Vietnam or Bali: Which Southeast Asian Destination is Better?

A temple in Bali.
Image by DEZALB via Pixabay
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Bali – a paradise island filled with natural beauty as far as the eye can see. And Vietnam – a country bundled with history and character. One thing for sure is that deciding which Southeast Asian destination to visit is no easy task.

Bali has been luring millions of tourists yearly and for good reason. What is arguably Indonesia’s most popular destination boasts affordable lodgings, scenery to keep your jaw dropping constantly and some of the friendliest people you could meet. Oh, and not to mention it’s backpacker central, so there’s always a good party to be had if that’s your scene. Vietnam, however, is a country of variety. From the hustle and bustle of its capital, Hanoi, to the sheer silent beauty of Ha Long Bay, this extraordinary destination further north of Bali is also a must see.

But we get it, time and budget can’t always permit both. So, we’ve curated a handy little comparison of all the top vacation necessities to see which one comes out on top. Vietnam or Bali? Let’s go.

Vietnam or Bali: Prices

Coins piled up.
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Luckily, like most destinations in Southeast Asia, your money will go a long way in both Vietnam and Bali. But in Vietnam you can stay in some of the most luxurious five-star hotels for as little as $40. So, if there’s any place to test out how the other half live, Vietnam is the place to do this. You are looking at spending around $15 a day on food, of course depending on your eating habits. But the good news is that the street food here is almost even better than the highest quality restaurants.

So, how does this compare to Bali? Well, the prices can get a little steeper here due to it being the epicenter of Indonesia tourism, however, we’re not talking steep by Western standards. You can find accommodation here for the super cheap price of $5 and that’s not just basic. How does waking up surrounded by lush greenery and views out to the iconic rice fields sound? And you can certainly get by on a daily budget of around $25 here. There are also plenty of excursions to enjoy for under $10, such as the highly recommended, Sacred Monkey Forest.

So, overall, both will allow for a pretty comfortable vacation that shouldn’t drain the bank account too much.

Winner: Vietnam

Vietnam or Bali: Things to do

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
Image by Ammie Ngo via Unsplash

Where to even begin with things to do in Vietnam – let’s just say it’s a country with much to offer any tourist. However, there are a few things that are a definite must on any Vietnam itinerary, starting with Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This maze of narrow streets, filled with food vendors, shops, cafes and bars, set to a background noise of motorbikes buzzing past is the epitome of Vietnam’s colorful character.

But for when you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital, there are several options, ranging from the awe-inspiring architecture of the Golden Bridge, also known as The Hands of God (two huge hands supporting a mountain top walkway), to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An (a lantern covered ancient town). Or you could head further south to Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City or explore the country’s stunning islands by boat, we recommend the breathtaking Phu Quoc Island.

So how does Bali fare in comparison? Well, although Bali is much more concentrated in terms of size, you’d still be surprised at how much this island has to offer, besides soaking in the sun at some of the world’s most exotic beaches. A must see when you’re over in this part of the world is the spectacular, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tegalalang Rice Terrace. These cascading emerald green fields, equipped with zip lines and jungle swings for the adventurous are one of the most photographed areas in all of Bali.

Or for the animal lovers, a trip to Sacred Monkey Forest and Bali Bird Park are not to missed. Other destinations you might want to tick off on the Bali checklist are Ubud (the cultural hub), Kuta (beach resort and party central) and Tanah Lot (temple situated on a rock in the sea and only around half an hour from the island’s capital, Denpasar).

Winner: Vietnam

Vietnam or Bali: Food

A bowl of Pho.
Image by Sharon Chen via Unsplash

When it comes to Vietnam or Bali in the cuisine department, prepare for a very close call, as both destinations will leave you with an explosion of flavors on your taste buds. However, with Bali being an Island, many of its best dishes are sourced from the stunning surrounding waters. Some of the best grilled fish can be found on this idyllic hotspot.

So, while Bali may do the seafood a little better, Vietnam’s plethora of mouthwatering delicacies certainly keeps it in the game. Whether you’re tucking into a banh mi (baguette with a variety of fillings and plenty of coriander) for lunch, sipping on some pho (soup dish consisting of noodles, meat, and herbs) for dinner or grabbing a banh xeo (crispy pancake and street food favorite) on the go, you are guaranteed to be satisfied.

But when in Bali, eating like a local is a must, and there is no better way than to try some nasi goreng (fried rice, usually cooked with meat or vegetables and topped with a fried egg) and babi guling (stuffed pig, coated in a variety of spices). These are two of Bali’s most traditional dishes.

While Bali cuisine is influenced by other Asian nations such as China and India, Vietnam’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the French, however, one thing for sure is that both put their own stamp on dishes.

Winner: Draw

Vietnam or Bali: Beaches

A beach in Bali.

Image by Martin Fuhrmann via Pixabay

So, while Bali certainly springs to mind as more of the dreamy island beach life, Vietnam’s less touristy beaches are equally stunning. Venture just a little further south from the capital and you will be blessed with the pristine white sands of Danang’s seaside offerings. Or for a more developed, traditional seaside resort, Nha Trang has plenty of sun, sea, and sand, with an abundance of eateries and shops nearby. But if a little seclusion is what you’re after, look no further than Bai Xep Beach, this little slice of peaceful heaven in a remote fishing village is the ultimate chillout spot.

But, with stunning tropical beaches often the poster choice of Bali advertising, it’s hard not to give the title to Bali in this one. Most of the best beaches can be found in the south of the island, around the areas of Kuta, Jimbaran, and Seminyak. However, don’t expect your own private spot around here, as Bali beaches can get rather crowded. But one look at the lush mountainous surroundings, dazzling turquoise waters and impeccably soft sand and you’ll understand why. Kuta Beach is generally where the party’s at (quite literally) and one of the most famous beaches in all of Indonesia. By day it is a haven for surfing, lounging, and soaking in the vacation buzz. After dark, it becomes nightlife central, with an abundance of bars and clubs on offer.

Winner: Bali

Vietnam or Bali: Nature

Hills of Vietnam.
Image by Dung Le Tien via Pixabay

Vietnam or Bali for nature is definitely a tough one. On the one hand there is Vietnam with its epic forests, spectacular caves, and fascinating mountain ranges. On the other hand you have Bali, a treasure trove of stunning waterfalls, incredible rice fields and sublime volcanic landscape.

For any nature lover in Vietnam, there is a plethora of activities to enjoy, from kayaking down the limestone cliff surrounded wetlands of Ninh Binh, to trekking in the emerald-green heaven of Sa Pa, or quad biking in the vibrant red sand dunes of Mui Ne.

While Bali has less landmass than Vietnam, the nature that this relatively small island has to offer is equally impressive. You can climb Bali’s highest mountain, Mount Agung, which is also an active volcano, in around 6 hours, although you may want to enlist the help of a guide for the best routes. Or perhaps you want to explore some of the finest lotus ponds and endemic plant species housed in the Bali Botanic Garden. Or maybe take in the astounding power of the 50-meter high, NungNung Waterfall.

Whichever way you choose to enjoy nature, both destinations have stunning scenery in bucket loads.

Winner: Draw

Vietnam or Bali: Nightlife

Bali beach at night.
Image by Victoria Al-Taie via Pixabay

So, if the idea of having a few wild nights on vacation floats your boat, where will you find the best party scene, Vietnam or Bali? Well, unlike its fellow backpacker favorite, Bali, Vietnam is not as known for its wild nightlife. However, that’s not to say there isn’t a decent number of places to let your hair down around here. From Bia Hoi, Hanoi’s quintessential nightlife spot to the rooftop bars of Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, or even partying on a boat that’s drifting in the stunning Ha Long Bay, there’s sure to be something to take your fancy.

However, with Bali being the spring break destination of choice for Australians, that’s got to tip the balance in its favor, as we all know the Aussie reputation for liking a bit of a party. And what’s an island destination without a few epic beach bars thrown in? Enjoy cocktails by the sea in the popular Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak. This area, along with the other southern gems of Kuta and Canggu reign supreme when it comes to nightlife, with rows of bars and clubs to party the night away. After all, the party doesn’t even really get started until midnight in Bali.

Winner: Bali

Vietnam or Bali: History & Culture

Independence Palace, Vietnam.
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And last but not least in our Vietnam or Bali battle, who will win in the history and culture department? Well, the fact that Vietnamese culture is one of the oldest in Southeast Asia certainly gives it an advantage.

With a history dating back thousands of years, this communist country has been occupied and divided by several nations. The French colonization in the 19th century can still be seen in much of the architecture today. Vietnam’s rich history can be found in the many museums dotted around the cities and there are several dedicated entirely to the Vietnam War (referred to as the American War in Vietnam), including the fascinating War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, where you can see the equipment used during the war, as well as exhibits documenting different aspects of this brutal battle.

Bali, on the other hand is steeped in rich culture and religious tradition. It was once an important trading destination and much of the Hindu influence seen today is a result of early Indian traders.

There are many festivals held throughout the year, including one of their most important, Galungan, which marks a time when ancestral spirits return to earth. However, you don’t need to wait around for a festival for a bit of Balinese culture as it can be seen pretty much everywhere you go, from the art masterpieces to the traditional dance shows, as well as the many museums and sacred temples.

Winner: Vietnam

Vietnam or Bali: Conclusion

So, if you’re looking for a vacation in which to experience a bit of everything, including the hustle and bustle of city life, spectacular scenery, and cuisine to die for, Vietnam would probably be your best bet. However, if a more idyllic, concentrated setting, along with a great nightlife scene is what you’re craving, Bali may be more suited to what you’re looking for.

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