Thailand or Maldives: Battle of the Tropical Paradises

Thailand or the Maldives
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So you’re torn between these two Asian paradises for your next trip. Although the decision won’t be an easy one, neither Thailand nor the Maldives will disappoint, but they do promise very different vacations. 

The heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is culturally rich and geographically diverse, with over 1,500 islands to explore. On the other hand, the Maldives is a honeymoon mecca promising tranquility and otherworldly beauty in its crystal clear shores. 

Wherever you pick, you’re in for a treat, and we’re here to help you make the decision. This guide looks at all the things that make these two countries so unique, from their nightlife to their food and everything in between. Whether it’s a romantic getaway, a backpacking adventure, or a summer holiday that you’re looking to book, find out which nation gets our vote below. 

The Beaches

Thailand or the Maldives
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Both Thailand and the Maldives stand out from other tropical destinations when it comes to the beaches. You can find white sands and azure waters around every turn. As archipelagos, Thailand and the Maldives have numerous islands to explore, with the unspoiled desert sands of the Maldives and Thailand’s world-renowned national parks. 

But how do these hotspots square up against each other? The Maldives is known for its peaceful shores with luxury hotels and uncrowned beaches. But the country lies low, reaching only six feet high at its highest point. So the landscape is unvaried, and the beaches could get monotonous.

At the same time, Thailand is vast and diverse. The beaches vary from rustic palm tree-fringed golden sands to white shores hidden behind majestic limestone cliffs. The landscape in Thailand is different in every region, meaning each beach you visit across the country promises variety and adventure. 

Some of the best beaches to visit in Thailand include:

Maya Bay: The world-famous location of Danny Boyle’s “The Beach” starting Leonardo Dicaprio. This remote tidal lagoon sits in Koh Phi Phi’s national park and is only accessible by boat, but the calm azure waters full of tropical fish and even baby sharks shouldn’t go amiss.

Railay Beach: Crystal clear waters and majestic cliffs make this bustling beach town as scenic as it is adventurous. You can rock climb the looming limestone cliff face and snorkel in the shallow reef.  

Haad Rin: Otherwise known as the Full Moon Party beach, by day, Haad Rin is rustic and golden with picturesque palm trees and calm alluring waters, perfect for sunbathers to take a dip. By night, Haad Rin is the party capital of Thailand’s southern isles, and you can find thriving nightlife no matter the time of the month.

Still, island hopping in the Maldives won’t disappoint. Check out these spots for the best beaches: 

Hadahaa Island: Located in the North Hudavhoo Atoll, this island is renowned for its luxurious beach bungalows and enchanting shores. 

Cacao Island: Also known as Makunufushi, this island is said to have the best sugar-sand beaches and scuba diving opportunities. The unobstructed coral reef vistas will not disappoint. 

Winner: Thailand 

The Ease of Travel 

Thailand or the Maldives
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When it comes to any tropical vacation, the first thing you need to ask yourself is how you’re going to get there and how you’re going to get around. Thailand and the Maldives are in similar geographical locations on either side of the Bay of Bengal, but that isn’t to say getting to the countries takes the same effort.

Thailand has more than one arrival hub, with two in the capital of Bangkok alone. The bustling island of Phuket also has its own international airport, making direct travel to the popular southern isles hassle-free. However, Phuket airport does prove more expensive as an entry point than Bangkok, so it’s advised to connect in Bangkok. 

Thailand has been welcoming tourists and backpackers for decades, so they’re well equipped for hoards of travelers with extensive ferry, bus, and coach routes around the country. It’s just as easy to catch a bus to the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia as it is to visit the south. Thai locals are warm and welcoming people, hence the country’s nickname “The Land of Smiles.” There’s always a friendly face waiting to guide you onto the next portion of your journey, which makes traveling in Thailand even easier. 

Whereas the Maldives is notoriously remote, and it can take days to reach the elusive islands no matter where you’re traveling from. The Maldives has an international airport that welcomes flights from major Southeast Asian countries and Dubai. Still, Hulhulé Island, where the airport resides, is one of the least desirable vacation spots in the country. To get to your final destination, you’ll likely need to take a seaplane or speedboat, which can hike up prices, and journey time. Traveling to the Maldives can prove tiresome with jet lag thrown into the mix. 

In the Maldives, island hopping is expensive and usually done privately as the ferry network is limited. The only transport on most islands is bicycle or foot, which can make exploring adventurous but restricted. 

As one of the best-connected countries globally, Thailand is an undoubted winner for the ease of travel, especially for backpackers. But for a short holiday, you’d struggle to see most of the country and run the risk of limiting yourself to the tourist trails. If you’ve only got two weeks to spare and you want to spend it in proper relaxation mode, then the Maldives steals this one. And when it comes to the journey, most travelers find excitement in the trek rather than misery. 

Winner: Draw 

The Costs 

Thailand or the Maldives
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It might be more expensive than the neighboring nations of Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, but Thailand is notoriously cheap as a favorite of backpackers. You can expect to spend as little as $2 for street food in Thailand and only $10 per person for a mid-range restaurant meal. If you’re willing to eat local and slum it with your accommodation, you can get by on just $30 a day in Thailand, including your accommodation and travel. But why is Thailand so cheap? 

Low labor costs and below-average accommodation make Thailand surprisingly cheap to most westerners. At the same time, the high real estate costs, foreign taxes, and the abundance of imported goods hike up prices in the Maldives. Prices drop in the low season, but you should expect to spend no less than $300 a day, including transport and accommodation, with five-star hotel packages starting at $500 a night on average. 

A Maldives vacation is likely to provide nothing short of world-class luxury in exchange for this steep price difference. If you’re after the same level of service that you’d get from the five-star resorts in the Maldives, you can also expect to spend close to $300 a day in Thailand. Still, Thailand is a decidedly cheaper option because the Maldives offer no alternative for budget travelers. Getting to the country can cost twice as much with the different forms of transport required.  

Winner: Thailand

The Food 

Papaya salad
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Thailand has a thriving street food culture that makes the cuisine so unique. You can find the cheapest food at any of the abundant stalls that populate the cities and islands, and it’s best known for being of a much higher quality than other southeast Asian street food. However, Thai gastronomy is significantly globalized and can be found worldwide. Pad Thais and Green Curries are on most Thai takeaway menus in western nations, and in turn, Thailand has no shortage of western restaurants for holiday-goers seeking a slice of home. This means that Thai food is not considered exotic, and backpackers are known to tire of it quickly. 

On the other hand, the Maldives food culture is characterized by island ingredients, rich spice combinations, and borrowed staples from the nearby Indian and Sri Lanka nations. Seafood curry is one of the most beloved national dishes and is distinctively fragrant and hot. Fried yam, live lobster, and the local samosas, called Bis Keemiya, are among the most popular dishes and prove popular with travelers. 

The food in the Maldives is spicier, heartier, and more varied than in Thailand. Maldivian food is also less readily available around the world and can be more exciting for vacationers. It might be more expensive, but if you manage to venture off the beaten track and eat with the locals, the Maldivian cuisine will give you an authentic taste of the country.

Winner: The Maldives

The Nightlife

Bay at night
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The nightlife in Thailand is a reason thousands of people visit the country every year. With full moon parties and the Koh San Road among its memorable accolades, Thailand is a Mecca for partygoers, and the nightlife makes up a considerable percentage of the tourism. 

The Maldives is known for its tranquility and idyllic setting, but it’s not as tame as you might think. These honeymoon islands are actually full of activities once the sun goes down, and you won’t be bored no matter where you go, with private beach parties, underwater restaurants and bars, and even hotel clubs. 

Still, there’s no denying that Thailand’s party scene is far more varied and dynamic. You won’t struggle to find a bustling beach bar or club that’s open until the early hours, no matter where you go in Thailand, while partying is not why visitors flock to the Maldives. Instead, the nightlife is artificial and created by hotels to keep the guests entertained on the otherwise peaceful islands. For that reason, Thailand is an undoubted winner.

Winner: Thailand

The Weather 

Thailand or the Maldives
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Both islands have two distinct seasons, wet and dry, and due to their similar geographic locations, these seasons coincide. You can find warm and dry weather, with highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit all across the Maldives and Thailand from November to April. While summer in the northern hemisphere sees rainfall increase in both countries, and risk of monsoons, flooding, and dangerous traveling conditions increase.

As a desert island archipelago, the rainy season proves a most undesirable time to visit the Maldives. The low-lying islands, with nothing but ocean for miles on end, mean that dangerous waters and flooding risks threaten to jeopardize any vacation from May to October. With most of the tourism in the Maldives centered around water sports, island hopping and luxury beachfront accommodation, if you’re looking for a summer holiday, it won’t be the best choice.

At the same time, Thailand’s rainy season won’t be as disruptive. Spanning from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea, although Thailand has one wet season, the weather varies by region. In Thailand, you can chase the sun, to an extent, no matter what time of year. Thailand also has an abundance of things to do that don’t rely on sunshine. From Bangkok’s Buddhist temples and majestic skyscrapers to Chiang Mai’s ancient ruins, elephant sanctuaries, and canyons, there’s no shortage of culture and adventure around every corner, no matter the weather. If your vacation time isn’t flexible and you’re limited to the summer months, Thailand is a decidedly better choice. But for winter sun, there’s no competition. 

Winner: Thailand 

Is Thailand or the Maldives better?

Thailand is an excellent location for exploring, being active, and enjoying the diverse landscapes. There’s no shortage of nightlife hotspots and cheap accommodation options, whereas the Maldives is a perfect location for pure relaxation. You won’t see much of Thailand in a few short weeks, and traveling around the country can be tiring. But if it’s an adventure you’re after, Thailand takes the cake. The Maldives, on the other hand, is your best bet if you want a break involving little other than sunbathing and taking in the picturesque scenery. 

How many days is enough for the Maldives?

If you want to reset and unwind, four or five days is the perfect amount of time to enjoy the Maldives and its picturesque islands. It might be one of the most beautiful places in the world, but the Maldives lacks variety and you can get a taste of the culture in a few short days. However, make sure you factor the travel time into your holiday and give yourself two days to reach the country and adapt to the time zone, as well as two days to get home. 

Is the Maldives or Thailand better for honeymoons?

Although Thailand is a decidedly better option for backpackers, the Maldives is the ideal honeymoon spot, with tranquil vibes, romantic dinner spots, and accommodation that is nothing short of adult playgrounds. The Maldives is not only better than Thailand for honeymooners, but it’s one of the best places in the world for you and your significant other to spend your first few weeks as newlyweds. Honeymoons are characteristically lazy and meant to be slow-paced. Thailand’s bustling streets and crammed public transport could spoil your honeymoon bubble. Still, where you choose all comes down to personal preference, and if you’re an adventurous couple, the Maldives might get boring. 

Are the Maldives really worth it?

A holiday to the Maldives can cost much more than any other southeast Asian destination. In return, you’ll get unspoiled beaches like nowhere in the world and true first-world luxury, but this isn’t for everyone. If you struggle to sit still on holiday and you’re always looking for the next adventure, the Maldives might be disappointing for you. But we all deserve to relax every once and a while, and a few weeks in the Maldives to tick it off your bucket list is worth the steep prices. 

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.