.

travel to Thailand or Malaysia?
Beach in Big-Perhentian-Island, Malaysia

In Thailand, we found ourselves underwhelmed, honestly. There are lovely beaches, of course, but they are much harder to find than one may expect. And not like we see tourism brochures… Maya Bay is amazing, but… it’s very crowded, even in the early hours of the morning.

Phuket and the main Phi Phi beaches are not even beaches anymore; they are more like adult theme parks, and that’s true for a few other beaches. We haven’t been to all the beaches in Thailand, and we are sure there are still very nice beaches but don’t expect them to be everywhere or easy to reach. We haven’t been to Koh Lipe, but many fellow bloggers tell us it is the best paradisiac island in Thailand.

In hindsight, Malaysia surprisingly wins this one, but not by much…

Best Beaches in Thailand vs Malaysia
Koh Lanta Beach in Thailand | Thailand or Malaysia travel

Culture and Heritage

This will be a hard one, not because they are similar but so different. Thailand and Malaysia’s history, religion, culture, and society are so distinct that if we didn’t know any better, we wouldn’t think they are neighbors. But is one more interesting to explore than the other? Let’s see!

Malaysia is a real melting pot of cultures. Malacca and Georgetown are the original spice trade centers. Georgetown has mainly a British heritage, but Malacca was colonized by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British before returning to Malay rule. And all of this shows when you are visiting it.

Besides the colonial heritage, Malaysia comprises three main cultures: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. Malay is obviously the dominant one, but both Indians and Chinese are very visible everywhere in Malaysia. You have Indian and Chinese religions, foods, temples, tourist attractions, and obviously people. All of this makes visiting Malaysia an incredibly rich experience.

Best travel destination Thailand or Malaysia?
Famosa Fort in Malacca, Malaysia

Thailand is very different, it was never really colonized by external powers, creating a unique culture. It’s obviously Asian, and it was influenced (and influenced) by their neighbors.

Nevertheless, it’s a country’s peculiar personality, and this is cool as you can’t really experience it anywhere else. It’s authentic. The Thai Food, the Muay Thai, the Thai Massage, Buddhism, the full moon parties, and the Songkran are some of the most famous things about Thailand and what makes a trip to it very special.

We will have to give a tie to this one because it depends on what you want to experience. The diversity of Malaysia, or Thailand’s uniqueness.

things you need to know before traveling to Thailand
White Temple Chiang Rai

Vibe – Malaysia vs Thailand

The vibe is something difficult to explain, right? It’s what you feel when visiting a place, and this differs so much from person to person… For us, Thailand has a much better vibe. The people are friendly, the environment is relaxed, and it’s a country where people tend to feel at home easily – it’s perfect for slow traveling and digital nomads.

Malaysia is also a good place to be to take sun vacations or even stay longer, but it isn’t as carefree as Thailand, and the people aren’t so charming.

Thailand is all about welcoming people, they are born into the hospitality industry. Malaysia, not so much. The only problem with Thailand is that it’s so popular and touristy that it’s becoming less authentic.

So, Thailand wins this one, without a doubt.

places you must visit Thailand or Malaysia
Little India in Kuala Lumpur

Resorts and accommodation of Thailand vs Malaysia

In terms of resorts and accommodation, both countries have plenty of options, particularly in the bigger destinations.

In general, both Malaysia and Thailand have very cheap hostels and guest houses; you can find no-frills stays for 10-15 USD for a double room. Sometimes with breakfast, like the one we stayed in KL for a few days. Though they also have luxury resorts for people who don’t mind spending a few extra bucks. Phuket and Langkawi have excellent high-end resorts.

Finally, we need to note that in both countries, the most touristy and beach areas of both countries have some really bad accommodation, so please make sure you choose hostels and guesthouses with plenty of reviews. In Phi Phi, the Perhentian, and Phuket, there are some really bad places… And sometimes they aren’t that cheap!

We will have to give another tie on this one. Thailand and Malaysia share the same positives and negatives regarding accommodation and resorts.

Best islands of Malaysia
Big Perhentian Island in Malaysia

Who is more eco-friendly? Malaysia or Thailand?

This is a very important issue and a very trendy one. It’s also a topic where Southeast Asian countries don’t excel. So, sadly, this is more like which is the least bad of the two…

We found that both countries had problems with waste management, particularly where there are many tourists, like the Phi Phi islands, Phuket, or Penang. We were particularly shocked by these two places. Batu Ferringhi and even the parts of Penang National Park had trash all over the beaches, which was disheartening. The main Phi Phi island and Phuket were just downright horrible.

We also found Georgetown and KL a little cleaner than Bangkok and Chiang Mai. On the downside, Malaysia has been struggling to protect its rainforests, although it still has a big rainforest, which we can’t really say is the same about Thailand.

We are going to give Malaysia the win on this one, but it’s possible that you will see things that you won’t like in either of the countries.

 Thailand vs Malaysia
Phi Phi Don Island in Thailand | photo by DmitryRukhlenko via Depositphotos

Shopping

Although shopping is possibly the last reason we choose a travel destination, we know many of you love to shop while traveling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Plus, this is an exciting topic when comparing Thailand and Malaysia.

Both countries have plenty of shopping opportunities. Thailand and Malaysia both have huge night markets where you can find anything and everything. Plus, both countries have a few megamalls with all the shops you can think of and much more. Also, both countries are pretty cheap. So, what’s the difference?

In Malaysia, you have more, mega malls, high-end shops, while Thailand has many more local markets (particularly night markets), and they are bigger than in Malaysia.

As we prefer markets to malls, we are giving the win to Thailand. But if you prefer the Malls, Malaysia, particularly Kuala Lumpur, is the better choice.

Best place for shopping Malaysia vs Thailand?
Shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur

Nightlife

This is a fairly easy one. Nightlife is one of the most famous things about Thailand. The water festival, the full moon parties, Phuket, Khaosan Road, and Koh Phangan are all worldwide famous, and people go to Thailand only to party and enjoy the nightlife.

There are activities for everyone, from the most ordinary bars to the infamous Ping Pong shows and ladyboys. If you are looking to party, there’s no doubt about what to choose.

Malaysia, on the other hand, has a very small nightlife, and it’s kind of a niche thing. It’s just not in their culture. Also, alcohol is much more expensive, which doesn’t help to promote it.

So, Thailand is the clear winner here.

where to go Thailand or Malaysia
Khaosan Road Bangkok, Thailand

Food scene

If the Nightlife was an easy call, the food is really hard. Thai food is simply amazing! It has unique dishes, strong but balanced flavors, and fresh ingredients. We loved Thai food so much that we even did a cooking class.

There are quite a few dishes that everyone needs to try in Thailand. Some of these include Pad Thai, sticky rice with mango, Kwaw Pad, Green papaya salad, Laab moo, and Tom Yum and Khao Soi.

which Best foodie destination? Malaysia or Thailand?
Thai typical dish Khao Soi

Thai cuisine is as unique as it is tasty! However, food in Malaysia can be as good as in Thailand, though with a different Style. In Malaysia, we can see three different cuisines: Malay, Chinese, and Indian.

As we said above, Malaysia is a mixture of these three different cultures, and that really shows in its cuisine. With such powerful cuisines, it’s hard to find better places to eat than in Malaysia. However, within Malaysia, Georgetown is widely regarded as a foodie’s paradise and one of the best places in the world to eat.

We were very tempted to give the win to Malaysia and its three cuisines, but we will give a tie! You can’t really go wrong with either country!

Best foodie destination Thailand vs Malaysia?
traditional Indian dish in Malaysia

The people

This is another easy win for Thailand. Thai people are really good hosts and seem to enjoy having tourists around. They always greet you with that beautiful Thai smile, making you feel welcome in their country.

Despite the massive number of tourists, Thailand is a country where we always feel at ease and welcome. The only downside of the Thai is that their English isn’t very good – most only know a few sentences.

Malaysians aren’t really similar to Thais. They aren’t rude or anything, but they don’t make you feel at home or welcome. It’s fairly easy to find very lovely Malaysians (particularly the Indians), but in general, they don’t care much for the tourists. On the upside, their English is much, much better than the Thais.

Despite the more significant communication problems, Thailand wins this one.

best place to go Malaysia or Thailand
Floating Market Bangkok

Travel infrastructure – Thailand vs Malaysia

Malaysia is richer and better developed than Thailand. The roads are better, it has more cars and taxis and fewer tuk-tuks and songthaews. Finding malls, modern grocery stores, and fast-food restaurants is also easier.

However, the difference isn’t that big, and Thailand has developed its travel infrastructure very fast. Langkawi is the exception here; for some reason, there isn’t public transport on the island, and you have to use taxis or rent a car…

In Thailand, the infrastructure isn’t as well integrated, and in most towns, there aren’t many public transport options – you may need to use many more tuk-tuks. However, there are so many tourists in Thailand that there’s always a way of getting to the places where you want to be.

In terms of long-haul buses, we believe the countries are very similar. The buses are good, frequent, easy to use and reach everywhere.

So Malaysia wins this item, but you’ll hardly have any problems moving around in Thailand.

Best holiday destination Thailand or Malaysia?
Langkawi cable car Malaysia

Thailand vs Malaysia – safety

Both countries are very safe for tourists. It’s very unlikely that you will experience any kind of violent crime in Thailand or in Malaysia. However, statistics show that Malaysia is slightly safer than Thailand.

The biggest threat to tourists is probably road safety. Asians are well known for being quite crazy when driving, and our experience matches this cliche. Neither of the countries is similar to Laos or Cambodia, but it’s still a very different experience from the Western world.

Another thing we need to mention here is the scams; in this regard, Thailand is much worse than Malaysia. You need to be aware of some famous travel scams like “the Grand Palace is close, but I’ll take you to a better one,” or the taxi driver going the long route to reach the destinations or the taxi meter is broken… and many others.

In hindsight, Malaysia wins this.

Best summer holidays Thailand or Malaysia
Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand

Which costs more? Thailand or Malaysia?

Let’s talk about money! If you are anything like us, you are a budget traveler and don’t want to spend more than you need. Lucky for you, both countries are very, very cheap. They are among the cheapest we have ever visited. You won’t have problems in Malaysia or Thailand unless you are a heavy drinker / huge partygoer.

People tend to say that Thailand is much cheaper than Malaysia, we can’t really see it. As budget travelers and bloggers, we tend to keep track of all our expenses during a trip to compare costs.

In Thailand, we have spent 29 USD per person per day, while in Malaysia, he has spent 28 USD per person per day. On both trips, we included everything we spent, including bank fees and souvenirs, except fly-in/out, and we traveled as a couple.

Nevertheless, you should note that we don’t really drink, and that’s something that’s much more expensive in Malaysia. If you want to drink / party, you’ll pay two, three, or four times more in Malaysia than in Thailand. And that’s why we will give Thailand the win here!

Best country to visit Thailand or Malaysia
Food Market in Bangkok, Thailand

Which feels more crowded? Malaysia or Thailand

Finally, we have the tourists index, meaning the number of tourists to a destination. And it is also a very easy call. Thailand has more tourists than Malaysia. It’s not that Malaysia isn’t touristic. It is! Malaysia is a very touristic destination, most commercially, with resorts, theme parks, and everything that comes with it.

However, Thailand takes it to another level. We have written it before and repeated it. In Thailand, there are tourists everywhere, and everything is a tourist attraction. You can find destinations that are more for partygoers (Pattaya), others for resort lovers (Phuket), digital nomads’ destinations (Chiang Mai), and even hippie destinations (Pai). But all of them are very popular among their target audience.

So, Malaysia wins this one, mainly because it’s challenging to find a country with more tourists than Thailand. Although, neither of these destinations is a good one if you want to go to an untouristic destination.

Cheapest destination Thailand or Malaysia?
Phuket Beach in Thailand

Malaysia or Thailand – The Verdict

Statistically, Malaysia wins this showdown, with seven wins against five from Thailand, with four draws and many close calls! In reality, this was one of the most challenging and leveled comparisons we have made! However, it doesn’t really matter how many wins a destination has, it’s all about how it matches your expectations and what you want to take from this trip!

So, you should choose to travel to Malaysia if you:

  • Travel as a family;
  • Want to snorkel and dive;
  • Want to explore a melting pot of cultures between Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Colonialism legacy;
  • Are extremely picky with safety;
  • It’s important to note that the locals speak English;
  • Prefer Mega malls to local markets;
  • Want to hike in National Parks and tropical forests.
Malaysia vs Thailand
KLCC Park Kuala Lumpur Malaysia | Malaysia or Thailand

On the other hand, you should travel to Thailand if you:

  • Want to drink and party;
  • You don’t mind the crowds of tourists;
  • Interaction with smiling, easy-going locals is important to you;
  • Want to experience a unique culture;
  • Want to explore endless markets and night markets;
  • Want a very carefree and easy-going vibe.
Malaysia vs Thailand Verdict
Grand Palace in Thailand | Thailand or Malaysia

Note that both destinations have good beaches and amazing food and are, in general, inexpensive, safe, and easy to travel to!

Now you can choose which one fits you better!

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