If you’re stuck deciding between Thailand or Singapore for your next adventure abroad, then you’ve certainly got a whole lot to think about. Both of these Southeast Asian countries are mainstays on the backpacker trail, but their cultures and landscapes are strikingly divergent, and whichever you choose promises a very different experience.
Singapore is a tropical island nation off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. A city, country, and state all in one, it’s famed as a big-business, banking hub with plenty of style and class. At the same time, Thailand is a rustic backpacking haven and one of the jewels of Southeast Asian budget travel. Beaches, parties, and scenery are just some of the reasons millions of travelers flock to the shores and jungled hills of the Land of Smiles each year.
This guide will peer deep to see what it is that makes Thailand and Singapore unique. It will outline the differences in food, climate, customs, and more, all to help you pick the place that’s right for you and your travel crew in the coming seasons. Let’s get started…
Thailand vs Singapore: Ease of travel
Thailand and Singapore are only two hours apart by plane, so the process of getting to either country shouldn’t be too different. However, Singapore’s Changi airport is a popular layover destination from most western international airports to Thailand. So wherever you’re coming from, you’ll be more likely to find a direct flight to Singapore than the Land of Smiles.
When we talk about traveling, it’s easy to get carried away with the end goal, but it’s just as much about the journey as the destination. If you’re not convinced, you’ve clearly never been to Singapore airport. With gardens, innovative services, retail, dining, and the world’s largest indoor waterfall, you’ll be endlessly entertained. There’s even a swimming pool at Changi Airport, and there’s genuinely nowhere like it in the world.
Although Singapore won’t give you a taste of authentic Southeast Asian travel like Thailand, being over 700 times smaller than the Land of Smiles, getting around will be just as exciting. Singapore is famed for its Mass Rapid Transit subway system, which is as impressive as it sounds. The underground network stretches across the entirety of the city. Still, with clean air and magnificent greenery among the modern cityscapes, walking in Singapore is as much of a joy.
Thailand’s travel is defined by its rustic buses and ferries, which are an experience in themselves, but nothing compared to the modern luxuries of Singapore’s transport systems. Bangkok International Airport is impressive, but the polluted city makes walking and taking tuk-tuks largely unpleasant.
Getting around by scooter is popular in the southern isles of Thailand and is a great way to see the country at your own pace. But scooter culture is not unique to Thailand, and you can experience this anywhere in southeast Asia. Compared to Singapore’s convenient, sustainable, and affordable railway, deemed the best-in-class public transport in Asia, how can Thailand beat that?
Thailand vs Singapore: Beaches
Although Singapore might be better known for its magnificent skylines, modern appeal, and efficient transport, the beaches are certainly something to talk about. Although most of them are artificial, the white sands and towering palms are usually enough to fill a few days with no-holes-barred relaxation.
Formed at the edges of reclaimed land, the East Coast Park Beach is the longest stretch of sand on the island and is a treasured urban beach getaway. Palawan Beach, meanwhile, takes its name from the picturesque region of the Philippines and is the best swimming beach in Singapore. Then there’s Sentosa. This is a whole island resort complex and it’s home to the cleanest beaches in the territory. You’ll need to pay for access but they are very well maintained. The only downside is that they aren’t natural. All of the sands on Sentosa are manmade.
Singapore is all about entertainment. Although the beaches lack a certain rustic charm of Thailand’s untouched island paradises, no pebble has been left unturned when it comes to keeping visitors busy. Palawan Beach boasts a pirate-themed water park, Cabana-style beach bars, restaurants, and shops, and all this is just minutes away from the city.
Even so, there’s no doubt in our mind that Thailand wins this category. Visions of white-sand coves, palm-threaded islands, and paradise coves abound in the Land of Smiles. It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer diversity of the coastline that’s on the menu. It’s hard to know where to begin, but here goes…
Many will be drawn to Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi. It was used as the set for Danny Boyle’s 2000 blockbuster The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio. That sits right next to the amazing beaches of the rugged Andaman region, which is known for its big karst cliffs. Islands like Koh Mook, Koh Lanta, and Koh Jum beckon there, as do coves in Railay and Tonsai. Over in eastern Thailand, you get even more famous isles in the form of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, which have white-sand beaches 10 to the penny – Haad Salad (on Koh Phangan) and Mae Nam (on Samui) are two of our favorites.
Winner: Thailand. There’s simply no doubt about that.
Thailand vs Singapore: Food
Food plays a massive role in the cultural traditions of both Thailand and Singapore. With strong oriental influences, the cuisines are aromatic and hearty, and local customs are centered around feeding and sharing in both nations.
Thailand and Singapore are alike in that they’re both known for their seafood. Still, Singapore’s gastronomy is more unique, inspired by surrounding nations but with a Singaporean spin on every dish. Some quintessential meals include chili crab, black pepper crab, sambal stingray, and steamed fish. Their local chicken rice from the Hainan province is also a popular staple, bursting with flavor and steamed with thick soy sauce.
While Singapore and Thailand share a street food culture, Singapore’s cuisine is defined by Hawker culture, a practice where people from all walks of life gather at Hawker centers, or community dining rooms, to eat, share, and bond over food. They remain integral in most Singaporeans’ way of life. Although comparable to Thailand’s night bazaars and street food restaurants, Hawker culture has adapted to Singapore’s modern demographic and shows no signs of dying out.
Thai gastronomy needs no introduction and is one of the most globalized cuisines in the world. Although local Thai food varies by region and sees a heavy focus on seafood, you would likely have tried the staples of Pad Thai and Green Curry well before ever venturing to the Land of the Smiles. Fragrant, mild, and infused with Thai basil, the food is less spicy than other Asian cuisines but beloved worldwide. Eating out is an equally social affair in Thailand, but the rustic street food traditions define the culture.
Still, the variety and originality in Singaporean cuisine, with its untainted customs unfamiliar to the rest of Asia, make a journey through the local dishes much more exciting for a Western visitor.
Thailand vs Singapore: Things to Do
No matter which country you visit, you won’t be bored. There is variety around every turn in Thailand. Each corner of the country promises something different, and it’s a nation where adventure and culture intermingle no matter where you go.
Despite Singapore’s smaller size, it’s an entertainment hub, and the island has been built from the ground up to appeal to the masses. Singapore will never fail to impress with its modern technological advancements and spectacular architecture.
From the SuperTree Grove Light Show, the Helix Bridge, and the Cloud Forest to the Botanical Gardens and Har Par Villa, Singapore’s attractions are all about man-made spectacle. A journey through Singapore is a lesson in how far technology has come and what this has meant for the nation.
On the other hand, Thailand’s rich history and religious culture are often at the heart of the things to do. The ancient temples are a huge pull factor, and the majestic statues of Buddha all over the country are more spectacular than any modern feet of engineering. But Thailand is also about thrill-seeking. From zip wires and quad-biking to jungle trekking and shooting ranges, the most popular attractions make the most of the vast landscape and appeal to the adventurous backpacker in all of us.
Although Thailand has much more variety, Singapore is like nowhere else in the world, and the skyline is just as much of a bucket list vision as Thailand’s temples.
Thailand or Singapore: Towns and cities
Thailand has stacks of intriguing towns and cities. They vary a lot in character from north to south, as you move between different regional cultures and peoples. Naturally, Bangkok is the place to begin. We think it’s one of the most enthralling cities in the world, let alone just Asia. You can spend whole weeks exploring, but most will make do with a few days, partying on Khaosan Road, shopping in Sukhumvit, and wondering at the priceless treasures of the Grand Palace (the official home of the Thai King).
Chiang Mai is also special. That’s the second city of Thailand. It’s located far in the north on the cusp of the mountains. The Old Town areas there is a showcasing of traditional Lanna architecture built from wood, interspersed now and then with golden temples. Close by is the highland station of Pai, which we’d recommend for chill-out time and trekking.
Singapore, for its part, is one big city. However, you can break it down into various neighborhoods, each of which have their own unique feel. Chinatown is probably the most famous of the ethnic districts. It’s one of the largest of its kind in the world. Delve in and you can hop between dim sum dumpling houses and Canton noodle houses.
We also think all first-time visitors to Singapore should pay a visit to Little India. It channels the frantic atmosphere of Mumbai or Delhi with its spice-scented curry houses (we ate the best curry we’ve ever had outside of India here). Then there’s Marina Bay, which is the area to go for your compulsory selfie below the famous Singapore skyscraper hotels.
Winner: Draw. Thailand has more varied towns and cities but Singapore IS a city with oodles of amazing neighborhoods.
Thailand vs Singapore: Price
When it comes to economics, Singapore and Thailand are extremely different. Let’s look at some basic states: The GDP per capita in Singapore is around $62,400. In Thailand, it sits at just $9,900. Average wages in the Land of Smiles sit at about 14,000 THB (just over $430 USD) per month. In Singapore, they are more to the tune of $4,000 per month.
Still predominantly an agricultural economy, Thailand relies on crops and tourism and remains underdeveloped for the most part, even despite the modern capital in Bangkok. Singapore, meanwhile, has soaring skyscrapers and developed suburbs from the moment you cross the border to the moment you step into stylish Marina Bay. It’s a hub for glitzy shopping malls and big businesses. All that has a knock-on effect on the prices…
A budget meal in Thailand’s capital will set you back less than $3 on average, compared to $14 in Singapore. At the same time, a trip to the mid-range restaurant should cost less than $20 per person in Thailand, but closer to $40 in Singapore. Rent can cost over three times as much in Singapore, with endless facilities and first-world luxuries on the menu in some condos. And while an apartment in Bangkok could cost just $6,000 per square meter to purchase, you’d need closer to $25,000 for the same space in Singapore!
Winner: Thailand will be A LOT cheaper to travel than Singapore. It’s definitely the pick for budget travelers here.
Thailand or Singapore: The general vibe
Truth is, Thailand and Singapore are very different places. In fact, they are so different that they aren’t really comparable. One – Thailand – is a whole nation with various towns and cities, beach-fringed islets, and cloud-shattering mountain ranges. The other – Singapore – is really just a city on its own, though it’s officially recognized around the world as an independent state.
That has implications for the would-be traveler. For one, you could spend weeks and weeks exploring Thailand and still not get to see everything that the country has to offer. A comprehensive travel itinerary here would include the misty mountain towns on the Burmese border, the bazaars of Chiang Mai, a few days in Bangkok, and then endless explorations through the islands of the south.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s main draws and attractions can all be seen in less than a week. Hit the famous Marina Bay to take your selfies, head to Singapore Zoo for encounters with white tigers, and then cross to Sentosa for a relaxing day on the beach, all before a meal in Chinatown or Little India. You’ll only want to stay longer if you’re a dedicated slow traveler and love getting into the rhythm of urban life.
We should also mention that Singapore is probably just a touch less welcoming to the first-time traveler than Thailand. Hey, it’s called the Land of Smiles for a reason, folks! People in Thailand are generally extremely welcoming, almost always happy, and very used to tourism. That’s not really the case in Singapore, where it’s all a bit more business-like in proceedings.
Winner: Thailand for real adventures and good vibes.
Thailand or Singapore – The Verdict
Our guide puts Thailand and Singapore neck and neck. Still, it’s only their vast differences that create this outcome. Thailand might win on the beachfront, but Singapore’s dazzling cityscapes are not to miss. Singapore’s food culture might be more unique, but Pad Thai is famous worldwide for a good reason. Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed, and you certainly won’t be stumped for things to keep you busy.
If it’s an authentic taste of traveling you’re after, there’s nowhere in the world that can compete with Thailand. But for a futuristic city break, a few days in Singapore promises plentiful once-in-a-lifetime experiences. So which will it be?