Vietnam vs Indonesia? Which of these tropical paradises should be your next holiday destination?
Your workmate’s just come back from a two-week retreat in Bali.
Your family friend’s just rounded off a motorbike trip of the Vietnamese highlands. Let’s face it, South East Asia is on everyone’s lips, having exploded as a tourist destination in recent years. And it’s hardly a question why. Vietnam vs Indonesia?..come explore with us here and feel our passion for the region.
With pristine beaches bordered by sprawling jungles teeming with wildlife, centuries-old hospitable cultures and affordable prices, it’s your definition of tropical paradise.
So the real question is, where to go when there is so much to see? Let’s take a look at two of your best options when it comes to travelling in South East Asia: Vietnam, a lush comma of land off the side of the Asian continent; and Indonesia, a scatter of islands packed with tropical forests and wildlife.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!
Vietnam vs Indonesia – Natural Hotspots & Activities
Vietnam Hotspots & Activities
Starting off any tourist guide of Vietnam is its top attraction, the sight that sets the country apart from everywhere else on the planet. Yes, I’m talking about Halong Bay.
This huge emerald-water bay is peppered with thousands of limestone crags topped in fluffy greenery. Whether you’re fending its waters on a cruise, or on the traditional Vietnamese sampan, this unspoiled corner of the world will make your jaws drop in wonder.
Admire the lives of local fishermen whose homes are in the thousands of floats that dot the bay, or delve into the caves that are hidden away inside the limestone pillars. If you want to experience the bay, but not the crowds, head to nearby Lan Ha Bay.
Tucked away in the Northwest corner of the country, right on the border with China, is a largely untouched area of Vietnam which has recently been discovered by the most intrepid tourists.
This is Ha Giang, the trekking paradise of Vietnam. Familiar with the postcard-perfect rice terraces of Sapa? You will find them in Ha Giang, amongst a barren and dramatic green landscape of mountains that drop into unseen valleys and gorges hundreds of meters below.
The secluded hills are home to a variety of ethnic minorities, who you can observe in their colourful woven dresses as they carry timber-wood on the sides of the winding roads.
Both Indonesia and Vietnam are excellent options for nature lovers. They present a similar climate, meaning rainforests are a soft cloak on large part of the regions.
If both countries are largely rural outside the main urban areas, Indonesia is less densely populated in some parts, and is home to more wildlife.
Due to Indonesia’s bigger size and the fact that tourism is more developed, it has more options in terms of activities, especially scuba diving and snorkelling.
For the avid hikers, Vietnam has more dramatic mountain ranges in the north than any Indonesian volcano.
Vietnam is a more recent tourist destination, meaning that it is not as easy to explore outside the main hubs, but this may make it the most rewarding for the committed travellers.
At the same time, the fact that Vietnam is less spread-out means it requires less time to explore compared to Indonesia.
Indonesia Hotspots & Activities
Where to kick off, if not with one of the most pristine cluster of islands in Indonesia? Behold the home of the largest lizard on Earth, the Komodo Dragon, an animal that you will find here and ehm – nowhere else! Scale your way up dormant volcanoes suffused in greenery, or stretch your limbs out in one of the seven pink-sand beaches in the world.
If you love your scuba diving or snorkelling, this is just about the best place on Earth for you to be. Wade through crystal-clear waters and vivid coral reefs strewn with dazzling marine life.
This island is a pristine medley of intricate rainforest packed with exotic fauna and… topped by active volcanoes! Yes, all of that, and at what scale. Sumatra is the fifth largest island in the world, bringing it roughly to the size of Sweden. Guess what? There’s a lot to see.
To make things even better, Sumatra is home to an intricate variety of ethnic groups scattered in rural locations around the island. From surfing to spotting tigers and rhinos, there is simply so much to do. You could spend months visiting something new everyday, but what you can’t fail to see is misty Danau Toba, one of the highest and deepest lakes in the world.
Beach Life – Vietnam vs Indonesia
Vietnam Beach Life
Con Dao Islands
This tiny cluster of islands far off the mainland are one of the untouched wonders of Vietnam. Con Dao is exactly what you would imagine for a tropical island. Hills shrouded in fluffy tropical vegetation ease off to lonely beaches of sugary white sand lapped by turquoise waters.
Grab a traditional banh mi sandwich at the local market and drive your scooter to secluded coves or endless beaches. It will just be you, the trees, the sand, and the lapping waters.
Due to scarce development as a tourist attraction, there aren’t infinite options – but fear not, there is something for everyone. Stretch out on a deck chair in the private beach of the luxurious Six Senses Resort, or book an Air-Bnb in sleepy Con Son and rent a scooter to go and explore.
The clear waters offer some of the best snorkelling in Vietnam, and the rainy season is the best time to go surfing!
This medium-sized island has rapidly evolved from sleepy tropical island to major tourist destination. In recent years, the white-sand beaches have attracted large crowds of sun-seeking Western tourists. It is clear what the appeal of this island is, but the flow of tourists has at times brought it to excessive development and occasionally littered waters.
Nevertheless, this island is easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City, making it an ideal retreat for tourists on a tighter schedule who still want to get their tan on.
There is accommodation for all budgets, from the luxury resorts lining Long Beach, to sleepy homestays in town and along the lesser-developed east shore.
Indonesia Beach Life
Here it is, the place you’ve always heard of, the one where Julia Roberts fell in love in Eat Pray Love. But of course, I’m talking of the world’s most famous paradise on Earth – Bali! This renowned tourist destination is not only a place, it’s an emblem of the tropical state of mind.
Bali has it all, from wild surf coasts to pulsating hubs of beach-side nightlife, awe-inspiring hillside temples and dramatic volcanoes, top of the notch resorts to family-friendly hotels – you name it! Wade past processions of colourfully-dressed locals in Ubud, or lose yourself in serene rice fields in west Bali.
Recommended reading about the Annual Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud
Catch a wave in Kerobokan or trek to the top of Gunung Agung, the centre of the island’s spirituality. Whoever you are, and whatever you are looking for, Bali has something for you.
Eager for a Bali-style holiday, but wary of the crowds? Fear not, Indonesia has something for you! Jump into Lombok, a surfer’s paradise turned off-chart tourist destination.
Stretch out on pristine coves that bring to mind what Bali must have looked like a decade ago. Hunt past the most famous beaches to find truly secluded spots. Immerse in the placid waters of Tanjung Aan beach, or climb to the top of the jungle-clad slopes of Gunung Rinjani for awe-inspiring vistas over the whole island.
Lombok is less developed than Bali, but it has been growing as a tourist destination in recent years, meaning you can find accommodation and food options for all price ranges – from budget to mind-blowing luxury.
Don’t think that the island has no share of party vibe. Head over to Kuta or Senggigi, or take a boat to the offshore party haven Gili Trawangan.
Vietnam and Indonesia boast an incredible share of paradisiacal beaches. Indonesia has more shoreline, meaning more opportunities. That takes absolutely nothing away from Vietnam’s seaside wonders. For one, Indonesia is more developed as a tourist destination, so it might be slightly more difficult to get out of yer old tourist traps. But Vietnam? It takes no more than a couple steps out of the tourist hubs, and you have the place to yourself.
Even if you’re not in Con Dao, head over to the east coast for miles upon miles of idyllic empty beaches with no ugly resorts in sight. Or take a boat out of Da Nang to the dreamy Cham Islands. Lan Ha Bay itself is moments from busy Halong Bay, but is a largely untouched paradise full of secluded coves waiting to be explored.
Cultural Hotspots Vietnam vs Indonesia
Vietnam Cultural Hotspots
Stand back and gape at the complexities of one of the oldest cultures in South East Asia, influenced by their neighbours the Chinese, but also home to the powerful kingdom of Champa, which held control over the region for no less than a millennium.
Head over to the rural mountains in the North to meet the ethnic minorities of the Hmong or Tay. Spend the night in a traditional stilted home and learn their customs, which have scarcely changed in the last hundred years. But the beating cultural heart of the country lies in the picturesque town of Hoi An.
Previously named Faifo, Hoi An was once a fundamental port along the Silk Road. For over 500 years, merchants from countries such as Japan, China, Portugal and France settled in the affluent town. The result? A unique blend of culture, tradition and cuisine that will captivate you from the second you step into its dreamy streets.
Stroll along the lazy river, or under the colourful lanterns strung across the mustard-yellow merchant homes. Breathe in the atmosphere of a city that has scarcely changed from its look of centuries past. From Hoi An, catch a xe om to watch the sunrise at May Son, the country’s biggest Cham ruins. Immersed in deep vegetation, this cluster of stone temples carved with mystical dancing statues is for all you Tomb Raider enthusiasts.
Indonesia Cultural Hotspots
Peppered with temples all over its jungle-shrouded hills, Indonesia is a cultural tourist’s wonderland. Kingdoms have risen and fallen in these lands from the start of the eighth century up to the Dutch colonization 200 years ago, meaning there’s centuries of wondrous ruins to delve into. Each island offers its share of ethnic minorities and cultural hotspots, but Java is something of a hub, for it is home to the self-governing city of Yogyakarta.
A city of contrasts, where tradition fuses with modernity to create Indonesia’s cultural epicentre. Here, a sultan still rules in his kraton – a walled city palace from the 18th century – but you will also find fast food chains and shopping malls… after all, it is a sprawling city of more than 3 million people!
Delve into colourful batik stores, or try your hand at crafting vases at Karanganyar pottery village. Watch the sunrise amongst hundreds of carved Buddha statues in one of the largest temple complexes in South East Asia. And… what about the sunset? Don’t worry, Yogyakarta’s got it covered. Head over to Prambanan, an intricately-decorated temple dedicated to the goddess Shiva, with the highest building reaching up to 45 metres in height!
Food – Vietnam vs Indonesia
Vietnam Top 3 Foods to sample
An ancient saying goes that you should judge a culture by its food. Well, if this is the case, Vietnam’s culture gets five stars. Get ready to be dazzled by the variety of Vietnamese cuisine, full of vibrant and fresh flavours to discover. The diverse landscape, together with the influences of a wide range of cultures over the years, has brought various strata of complexity to this intriguing cuisine. I am going to limit myself to citing the most famous dishes, but rest assured that there is so much more!
Any mention of Vietnamese cuisine, and this iconic noodle soup springs to mind. From huge steaming vats on street stalls to delicate platters in upscale restaurants, pho is ubiquitous in Vietnam. This soup can be either had with chicken (pho ga) or with beef (pho bo). Ask a fellow diner for advice on the amounts of fresh herbs and coriander to add to the dish once it is brought to your table, and enjoy. I can assure you, your taste buds will be begging you pho more!
Alright, we get it, everybody has been talking to you about pho. But what about the exclusive dish, the Hanoi speciality you’ve never heard of? Get acquainted with bun cha, a BBQ pork noodle soup that will set your taste buds dancing with flavour.
Experience pure satisfaction with this burst of fresh flavour. Banh xeo is an enormous pancake packed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. Vietnamese love building their food at the table: slice off a portion of it, wrap it in rice paper, dunk it in the delicious Nuoc mam fish sauce and… get ready for an explosive medley of taste.
Indonesia Top 3 Foods to sample
Similar to the Vietnamese, Indonesian cuisine reflects the fact that the country has been a hub for traders coming to and from the Indies – for centuries! Prepare yourself for a mad dose of chilli and spices, and an abundance of that rice that grows in paddies all around the country.
This tangy condiment will see you addicted in no time. It is a chilli-based sauce with added shrimp paste, lime juice, sugar and salt – and you can find it everywhere! The Indonesians aren’t crazy, so there must be a reason why they accompany it to every dish. It’s nothing short on delicious! For the veteran lovers, there are even dedicated restaurants that offer everything from sambal with durian, to sambal with mushroom and young mango.
Let’s go with the one with the presidential approval! That’s right, none other than President Obama remembered this dish as his favourite from a trip to Jakarta. So head over to the first kaki lama pushcart and grab your fill of these delicious chicken, pork and beef meatballs. I promise, you just won’t have enough of them!
The secret to tender meat? Cook it on a high flame, the elders say. These succulent meat skewers are cooked up on coals so hot they need fans to get the smoke away! You can have them made of anything from chicken to goat and rabbit – each piece of meat is delicately marinated in turmeric and – wait for it – peanut sauce! Untold delights are reserved to those who try this dish.
Vietnam and Indonesia both have a very rich culinary tradition, involving herbs and spices and an abundant dose of rice. Vietnam may get the higher rating here, purely because of the unique variety of palate-entrancing dishes they propose. It would be a challenge to try them all in one holiday! Indonesia has its fair share of tasty dishes, but it must be said the cuisine is quite similar to Malay and other Asian Muslim food.
Travel Budget Vietnam vs Indonesia
You’ll know it by now, both of these countries are a budget traveller’s heaven. But which one is the cheapest? Why, it’s good old Vietnam! There’s simply nothing that can beat food and accommodation prices over there. You can easily spend little more than 3 euros for dinner in a nice restaurant and I’m not even going to get started about the street food prices! Homestays can be booked for less than 10 euros for a double room.
Indonesia is slightly more saturated tourism-wise, meaning prices have taken a little cruise up – especially in the hubs of Bali, Lombok and the islands. And if you’re there for the parties, keep in mind that there is a high import tax rate on alcohol, so you might have to go easy on those mojitos! Apart from that, rest assured, Indonesia can offer you a comfortable budget holiday.
So here we are. Two awe-inspiring tropical countries packed with jungle, beaches, culture, entertainment, succulent food… need I say more? Indonesia and Vietnam are two ideal destinations for your exotic retreat. If Vietnam is slightly cheaper, both countries are budget-friendly, and the locals couldn’t be more welcoming.
Recommended reading – Learn some words of the Language of Bali, Indonesia.
Indonesia is a larger, spread-out country of islands scattered between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With its incredible variety of awe-inspiring temples, it might have more cultural wonders to offer. Vietnam is more compact, easier to travel in less time, especially if you book one of the tour guides. If you choose to plan your own journey, jump on a motorbike and let’s go! It has never been easier to get out of the tourist track and experience the true flavour of this largely rural country. So get there before mass tourism starts wearing its shine!
Vietnam vs Indonesia? Both countries provide memorable experiences. Indonesia might require more time to explore, Vietnam is a dense pocket of magic to immerse yourself in. Two, three weeks… you name it.
Pack a bag, catch the next flight and…
…who’s that person, catching the best foamy breaks in front of a lonely beach fringed with palm trees?
It might well be you!