If there was a contest ‘Bali vs. Phuket’, who would win? Bali is nearly ten times larger than Phuket, giving it a definite advantage. But Phuket has plenty to offer vacationers as well. Both destinations are famed for their fascinating beaches and nightlife. So which one should you choose – Bali or Phuket?
When you think of Phuket, you immediately picture perfect beaches with craggy cliffs in the backdrop. But Bali brings a more diverse image to mind – it’s as much about beaches and cliff-side temples as it is about tropical jungles, volcanic mountains, and terraced rice fields. Both destinations tend to be on most travellers’ bucket lists. So let us help you make a choice.
Bali and Phuket: An Introduction
Bali is an island in Indonesia, and probably one of its best known destinations. People visit Bali for its wide array of attractions, including beaches, forests, volcanic mountains, and ancient Hindu temples. Phuket is an island in Thailand, and known to be a hub for some of the wildest parties in the Kingdom. Tourists also flock to Phuket for its scenic beaches with cliffs and tropical forests in the backdrop. Phuket has no dearth of Thai temples either.
Not too many people realize that Bali is a fantastic surfing destination. Bali is also very outdoor-friendly with numerous activities such as cycling, trekking, and river rafting. Phuket is not as versatile unless you venture further to surrounding islands and the Krabi region. Nightlife in Bali is largely limited to hotel clubs and bars, while Phuket features dazzling beach parties and dance clubs.
Bali Beaches vs. Phuket Beaches
If your idea of a beachside holiday is endless acres of pristine white sand that transform into psychedelic party venues by night, Phuket will not disappoint. All the beaches in Phuket are white sand beaches and parties are the norm rather than the exception. Meanwhile in Bali, the look and feel of the beaches can vary widely due to the changes in topography as you move across the humongous island.
The most popular beaches in Bali are white sand beaches as well. These include Seminyak, Legian, Kuta, Sanur, and Nusa Dua. These also happen to be the best water sports destinations and you’ll find numerous luxury resorts to choose from. However, there are lesser explored black sand beaches as well in Bali. The beaches in the Bukit Peninsula feature coarser sand studded with corals. Some of the beaches are almost like secret hideaways, tucked away beneath rocky cliffs.
There are around 30 beaches in Phuket, and the popular ones are Patong Beach, Karon Beach, and Kamala Beach. Phuket’s beaches are much more suited to diving and snorkelling. They also tend to have excellent infrastructure. Both Bali and Phuket are surrounded by exciting islands that are ideal for further exploration.
Things to Do and See in Bali & Phuket
Here are some of the top things to do in Bali:
- Get a full body Balinese massage of course! It’s a great couple activity and the best cure for post-travel weariness. Choose from fantastic luxury spas in hotels like The Oberoi Bali, Kamandala Ubud, and Trans Resort Bali.
- Go on luxury cruises to scenic destinations like Lembongan Island and Nusa Penida and experience Bali like royalty. You travel on stylish catamaran ships and get to try a variety of water activities like snorkelling and banana boat riding.
- Watch the sun rise from the top of Mount Batur, a volcanic mountain in Kintamani. You will have to wake up early for the hike but the views are worth the effort. From the top, you get to feast on Lake Batur and the famous crater.
- Tour the ancient temples in and around Ubud, some of which feature cavernous shrines and others perch on lakeside cliffs. Make sure to visit Peliatan Palace, Goa Gajah Cave Temple, and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan.
- Go river rafting or river kayaking along the Ayung River in Ubud and also take a stroll through its picturesque terraced rice fields. The most famous one is Tegalallang Rice Terraces. Also don’t miss Sacred Monkey Forest.
- Those travelling with kids shouldn’t miss Elephant Park Bali, where you can bathe the friendly creatures. Other great destinations for kids are Bali Marine and Safari Park in Gianyar, Waterbom Bali in Kuta, and Bounce Bali in Canggu.
Here are some of the top things to do in Phuket:
- Tour Old Phuket, where you can visit local factories to see how rubber is manufactured and cashew nuts are processed. The area is also home to the Kathu Mining Museum and a Gibbons rehabilitation center in Tong Sai National Park.
- Go snorkelling or diving at some of the best spots in and around Phuket such as Koh Yao Island, Similan Islands, and Muang Bay. The colourful corals and limestone karsts beneath the water will take your breath away!
- Sail to nearby islands and bays to feast on picturesque landscapes and views. Top choices include Phang Nga Bay, Lawa Island, and Phi Phi Islands.
- Watch the Phuket Fantasea show, which is a great night-time family activity. Performers in the garb of mythological characters regale you with their stories, after which you enjoy a grand buffet dinner.
- Visit the atmospheric temples of Phuket, including Wat Chalong, renowned for its Portuguese architecture; Wat Khao Rang with its golden seated Buddha; Jui Tui Shrine, an ancient Chinese temple, and many more.
- Trek through the tropical jungles of Phuket and give in to the adrenalin rush of white water rafting. The best place to do this is Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary and the nearby elephant camp with a splendid waterfall.
Shopping in Bali and Phuket
Thailand has a better reputation than Indonesia for shopping and bargaining. But Bali has no dearth of authentic arts and handicrafts. Your shopping experience in both destinations depends on what you want to buy and where. There are wonderful markets in Bali as well as branded luxury stores. But on the whole, shopping in Bali tends to be more expensive than shopping in Phuket. The latter is home to numerous malls as well as local markets, offering a wider range of items and prices. But if you’re big on art, Bali has the better showcase.
Culture & History: Bali vs. Phuket
Bali has the definite upper hand when it comes to culture and history. Phuket’s best known cultural landmark is ‘The Big Buddha’ statue which sits atop a hill. Hindu-dominated Bali is studded with centuries-old temples. Numerous religious and cultural festivals are celebrated in Bali throughout the year and there are many musical and dance performances at the temples. You can also visit Balinese villages to learn about the ways of subsistence for the locals.
Bali vs. Phuket Cost
Neither Bali nor Phuket will burn a deep hole in your pocket, as they are among the most affordable luxury destinations in the world. However, Bali is definitely a bit cheaper than Phuket. The latter is probably the most expensive destination in Thailand, thanks to its touristy nature. But the difference in price is minimal. One thing to consider is that flights to Bali tend to be a lot cheaper than flights to Phuket. Also, there are more flights to Bali from most parts of the world. Many flights to Thailand will take you to Bangkok and not Phuket. But if you don’t mind taking connecting flights, that won’t pose a problem.
You can get luxury hotel accommodation in both locations from 100-150 USD per night. But keep in mind that one Indonesian rupiah is worth very little, and so you’ll have to carry a lot of currency around. A Thai baht is worth a bit more and the money bulk will be lower. Also, if you plan to cover several different destinations in Bali, you will increase your costs due to the taxi fare.
Food in Bali & Phuket
Arguably, Thai food is more renowned than Indonesian cuisine world over. The latter may not appeal to all taste palates, especially vegetarians. However, some dishes like nasi goring (fried rice), tempe goreng (soybean cakes), and nasi lemak (rice in coconut milk) are definite crowd pleasers. One advantage of being in Indonesia is that you get to sample a wide variety of cuisines including Malay, Singaporean, Chinese, and even Middle-Eastern.
For lovers of sea food, Phuket is a veritable paradise. Coconut milk and the flavours of galangal, lemongrass, and red chillies dominate cult dishes like Thai red and green curry, tom yum and tom kha soups, papaya salad, and fish cakes. There are ample choices for vegetarians and even vegans as dairy is not a common ingredient in many Thai dishes. Pad thai noodles and various pork-based dishes are also highly recommended in Thailand.
Hotels in Bali & Phuket
If you’re going to be spending your entire holiday in one hotel, it doesn’t matter much which one you pick – Bali or Phuket. But if you plan to try at least two different hotels, you might appreciate the variety that Bali has to offer. However, on the whole, hotels tend to be slightly cheaper in Phuket.
In inland Bali, you’ll get to experience the wilderness in traditional Balinese cottages set in the midst of dense forests overlooking rivers and mountains. Some shining examples of such nature retreats are Hanging Gardens of Bali, Kayon Resort, and Komaneka at Bisma. And when you venture towards the coast, you can have the beach within walking distance at seaside resorts like Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa, Ritz-Carlton, and The Legian Bali.
Resorts in Phuket are all about endless infinity pools with spectacular ocean views and powdery beaches. At the same time, there is always foliage in the backdrop to keep you cool and refreshed. Top choices include Paresa Resort Phuket, The Shore at Katathani, and Aleenta Resort and Spa. You can also enjoy romantic seclusion at island retreats like Soneva Kiri on Koh Kood and Six Senses Yao Noi at Ko Yao Noi.
Transport & Weather in Bali & Phuket
Getting around Bali is easy, but involves considerable time on the road due to the sheer size of the island. You may need to take taxis to shuttle from one town to another. Local transport is not always available and renting two wheelers is often a good idea in places like Ubud. Alternatively, you can book group tours and excursions to reach the far-off spots. Local transport is far better in Phuket, and you can use tuk tuks and local buses. At the same time, taxis and motorbike rentals are also available.
Both Bali and Phuket receive a fair amount of rain; so time of year should be a consideration while making your decision. It rains in Phuket from May to October, though the initial months don’t witness heavy rains. Bali’s monsoon season lasts from October to April – so there’s no time of year when it’s raining in both locations! Keep in mind that there’s a lot to do in Bali even when it’s raining, due to the various museums and amusement parks. The same cannot be said of predominantly seaside Phuket.
The Final Verdict: Bali or Phuket?
Bali has a wider variety of attractions and is a more rounded destination, so to speak. It may be a better choice for those travelling with families. On the other hand, Phuket is easier to explore and won’t involve much of travelling. If you don’t fancy being on the road much, Phuket should be your choice. It’s also a better destination for party animals and those travelling with friends.
Another major factor to keep in mind is that Phuket is much more touristy than Bali. Parts of Bali are overrun by tourists, but there are many villages and towns off the beaten track where you can explore at leisure. So if you’re looking at a longer trip that involves more of immersing the local culture and way of life, Bali will have more to offer. However, if you look beyond Phuket to the rest of Thailand, then Phuket can be a good choice as well.