Southeast Asia forum

Why Thailand is Still the Best Southeast Asia Destination

  • exacto

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    There has been a lot of talk lately about the troubles associated with travelling to Thailand, including little things like military coups and visas not honored at the border and such. I've even read that international arrivals declined 11 percent from normal levels recently due to these issues.

    Even so, I've been thinking about it and I still think Thailand is the best destination in Southeast Asia. Here are a few reasons:

    - Better infrastructure: It is easier to get that bus or train or flight to wherever you want to go in Thailand than any where else in the region.

    - Visa problems? It's still a FREE 30-day visa exemption upon arrival in Thailand. Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia cost $25 to $35.

    - Central location. Thailand is right in the middle of the fun, and a natural point of entry for Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and Malaysia.

    - Lower-key touts. It can get pretty rough elsewhere, particularly on Bali.

    - Better food variety. Thailand has a better range of food, both Thai and international, than other nearby countries.

    - Better destination variety - or at least more choices that are easier to get to. Beaches. Mountains. Temples. Ruins. Thailand has it all in an easier-to-reach format.

    This isn't to say that other places aren't great too. We just returned from three weeks in Indonesia and loved it! The people were ultra friendly, and if money were no object, we would have never left Gili Air. But even with the 11% drop, there is a reason Thailand continues to lead the region in tourism.

    What do you think? Regards.

    #1 Posted: 19/7/2014 - 21:24

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  • antoniamitc-
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    Thailand's lots of time to develop their tourism infrastructure and industry over the decades, and although they don't do everything right (the current problems being prime examples), Exacto is correct that they do a lot right.

    I recently had a 10 hour layover in Bangkok coming back from Burma. Thai immigration was quick and easy. The transport into the centre of town was also quick and easy (in from DMK). I wandered around Chinatown, had a chat with a friendly local in one of the temples, shopped, ate a lot, went for another walk, ate a lot more, then had a super quick and easy trip out to BKK to fly home. I had no worries about food hygiene, and the public toilets were clean and modern (both of which made me very happy, after three weeks in Burma).

    Thailand simply makes being a tourist easy. I know not everyone wants things to be easy all the time (and some people seem to actively want their travels to be as difficult as possible). But easy is not something to be sniffed at - it can be a very welcome (especially for someone who's new to travel, or unused to roughing it, or just has been roughing it for a while and wants a break).

    #2 Posted: 20/7/2014 - 07:09

  • MADMAC

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    I'm biased since I live here and can speak Thai. Makes things easy - and unlike some - I'm good with easy.

    #3 Posted: 20/7/2014 - 10:55

  • DLuek

    TF writer
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    Agreed, and can't think of anything to add off the bat (and yes I'm biased). Thailand has had its bumps and bruises over the last 10 - 20 years ... '97 financial crisis; '04 tsunami; '06 protests and coup; '08 protests and airport closure; '10 protests and violence; '11 floods; '13 protests; '14 coup and visa crackdown. At this rate it's something major once every couple of years. Oh and an ongoing war in the deep south for 10 years now. Are things peachy? Not exactly. But ...

    Thailand
    Always bounces back

    The competition does seem to be catching up (Indonesia, Burma, etc.), but so does the overall level of tourists in the region at large. Land of SmileS isn't going anywhere.

    #4 Posted: 20/7/2014 - 17:29

  • captainbkk

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    hmm, not trying to be pedantic (this time), but on the points exacto quotes; Malaysia wins.
    Its much more inviting in giving longer time permits for most westerners-mostly 3 month.Transport, touts (hardly exisitng), food: equal or slightly better. Price-level: slightly more expensive, but still cheap for westerners. MUCH less cheating. Alco might be a stumbleblock-its there, but not cheap- warning for OZzies and Irish. Much less rampant tourist-spoilt places. Hardly any Russky or too many mainland Chinese. Much better average command of english.
    But for me TH is also the nr 1 choice, after all. it must be something else, nah, la?

    #5 Posted: 22/7/2014 - 05:47

  • exacto

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    thanks for the thoughtful feedback. i've been to Malaysia twice, and enjoyed myself both times, but as you say, it just didn't compare to Thailand in the "I don't know what" category. as you say, Malaysia has good food (although i like Thai food much more - a personal preference i guess), good beaches and other destinations (although i'm not sure there are the types of ancient ruins in Malaysia as in neighboring countries), and you don't get hassled much. the language is easier to pick up than Thai or Lao or Burmese too.

    but in my two trips, Malaysia seemed a bit joyless compared to the other ASEAN countries i've visited, and Malaysia just doesn't get the interest on the forum that the other destinations do. as you say, it must be something else. i'd like to head that way again on my next trip, just to have another look, but it would be part of a larger trip to Thailand. Cheers.

    #6 Posted: 22/7/2014 - 10:25

  • MADMAC

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    Must be the woman - but you didn't hear it from me.

    #7 Posted: 22/7/2014 - 11:36

  • antoniamitc-
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    Thailand vs Malaysia is an interesting conundrum.

    Malaysia is my personal favourite of the SE destinations I've been to and has lots to recommend it (many of those reasons mentioned above), but when someone who's never been to Asia before asks me where I'd recommend they go first, I always say Thailand.

    Maybe it's the breadth of experiences available (I think Exacto's right - peninsular Malaysia doesn't have anything like Sukhothai/Ayuthaya as far as I know) but I think perhaps it has as much to do with the helpfulness and friendliness quotient. Not that there aren't many friendly and helpful people in Malaysia, but there's also lots of people who couldn't give a toss about tourists (mostly, I suppose, because fewer of the local population depend on tourism for their livelihoods - or at least that's my pet theory).

    In Thailand, I regularly got the feeling that some of the locals were looking out for me, as a woman alone. When I was lost (which happened invariably), all I had to do is stand looking confused by the roadside for 15 seconds, and someone would stop to ask if I needed help. When I got intimidated by monkeys at a hillside temple, a local teenager walked me down the hill until we'd left me the monkey area. You just are made to feel very welcome (apart from the touts, who are just annoying).

    #8 Posted: 22/7/2014 - 16:08

  • exacto

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    antonia,

    What about from a food point of view? In my southeast Asia travels, I've never found the variety of options, excellent quality, and friendly prices for food in other places like I have in Thailand. For example, in our latest trip to Indonesia, we had lots of great seafood, nasi and mee goreng, curries, and some decent pizza. But there wasn't the depth of variety like Thailand. I like a good bowl of Pho in Laos (I've never been to Vietnam), or Amok in Cambodia, but Thailand has those types of things plus more and can add to it a pretty good selection of western food too, particularly in the larger cities or tourist areas like Chiang Mai and Samui and Bangers.

    The only time I think I've been more impressed with the food was during a brief visit to Singapore, where the food courts at the big shopping malls on Orchard Road were just amazing - cheap, clean, tasty, plentiful. But other than that, on a trip by trip basis, no place compares to Thailand.

    In any case, I noticed from your blog that you've got a particular interest in food, so I'd love to hear what you think - and particularly about food in Malaysia compared to Thailand. Ta.

    #9 Posted: 22/7/2014 - 19:02

  • antoniamitc-
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    Hey Exacto,

    I adore Malay/Singaporean food, with its mix of Malay/Indian/Chinese and European influences - it's probably my favourite world cuisine, so I'm a bit biased!

    I found the food to be more varied and more exciting (to my personal taste) in Malaysia than in Thailand, but the circumstances of the trip undoubtedly also plays a part. I spent a month in each country on my first visit, Thailand then peninsular Malaysia, and ate in a mix of street stalls / markets, and small, casual restaurants (the warung-style places, what are called street kitchens in Vietnam). Language was sometimes a barrier at the street stalls in Thailand, especially anywhere less touristy:

    Me: "Ummm...." (trying to ask for something I think they might sell, based upon what ingredients I can see on their stall and what symbols from their Thai language sign that I've tried to match to my list of foodstuffs. Badly. With terrible pronunciation.)
    Them: "Noodle soup?"
    Me: (trying again, and failing)
    Them: "Noodle soup?"
    Me: "Ok, noodle soup."

    I ate an awful lot of noodle soup in Thailand.

    I don't know if noodle soup is the most common meal at street stalls, or just the most popular with tourists (so they assume it's what you want).

    The Malay language is a hell of a lot easier to pick up (and recognise words on signs, as it's the same alphabet) so I had an easier time finding what I wanted to eat in Malaysia, rather than eating plain noodle soup again. I was undoubtedly also more confident by the time I got to Malaysia, which also made it easier to communicate what I wanted.

    WRT the range of other international cuisines available in Malaysia, I don't remember seeing lots of it outside of big cities (like KL) or very touristy places (like Langkawi) but to be honest I didn't pay much attention. Most of the time, I was too busy stuffing Malay and Indian food into my face to look for Italian or Vietnamese options....

    #10 Posted: 23/7/2014 - 01:48

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  • MADMAC

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    I still think it's the woman.

    As for the food - I never eat noodle soup. I've never had it suggested to me. Ahhh, we travel different circles for sure.

    #11 Posted: 23/7/2014 - 12:53

  • antoniamitc-
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    Madmac - speaking Thai kinda avoids those pesky communication problems...

    #12 Posted: 23/7/2014 - 15:19

  • exacto

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    I just read a travel article on current world hotspots that noted Indonesia is up something like 82% in bookings this year. I wonder how much of that is re-directed traffic from Thailand, as Indonesia, to me anyway, seems like an obvious alternative in terms of excitement, adventure, and travel. I also wonder how many of us have visited Thailand two or three or four times and are now looking for something new. I also recently read that Jakarta is one of the world's 10 busiest airports. That really surprised me.

    For Antonia. In Yogyakarta, one of the best meals I had was noodle soup! It was seriously good. Cheers.

    #13 Posted: 23/7/2014 - 19:25

  • MADMAC

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    Antonia you could be right. Could be geograghy too. And as if right on cue my wife says to me five minutes ago "You want to get some "Gootiow" with me (a type of noodle soup).

    #14 Posted: 24/7/2014 - 00:50

  • gecktrek

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    for me each SEA country has it's own charms in terms of culture and attractions, but would not rate one higher than the others... in regards to food, while i thoroughly enjoy all the foods from the region, my fav is still thai... just my 2 bahts worth!

    #15 Posted: 24/7/2014 - 23:06

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