So you plan to visit either Thailand or Vietnam as a solo female traveler, but you can’t decide which one. Will you choose to spend your time on the white sand beaches of Thailand? Or adventure through Vietnam? Will you become overwhelmed by the crowds in Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City? Which of the two countries is actually safer as a solo female traveler – Thailand or Vietnam? They are so close together… are they truly that different? Unfortunately, I used to think of all of Southeast Asian countries as comparable or “the same”. Same vicinity, same types of food, same landscape. That was… until I visited.
How wholly unfair was my judgment and ignorance. While it is true that Thailand and Vietnam happen to reside on the same continent… they feel worlds away. With only two countries separating them, Cambodia and Laos, Thailand and Vietnam couldn’t be any more different from one another.
Visiting Thailand and Vietnam as a Solo Female Traveler; Which is Better?
Although both countries are found in Southeast Asia and seem to be geographically close together, does it mean that they treat solo travelers the same? Are both Thailand and Vietnam safe to visit as a solo female traveler?
My Personal Experience as a Solo Female Traveler in Thailand
Arriving to Thailand was a whirlwind of excitement. I was finally leaving the cold European weather behind and arriving to a country that I wouldn’t need to dress in layers to stay warm. I made the 10+ hour journey from Kraków to Bangkok where I would spend weeks traveling throughout the country and visiting three different cities – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.
The Smoggy and Overcrowded City of Bangkok
I stepped off the plane to a smoggy and loud Southeast Asian city. Never having been to Asia, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was unprepared for what greeted me – motorbikes and people crowding the streets. Horns honking, people yelling, and hugs being exchanged. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and smiled from ear to ear as I experienced the completely overwhelming feeling of being in Asia for the first time.
I spent the first four days in Thailand exploring the capital – Bangkok. I soaked in all that the city offered. From the floating markets, to the street food, and the overwhelming night markets. I met strangers on the street that turned into friends. I devoured multiple servings of Pad Thai, sipped champagne on a rooftop overlooking all of Bangkok, and let my hair down as I hopped onto the back of a stranger’s motorbike. I experienced kindness and warmth from the locals every step of the way.
The Zen and Peaceful City of Chiang Mai
Four days later, I moved on from Bangkok, and headed to Chiang Mai. I boarded a night train and headed 430 miles north to experience the peaceful city of Chiang Mai, where I fell further in love with Thailand. From the smoggy, busy city of Bangkok to the completely calm and relaxing city of Chiang Mai. I was speechless as I thought I had Thailand already figured out. Turns out… I didn’t.
In Chiang Mai I further learned the kindness of the Thai. I spoke in depth with a local about custom traditions, problems she faces as a woman in Thailand, and more. I learned the importance of caring for elephants, visited multiple temples, climbed waterfalls, and saw a drag show at the local night market. What Bangkok lacks, Chiang Mai has. Making Thailand a wholly incredible and diverse country.
The White Sand Beaches of Phuket
The last of my Thai trip took me down south to the coast, where I spent four relaxing days on the beaches of Phuket. Again, I was stunned at how vastly different Thailand seemed to be. From the crowds of Bangkok, to the lush and calm city of Chiang Mai, to the crystal clear water and white sand beaches of Phuket. Thailand truly has it all. And just like my previous two stops, I experienced nothing but kindness and hospitality from the locals. Cementing my love for Thailand.
I personally felt safe and secure in Thailand. While I took the necessary precautions I take everywhere I travel solo – carry a fully charged cell phone, watch my drink, don’t stay out too late – I didn’t feel like I had to take any extra precautions to feel safe. I felt like my experiences with the locals allowed me to see Thailand through their eyes. Like they were sharing their home with me, and they were happy to have me visit.
My Personal Experience as a Solo Female Traveler in Vietnam
The last country I visited on my four-month solo adventure, and the one I was most excited for was Vietnam. I had heard nothing but good stories about Vietnam. A place of adventure and fun. Full of backpackers and landscape changes as you moved throughout the country. A cheap country where it’s normal to spend $1,000 on a scooter and ride up the entire coastal line, no questions asked. Needless to say, I had high expectations. I spent three weeks moving from south to north and experiencing six separate cities – Ho Chi Minh City, Hôi An, Hue, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Bình and Hanoi.
The Smoggy, Humid City of Ho Chi Minh City
Like Bangkok, when I arrived to Ho Chi Minh City a wave of smog was the first thing to greet me. I once again was overwhelmed by the smells, sights, and crowds of the city. Unlike Bangkok, however, I wasn’t greeted in a friendly manner. Instead I was whisked to the nearest station to order a taxi, and immediately felt as though I had to negotiate for a fair price. Unlike my experience in Bangkok.
I was tired and cranky and thought to myself, “Must’ve just got dealt a bad hand, tomorrow will be better” as a closed my eyes to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I learned that unfortunately “tomorrow will be better” did not ring true.
My first day on the streets of Vietnam I almost got robbed. I was buying a bottle of water when a man came up behind me and attempted to grab my wallet from my hand. Ballsy, eh? Fortunately he was unsuccessful and turned to run away. Note to self… be careful and then be more careful than that.
The Ancient Lantern Filled Town of Hôi An
Four days later I boarded a plane and flew north to the ancient town of Hôi An. While as a whole, I had a pleasant experience in Hôi An and would love to visit again, I still experienced a number of scams that I had not experienced anywhere in Thailand.
Like I previously said, overall I had a pleasant trip in Hôi An. I saw an interactive cultural show, ate loads of papaya salad, and wandered the ancient streets marveling at the beauty of the lanterns as they lit up the town at night. I made friends, drank too much wine, and stayed up late eating street food with the locals. If the rest of the trip were to go like this, I was sure I’d fall in love with Vietnam.
The Imperial City of Hue
While the trip to Hue was the most memorable day of my entire four-month solo journey, unfortunately I spent the few days I had sick in bed with food poisoning. My own stupidity. Apparently eating raw oysters on the beach is not a good idea.
Before the raw oysters, however, I had a once in a lifetime experience. I rented a motorbike and had a local drive me from Hôi An to Hue via the Hai Vân Pass; (Read all about it here). The same feelings I had in Hôi An came rushing back, as long as the rest of the trip were to go like it was going at this point, there is no way I wouldn’t fall in love with Vietnam.
The Breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site – Ha Long Bay
As I moved further north, the landscape become more beautiful, but my interactions with the locals did not. Blatantly being scammed. Constantly watching my back. Sure, I made a great group of friends on board an old ship, sailing through emerald waters. But the feeling of being scammed never went away.
The Jurassic Park-Like Land of Ninh Bình
It was in Ninh Bình that I once again fell in love with the diversity of Vietnam. From crowded cities, to sailing quietly between limestone cliffs. From rice fields and the Hai Vân Pass to ancient towns filled with lanterns! I had already visited four different towns in Vietnam, but now I had found myself in an entirely different element. A place that felt as thought I was on the set of Jurassic Park. Beautiful and eery all at the same time.
And while the landscape was insanely gorgeous and unlike any I’ve ever seen… I once again was getting ripped off left and right. While my hotel would tell me one price, I’d arrive on location and be told I’d have to be an exorbitant amount more. Disappointed and frustrated, my patience was starting to wear thin.
The Cultural City of Hanoi
While my experience in Hanoi was slightly better than my previous experiences, I was still worn out by three weeks of constantly watching my back. While I was able to go on an awesome food tour, and meet up with a stranger who quickly become a friend as he showed me around Hanoi on the back of his motorbike; I was ready to leave.
Unfortunately, Vietnam did not live up to the hype for me. While I never felt as though I was in danger, I didn’t feel secure either. I felt like I had to be EXTRA vigilant, in a way that I didn’t have to be in Thailand. Was it just my experience? Or is it something to be said about Vietnam?
Is Thailand or Vietnam Better for Solo Female Travel?
While I was hesitant to visit Thailand, I couldn’t have had a better experience as a solo female traveler. Having been told it’s “too touristy” and that Bangkok was “gross”, I had little to no expectations. In fact, I hadn’t even planned to visit at all but it seemed that the cheapest way to get to Southeast Asia was to start in Bangkok. I am thrilled that I didn’t listen to the advice of strangers and that I gave Thailand a chance. You see, the country changed me in a way that no other country had previously. Expecting to feel out of place and uncomfortable… I instead felt welcomed and loved by the locals. I did not experience one moment of uncertainty, or a time that I felt unsafe. It seemed that even though Thailand gets millions of visitors a year… the locals embrace it. They haven’t gotten sick of us foreigners and they treat us like family.
While I was dying to visit Vietnam, my experience alone wasn’t exactly stellar. Was it that I had high expectations? Was it that I had such a great experience in Thailand that I was expecting far too much from its neighboring country Vietnam? I’m hesitant to say I’ll ever return. While I would still like to trek through Sapa and visit Phú Quôc, it will take me a lot to return to Vietnam again. Perhaps my experience would be better next time. Perhaps it was a run of bad luck after being so lucky for the 14 weeks prior. Or perhaps I’ll just go to Thailand instead.
So which is it? Thailand or Vietnam as a solo female traveler? Thailand. However, I’d like to point out that not ALL of my Vietnam experience was bad. In fact, some of it was pretty great. And remember, you could have an entirely different experience than me.
Do you prefer visuals over words? Check out my Instagram page/highlight reel for a visual look at both Thailand and Vietnam.