For the adventurous traveler looking for a tropical holiday in Southeast Asia, it can be difficult to choose between Phuket, Thailand, and Bali, Indonesia.
Both are places with great attractions, however, there are several differences that can be make-or-break depending on the traveler you are.
If you are stuck on choosing whether to go to Bali or Phuket for your trip, below we compare the destinations for food, cultural experiences, beaches, and the cheapest prices.
Because Thai food has a world reputation, you will find more variety and authentic local cuisine in Phuket. Thailand is one of the top destinations globally for foodies, so it is a no-brainer that Phuket does not disappoint. Not only do you have access to luxury and Michelin-star restaurants in Phuket, but there is a rapidly growing street food scene in the city itself. You can’t find a better place to try the world-famous Pad Thai dish, which is made in many variations consisting of rice noodles, bean sprouts, fried eggs, and peanut sauce. You will also find a large array of curries, such as massaman curry and green chicken curry.
However, Bali comes out on top when it comes to dishes for vegans and vegetarians, since Thailand uses a lot of fish sauce and chicken in their dishes. Even though Bali still has many dishes that contain meat or seafood, it is much easier to replace ingredients to make them vegetarian. Vegetarianism has caught larger popularity, and there are more plant-based alternatives, like soy and tofu, in Bali compared to Phuket. Additionally, due to its large tourist scene and low cost of living, you have access to more Western-style restaurants in Bali, with dishes averaging between $3-10 USD.
Best Cultural Experiences
When comparing Bali and Phuket, Bali maintains closer ties with its cultural heritage than Phuket. Although Indonesia is largely Muslim, Bali has strongly maintained Balinese Hinduism, which has a different set of beliefs and practices than general Hinduism.
Because of Bali’s connection to Hinduism, there are more religious and cultural practices that the intentional traveler interested in cultural connections can witness. One must-see if visiting Bali is the Kecak fire dance at Uluwatu Temple, a captivating traditional performance rooted in the ancient Balinese ritual, Sanghyang, which is meant to deter evil spirits. The dance is performed daily, during sunset.
In contrast, Phuket, and Thailand in general, are largely Buddhist. This means that you will encounter more shrines than temples. One of Phuket’s biggest attractions is the Big Buddha Phuket, one of the most revered landmarks in the region. Towering 148 feet (45 meters), the giant Buddha statue is a mecca for Buddhist worshippers and tourists alike, offering panoramic views at the top.
In general, both Bali and Phuket have cultural and religious attractions, albeit they are very different. Based on your interests, you can pick which type of culture you are interested in seeing. If you are more interested in observing Hinduism, visit Bali, and for Buddhism, visit Phuket.
In terms of objectively more beautiful beaches, Phuket has better beaches than Bali. Phuket has a higher abundance of white sand beaches and crystal blue water than Bali.
If you are interested in surfing rather than lounging on the sand, then Bali definitely beats Phuket. Surfing has been one of the major attractions in Bali for decades, and the region has some of the best surfing breaks in the world. It is perfect for expert surfers and rookies alike, as there are a plethora of organized “surf camps” for beginners with options to rent equipment.
One important detail to keep in mind for visiting during the perfect beach weather in either Bali or Phuket is that they have directly opposite seasons. For the lowest rainfall, visit Bali between May and September, and Phuket between December and March. This can be critical in your decision if you can only visit during a certain period of the year.
Overall, Bali is the clear winner when it comes to lower traveling costs. You will find that, overall, accommodation, food, and attractions will be cheaper in Bali. In terms of transportation, the best thing to do is to drive a driver. Since the cost of living is much lower than in most Western countries, it is overall not too expensive.
Although Phuket is also cheaper overall compared to other global destinations, it is important to note that it is one of the most expensive regions of Thailand. Overall, you can very easily get by with $50-100 per day in Phuket, however, you will be able to get by with less if traveling in Bali.
If you are an extreme budget traveler and willing to make some compromises, consider traveling to either region during their rainy season, which is their lowest tourism season. During this time, you will find the cheapest prices offered all year, however, at the expense of more rainy days.
Although Bali and Phuket are located in two different countries, they share many similarities. Depending on your travel style, wants, and budget it is important to weigh the pros and cons of each destination.
Bali is better for the budget traveler, vegetarians, and travelers interested in a more authentic culturally-immersive experience.
Phuket is better for the traveler who wants to try some of the best street food and lounge on the most beautiful white sand beaches.
It is also important to keep in mind the dry and rainy seasons of each destination, as they are opposite. For the best weather, visit Phuket between December and March, and visit Bali between May and September.