Are you trying to decide between the Philippines or Vietnam for your next Southeast Asian adventure? The choice isn’t going to be the easiest. Both places offer miles of beautiful coastline, incredible landscapes, and plenty of fun things to do on a low budget.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide. It has insights into a number of aspects about both places to help you see what’s similar and what’s different. It will run through everything from the quality of the beaches to the energy of the nightlife, helping you pick the one that’s right for you.
Of course, there are a lot more things to consider than just the five pointers we outline below. However, we think this is a good start for anyone trying to choose if it will be the Philippines or Vietnam this year.
Philippines or Vietnam: Ease of travel
While getting into the Philippines isn’t too difficult with its easily accessible large international airport in Manila, Ninoy Aquino, traveling around the country is a different story. This Southeast Asian nation is an archipelago made up of 7,640 islands, out of which 2,000 are uninhabited. That means that getting from one place to another can be somewhat difficult and pretty tedious.
The good news is that there are lots of cheap, domestic flights between both the major cities and some smaller islands. There are plenty of frequent flights from the two main hubs in Manila and Cebu. Once you land on one of the smaller islands though, you may find that road quality isn’t up to scratch and traveling overland can take longer than you think. Be prepared to change your plans last minute if the weather changes, too. That happens quite often!
Reaching Vietnam isn’t more difficult than the Philippines. This country has two large international hubs, Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City and Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. Both airports have many overseas connections from Europe and the US and welcome millions of visitors every year.
Unlike the Philippines, most of Vietnam is on the mainland. There are lots of different travel options to get from one place to another, either by bus, train, plane, or motorbike. With one look at the map, you’ll notice that Vietnam is long and thin, so getting from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi will take between 30+ hours by train, and even longer by bus. If you want to save time, you should opt to fly, but that could mean skipping lots of beautiful parts of the country. It is also popular to rent or buy a motorbike to travel the length of Vietnam but be sure you have the right documents for that.
Philippines or Vietnam: Beaches
From white-sanded bays backed by lush green palms to crystal-clear, turquoise waters, there are plenty of postcard-perfect beaches in the Philippines. In fact, it is home to some of the best beaches in Southeast Asia across more than 7,000 beautiful islands.
It’s not an easy task to pick the best beaches in the Philippines, but some of our favorites include:
- White Beach (Boracay) – This is one of the most iconic beaches in the country. Get your sunnies out because the sands here are as white as they get. It’s backed by many cafes, bars, and restaurants.
- Nacpan Beach (Palawan) – Around 45 minutes away from the popular tourist spot of El Nido, this tranquil beach has long stretches of golden sands and plenty of tropical palm trees.
- Seven Commandos Beach (Palawan) – Set underneath a dramatic limestone cliff, this beautiful white beach can only be accessed by boat. It’s a popular stop on one of El Nido’s island hopping tours.
- Sandira Beach (Bantayan Island) – Also called Paradise Beach and with one glance you will see why. This beautiful sandy bay is located in a remote part of Bantayan Island, which means it’s rarely busy.
Although the Philippines come out on top in this category, Vietnam has plenty of amazing beaches along its long coastline, too. Sure, this isn’t the number one attraction in the country, but you won’t be disappointed with Vietnam’s beautiful sandy shores. Here are some of our favorite ones:
- Bai Truong (Phu Quoc) – Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest and most popular island for beach holidays. Bai Truong, also known as the Long Beach, is located on the southwest coast of the island. It’s over 12 miles long!
- An Bang (Hoi An) – Around 15 minutes’ cycle through rice paddies from hip Hoi An is this lovely long stretch of soft, golden sands. The main beach for Hoi An used to be Cua Dai but that has suffered from major erosion in recent years.
- Bai Xep Beach (Quy Nhon) – A long, sandy beach backed by dramatic rocky cliffs south of the coastal resort Qui Nhon.
Philippines or Vietnam: Things to do
If you’re after a relaxing beach session, then you won’t be disappointed by the beautiful Philippine coast. But there is way more to those spots than just topping up the tan. It’s one of the best and the cheapest places in the world for diving and snorkeling, with plenty of colorful coral reefs and clear waters. The Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most biodiverse diving spots in the world, in fact!
If diving is not your cup of tea, you can try one of many great island-hopping tours. The best ones are around El Nido in Palawan. For those after a bit of adrenaline, we can 100% recommend a canyoneering tour in the Kawasan Falls of Cebu. Other attractions include Bohol’s Chocolate Hills and the Underground River in Palawan.
Vietnam may not be as much of a beach and diving mecca as the Philippines but there is no shortage of fun things to do here. From visiting one of the iconic cities, Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, to exploring the high-rising limestone cliffs while sailing across the emerald-green waters of UNESCO Ha Long Bay, it’s got oodles on offer!
When in Hanoi, make sure to walk around the narrow streets of the Old Quarter, which are packed with enchanting colonial architecture and plenty of cafes and restaurants. Enjoy bustling Ho Chi Minh City with its great nightlife and amazing food culture in the south. Stroll the charming ancient town of Hoi An and enjoy the mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and colonial buildings there. And of course, you shouldn’t leave Vietnam without tasting some of their incredible street food!
Philippines or Vietnam: Food
In our humble opinion, Vietnamese cuisine beats Philippine cuisine hands down. Tasting Vietnamese treats has been one of the highlights of our trips in this part of the world, and it’s hard to disagree that the food here is delicious.
The most popular dish, pho is a tasty and nutritious noodle soup. It usually comes with some form of meat and vegetables, but you should easily find a veggie version by saying “an chay,” or “thuan chay” if you’re vegan. You will find pho all over the country in restaurants and street stalls. Other things you shouldn’t miss are Goi Cuon (spring rolls) and Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), but those are only a few of the Vietnamese delicious treats. Oh, and make sure to try Cao Lau when visiting Hoi An!
How does Filipino cuisine compare? Well, it’s hard to compete with Vietnam’s mouthwatering cooking. That of course is up to you to decide, but the food in the Philippines is generally less complex than across the ocean in Vietnam. That said, there are plenty of yummy dishes to be had here. From the renowned stewed meat dishes Adobo and Kare-Kare to a sweet delicacy known as Halo-halo, there are lots of meals that will satisfy the taste buds.
Philippines or Vietnam: Nightlife
There is no shortage of fun nightlife hubs in neither destination, so you won’t be disappointed whichever you choose. With some of the lowest prices of alcohol in Asia, it is no surprise that both the Philippines and Vietnam have plenty of places to party.
When it comes to Vietnam, the obvious choice for nighttime fun is bustling Ho Chi Minh City. With plenty of backpacker-friendly bars and nightclubs around Bui Vien Street, this is the city’s main party neighborhood for travelers. With a great choice of venues throughout the city, Saigon is up there with the likes of Bangkok for the best nightlife destinations in southeast Asia. But the capital, Hanoi, is also packed with lively bars and clubs, especially around Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. Other popular places include Ha Long Bay, Nha Trang, and Hoi An.
But the Filipinos are known for their love of having a good time, especially when it comes to karaoke and dancing! Even though most travelers skip Manila to head straight to the beautiful islands, it is worth a stop if you’re after nightlife. The capital is packed with nightclubs and bars that stay open until late hours, with Black Market and Club ZZYZX leading the way.
Although many of the islands are tranquil with not much going on after the sun goes down, Boracay and Cebu are a different story. Although Boracay is not as wild as it once was, after the island was shut for a few months in 2018, there is still a lot going on until late at night. With plenty of vibrant beach bars and glitzy clubs around the popular White Beach, you can rest assured that you will have lots of fun on this lively island. On the island of Cebu, the capital, Cebu City has a similar vibe to Manila.
Philippines or Vietnam: The conclusion
The Philippines and Vietnam have similarities and differences. They both offer lovely beaches, although we’d say the islands of the first are the best. There is tasty cuisine in both places, but we actually prefer Vietnamese food a little. You can party hard in both countries, but Vietnam is a little easier to reach on long-haul flights. Generally, though, we’d say you’re in good stead wherever you pick. These are two of the most popular spots in Asia, with tropical shores, coral reefs, and buzzing cities that don’t sleep. You could do both if you really can’t decide?