6 differences between Vietnam & Thailand

If you’re thinking about making a beeline for the Far East this year but can’t decide between the legendary Land of Smiles or more far­flung Vietnam, then be sure to check out this list of six major differences between the two countries. (Of course, there’s always also the option of doing both in one fell swoop, and LBW even offer a Best of Both Worlds itinerary for those who really can’t choose!)

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The lingo

You can forget those hard­learned sawadee kraps and khop kun kraps as soon as you enter Vietnam, because the lingo of the great backbone of Indochina is a world apart from the chatter in the Land of Smiles. Instead of the ancient Tai roots that give Bangkok its distinct humdrum of street food sellers and suit tailors, the Vietnamese language has its origins in the so­called Austroasiatic languages of China and the Far East. It’s actually amongst some of the most widely spoken languages on the planet, and is even officially recognised as a secondary language in the cities of the Czech Republic. Weird eh?

The landscape

Thailand’s much­loved backcountry is well­known amongst travelers. In the south are the shimmering beaches of Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi, the jungle­dressed karst hills of Krabi province, topped by the pagodas of the Tiger Cave Temple. In the north are the pink­hued hills around Pai, cut­through by the occasional canyon. Vietnam, however, comes with Chinese­style rice paddies and misty hills, the breathtaking rock pillars of Halong Bay, and long and wide beachfronts that abut the wilder waves of the South China Sea. It’s all very different you know.

The Vietnamese love an argument

Stereotype? Perhaps. Unfair stereotype? Perhaps not. There’s a reason why you’ll end up haggling and hassling your way through Vietnam more than you will in Thailand, and it’s surely to do with the locals’ penchant for a bit of a bust up ­ at least more so than the perennially happy folk of the Land of Smiles! Travellers often lock horns over tuk ­tuk charges, taxi fares and unpaid minibar fees (I swear I didn’t drink that tiny can of Heineken!) in places like Hue and Hoi An, only to breeze through unchallenged when traveling in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or the kohs of the Thai Gulf. You’ve been warned!

Thailand is backpacker central

There’s no two ways about it: Thailand is no longer the off­beat, hippy destination it was in the 80s. Things have changed in these parts, and today thousands of backpackers make their way to the Land of Smiles to enjoy mango lassis on the edge of the River Kwai, to dip in the waters of the Thai Gulf, or to party the night away on the beaches of Haad Rin. And while Vietnam is probably on the same path, there are still pockets there which are isolated and untrodden by the modern traveler. Take the steep cliffs of Bai Tu Long, a fine alternative to Halong Bay that has fewer visitors and the same eye­watering awesomeness. Then there are the hills around Sa Pa, dressed in one thousand shades of green and leading to the remote Tram Ton Pass.

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One of them tastes nicer

Oh, the arguments that rage about which cuisine reigns supreme on the Indochina Peninsula! At the risk of ignoring the earthy dishes of Cambodia and the French­ style baguettes of Laos, it’s fair to say that most travellers will pick either the pho soups of Nam’ or the pad Thais and masaman curries of the Land of Smiles. There’s no real right answer here. You’re just going to have to decide which one tickles your taste buds the most: steaming bowls of cao lau courtesy of Hoi An’s night markets, or chilli ­packed stir fries and coconut green curries from the street stalls of Thailand.

The parties

Everyone’s heard of Thailand’s hedonistic side. From the go­go bars of Pattaya to the all­ nighter Full Moon blowouts of Koh Phangan, the bamboo bars of the northern towns to the thumping mega clubs of Khaosan Road, the Land of Smiles is also the land of parties. Vietnam on the other hand is a tad subtler in its after dark activities. Ho Chi Minh City relies on the makeshift beer bars of Bui Vien, Hanoi has the drinkeries of Hang Be, and the name of the game elsewhere is relaxed evening beach beers and booze cruises on the bays.


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"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."

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