If it’s come down to Thailand vs Cambodia, we’ll be honest, the choice isn’t the easiest one. With plenty of sunshine, tropical weather, great beaches, and amazing sights in both, you can rest assured that each destination will be a memorable place to visit.
But there is no question that Thailand and Cambodia are considerably different, too. Thailand, the bigger and the more developed of the countries, has better infrastructure and is easier to travel to. There are way more beaches and islands to choose from, so there is something out there for everyone. Cambodia, on the other hand, is home to the iconic Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world, and remains quite off the beaten track.
In this guide to Thailand vs Cambodia, we’ll take a look at different aspects, from the ease of travel to prices, the general vibe to beaches, and things to do. So, is it going to be the Land of Smiles or the land of the ancient Khmer? We’ll help you decide.
Thailand vs Cambodia: Ease of travel
When trying to decide where to go on your next Asian adventure, Thailand or Cambodia, then you may be asking yourself how to get there. Both lie in a similar geographic location within Southeast Asia, but which is easier to reach?
When it comes to Thailand, there are a couple of international airports to pick from. The main arrival hubs are located in Bangkok and Phuket. The capital has two international airports with many international routes from and to both. The larger, Suvarnabhumi Airport, is the main arrival port for most long-haul travelers coming into Thailand. The smaller, Don Muang Airport, has many low-cost connections to both domestic and international destinations.
The Land of Smiles has long been welcoming visitors from all over the globe and they are well prepared for tourism with good infrastructure. It’s easy to get around the country with lots of domestic flight routes, cheap buses, boats, and even night trains.
Cambodia, on the other hand, is much smaller, so bus travel is the most common way to get around. Getting into the country, however, is a little trickier than getting into Thailand. The country’s largest airport, located in the capital, Phnom Penh is much smaller than that in Bangkok and only has a couple of direct overseas connections. You will need to get connecting flights if you’re coming from Europe or North America. In fact, many people will actually fly into Thailand to get an hour-long flight to either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap from there!
Thailand vs Cambodia: General vibe
Thailand is also known as the Land of Smiles and there is a good reason for that. People do really smile a lot! Thais are known to be friendly and welcoming people. The locals are super helpful and happy to meet foreign travelers. You never feel alone here, there are always other fellow travelers around, usually happy to share travel experiences over a drink or two. Although Bangkok can feel a bit hectic at times, there is a chilled and relaxing atmosphere about the rest of the country and the islands.
Thailand is the much more developed of the two which means that it is simpler to get around but also much harder to find off-the-beaten-track locations, at least for the most part. Cambodia still feels more rural, with less development and infrastructure. Cambodian islands have not yet seen much over-building, so it’s easier to escape the crowds and find paradise beaches there. Even the capital is smaller and less hectic than most Asian metropolises. That said, the local people may come across as a bit more reserved than the Thais.
Thailand vs Cambodia: Food
Whether or not the food is your main priority when choosing that next travel destination, we all must eat, and holidays in SE Asia usually involve dining out. With that in mind, you may be wondering how Thailand vs Cambodia compare when it comes to food.
Spicy, rich aromas, and fresh, colorful vegetables complementing your choice of meat, fish, or tofu with rice or noodles – that’s what Thai cuisine is about! From crispy skewers on the streets of Bangkok to tasty Pad Thais and coconutty curries, the food of old Siam is one to remember. Whether you’re a meat-lover or veggie, there are plenty of dishes out there for all. And dining out is inexpensive, so get ready to hit some great restaurants, especially in Bangkok.
The bar is high, so how does the Khmer food compare? Although many people call Cambodian cuisine the mild Thai, it’s not exactly a fair description. The truth is that many dishes here do resemble Thai cooking, only with more subtle flavors. But it’s not quite same, same but different…
Cambodians are very fond of sour flavors, often derived from tamarind. Other ingredients popular in Khmer kitchens include garlic, lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. Those are incorporated in popular meals like fish amok or many varieties of samlor mach (sour soup). Other meals such as kuy teav or Khmer curry are other examples of Cambodia’s unique flavors.
Thailand vs Cambodia: Beaches
When it comes to beaches, both of these southeast Asian countries have stunning, sandy shores up their sleeve. But where’s the best?
With nearly 1,500 islands across the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, and two long coasts on the mainland, it’s not an easy task to pick the best beaches in the Land of Smiles. From white-sand beaches backed by lush green palm trees to high-rising limestone cliffs poking out of the turquoise water, there is no shortage of breathtaking spots here. The pristine sugar sands in Koh Lipe, the golden shores and turquoise waters in the Krabi area, and the famous perfect beach of Maya Bay are only a few of Thailand’s incredible shores.
So, how do Cambodian beaches compare? Well, there are not as many of them, that’s for sure. But some would say that the beaches in Cambodia are some of the most beautiful in all of Asia. Think those postcard-perfect white sands, serene, shallow waters, and coconut palms. You will find these Caribbean-like beaches on most of Cambodia’s tropical islands.
In fact, there are over sixty islands off Cambodia’s coast, and most of them are barely inhabited. The two most popular are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Both host some beautiful white-sand bays. We also love the Coral Beach on Koh Ta Kiev, an idyllic, barely touched sandy shore with bamboo huts and crystal-clear waters.
Winner: Thailand for variety.
Thailand vs Cambodia: Things to do
There are plenty of things to do in both Thailand and Cambodia, and you can rest assured that you won’t be bored in either of the destinations. Whether you’re after some relaxing beach sessions or sightseeing, both countries have you covered.
The symbol of Cambodia, the national treasure, the largest religious monument on this planet, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat is by far the most-visited place in this country. And rightly so. No trip to the Khmer land could be complete without exploring this vast temple complex. Get up early, though, because watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat is one of the most iconic things to do in Southeast Asia.
But if you’re a bit tired of walking around temples, you could finish your day with a sunset boat on Tonle Sap Lake around the floating villages. To learn a bit about the darker times in the history of Cambodia, visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh and do a tour of the Killing Fields.
Thailand is a little different. There are still lots of historical temples around the country, though quite on the scale of Angkor Wat. Visiting Thailand could not be complete without enjoying some of the best beaches in the world, on offer in the gulf. And there is way more to the coast than just topping up the lovely tan. From diving and snorkeling to island hopping, there are plenty of things to do around the water. In Bangkok, you’ll also want to party and try some delicious street food at the floating markets.
Winner: Cambodia, mainly for Angkor Wat.
Thailand vs Cambodia: Nightlife
Thailand’s nightlife scene is well established and renowned around the world. From wild Full Moon Parties on the beaches of Koh Phangan to upscale bars in the bustling heart of Bangkok, along with all-night raves in Pattaya and Patong, there is plenty going on after the sun goes down in the Land of Smiles. There is no shortage of beach bars and live music venues around other islands, either. Whether you want to dance your night away or have a quiet round of Changs, Thailand’s got you covered with somewhere special.
In Cambodia, everything is on a smaller scale. The nightlife here is more relaxing and laid back in comparison to Thailand, but there are still lots of fun places out there. Siem Reap’s Pub Street is filled with backpacker-friendly bars. It’s the nightlife hub of the town and actually the whole country. For beach parties, head to Koh Rong or Sihanoukville, which have party hostels close to the shore.
Winner: Thailand – the home of the Full Moon Party!
Thailand vs Cambodia: Prices
When trying to decide between Thailand and Cambodia, you may be wondering where offers the most bang for your buck? The answer is relatively straightforward: Your budget will stretch much further in Cambodia.
Thailand has long been the most popular place to visit in SE Asia and has been heavily dependent on tourism for years. That means that prices have been on the rise, and it isn’t as budget-friendly as it once was. That said, Thailand is still very cheap in comparison to Europe or North America, so you’re your trip shouldn’t break the bank. Eating out isn’t pricy and low-cost transport and accommodation are widely accessible, so it’s still a backpacker-friendly environment. But you should expect to pay a premium for those luxury resorts in Phuket and other places.
But, however cheap Thailand is, it is nothing on Cambodia. Your budget will stretch way further here, as everything from food and drinks to transport and accommodation will cost less. Cambodia is, in fact, one of the cheapest places in the whole world for travelers. An average week’s holiday costs about just $350 dollars by some estimations, which is half of what you should expect to spend in Thailand.
Thailand vs Cambodia: The conclusion
There are some similarities and many differences between these two Southeast Asian neighbors. Thailand is bigger, richer, and more developed. It is home to many of the world’s best beaches and there is a lot more going on when it comes to nightlife. Cambodia, on the other hand, is smaller and more rural, which means lower prices and fewer crowds. It is also home to the incredible temple complex of Angkor Wat.