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 mostly sought for 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;
- Culture and heritage;
- Food scene;
- The people;
- Travel facilities;
- Travel safety;
- Tourist index;
Note, if you are looking for complete guides to Malaysia and Thailand have a look at ours:
- Everything you need to know before traveling to Malaysia
- Everything you need to know before traveling to Thailand
Malaysia vs Thailand – Travel Edition
Tourist attractions in Thailand and 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 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.
In some ways, Thailand’s 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 to backpackers, solo travelers, and digital nomads than to 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 in Malaysia are slightly different.
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 outdoors 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, exploring Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi, all the canopy walks spread over the country and obviously the beaches.
Thailand also has plenty of hikes, but they aren’t remotely an amazing as the ones in Malaysia. We did a few but we only really enjoyed it in Kanchanaburi, but it was mostly because of the history of the place than nature. One thing that’s extraordinary is the Erawan falls, also in the Kanchanaburi region, and obviously some of the beaches.
So, for us, Malaysia is the better option for nature lovers.
General Beauty of Thailand vs Malaysia
The natural beauty and the outdoors 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 areas really extraordinary.
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 rivals any beach in the world.
However, Malaysia takes it to the next level, the forests, the parks, reserves, and national parks are incredible, and still, have plenty of wildlife. Not at a Costa Rica level, but 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.
Who has the best Beaches? Malaysia or Thailand?
Both Malaysia and Thailand are world-renowned for its beaches, but which one has the best beaches? We have been to quite a few both in Thailand and Malaysia, and we preferred the Malaysian ones. Although 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 the Turtle Beach in Penang National Park, but I wouldn’t recommend Penang if the beach is all you care about.
In Thailand we found ourselves underwhelmed honestly. There are wonderful beaches, of course, but they are much harder to find than one may expect. And definitely not like we see tourism brochures… Maya Bay is amazing, but… it’s very crowded, even in the early hours in the morning.
Phuket and the main Phi Phi beaches are not even a beach anymore, they are more like an adult theme park, and that’s true to a few other beaches. We haven’t been to all the beaches in Thailand and we are sure that there still are very nice eaches, but don’t expect them to be everywhere or easy to reach. We haven’t been to Koh Lipe, but we have many fellow bloggers telling us that it is the best paradisiac island in Thailand.
In a hindsight, and surprisingly, Malaysia wins this one, but not by much…
Culture and Heritage
This is going to be a hard one… not because they are similar, but because they are so different. The history, religion, culture, and society of Thailand and Malaysia 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 constituted by 3 main cultures, Malay, Chinese and Indian. The Malay is obviously the dominant one, but you both Indians and Chinese are very visible everywhere in Malaysia. You have amazing Indian and Chinese religion, food, temples, tourist attractions and obviously people. All of this makes visiting Malaysia an incredibly rich experience.
Thailand is very different, it was never really colonized by external powers, which created a very unique culture. It’s obviously Asian and it was influenced (and it influenced) by their neighbors. Nevertheless, it’s a country peculiar personality and this is cool as you can’t really experience it anywhere else. It’s authentic. The Thai Food, the Muay Thay, the Thai Massage, Buddhism, and 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 really depends on what you want to experience. The diversity of Malaysia, or the uniqueness of Thailand.
Vibe – Thailand vs Malaysia
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 nice, the environment is relaxed, 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 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.
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 in terms of accommodation and resorts.
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 the southeast Asian countries don’t excel at. 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 lots of tourists, like the Phi Phi islands, Phuket, or in 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 and Phuket was just downright terrible.
We also found Georgetown and KL a little cleaner than Bangkok and Chiang Mai. On the downside, Malaysia has been struggling to protect its rain forests although it still has a big rain forest, which we can’t really say 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.
Although shopping is possibly the last reason we use to choose a travel destination, we know many of you love to shopping while traveling, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Plus, this is an interesting 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 fairly 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, then Malaysia, particularly Kuala Lumpur, is the better choice.
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.
If the Nightlife was an easy call, the food is a really hard one. Thai food is simply amazing! It’s full of 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.
Thai cuisine is as unique as it’s tasty! However, food in Malaysia can be as good as in Thailand, though with a different Style. In Malaysia, we can see 3 different cuisines, the Malay, the Chinese and the Indian. As we said above, Malaysia is a mixture of these 3 different cultures and that really shows in culinary. With such powerful cuisines, it’s difficult to find better places to eat than in Malaysia. However, within Malaysia, Georgetown is widely regarded as a foodies paradise and one of the best places in the world to eat.
We were very tempted to give the win to Malaysia and its 3 cuisines, but we will give a tie! You can’t really go wrong with either country!
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 huge number of tourists, Thailand is a country where we always felt at ease and welcomed. The only downside of the Thai is that their English isn’t very good – most of them 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 welcomed. It’s fairly easy to find very nice Malaysians (particularly the Indians) but in general, they don’t care much for the tourists. On the upside, their English in much much better than the Thais.
Despite the bigger communication problems, Thailand wins this one.
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. It’s also easier to find malls, modern grocery stores, and fast-food restaurants. 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 aren’t public transports in the islands and you have to use the 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.
Both countries are very safe for tourists. It’s very unlikely that you experience any kind of violent crime in Thailand or in Malaysia. Although 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.
One other thing we need to mention here is the scams, and 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 taxi meter is broken… and many other. Have a look at here if you want to learn more about scams.
In a hindsight, Malaysia wins this.
Let’s talk about money! If you are anything like us, you are a budget traveler and you 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 party goer.
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 of our expenses during a trip, so we can 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 absolutely everything we have 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, four times more in Malaysia than in Thailand. And that’s why we will give Thailand the win here!
Finally, we have the tourists index, meaning the number of tourists of a destination. And, it is also a very easy call. Thailand clearly has more tourists than in Malaysia. It’s not that Malaysia isn’t touristic, it is! In fact, Malaysia is a very touristic destination, in the most commercial way, with resorts, theme parks and everything that comes with it.
However, Thailand takes it to another level. We have written it before and repeat 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 resorts lovers (Phuket), digital nomads destinations (Chiang Mai), and even hippies destinations (Pai). But all of them are very popular among their target audience.
So, Malaysia wins this one, mainly because it’s difficult 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.
Malaysia or Thailand – The Verdict
Statistically, Malaysia wins this showdown, with 7 wins against 5 of Thailand, with 4 draws and many close calls! In reality, this was one of the most difficult and leveled comparisons that 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 do 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 that the locals speak English;
- Prefer Mega malls to local markets;
- Want to hike in National Parks and tropical forests.
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.
Note that both destinations have good beaches, amazing food, are in general inexpensive, safe and easy to travel! Now you can choose which one fits you better!
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