Set your heart on moving to South East Asia?
If you are still deciding where you’d like to live in Asia, there’s a good chance you’ve narrowed the search down to two countries in particular…
Thailand and Vietnam.
Choosing between these expat hotspots can be slightly overwhelming.
Separated by a distance of just over 500 miles (less than the distance between Land’s End and John O’Groats), the two countries share some remarkable similarities yet have their own character which is abundant in their individual cultures, landscapes, people and history.
For many, the choice is a simple but for others it can be a tussle between the head and the heart so we’ve put together some facts about both countries to help you make the decision about where to throw down roots.
Let’s start with the Land of Smiles…
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Thailand (vs Vietnam)
Thailand has huge variety in the choices of location for a new home from the densely populated capital of Bangkok with its bright lights, fast pace life and endless supply of entertainment to the hidden Thai beaches, and tropical idylls of Koh Samui, the peaceful mountain setting of Chiang Mai or the popular tourist resort of Phuket.
Each has its own charms and, as larger settlements, offers good community links to Western expats.
There are anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 Brits living in Thailand with the major pockets being in the larger cities or surrounding areas. The country is seen as a haven for both retirees and young digital nomads.
Bangkok remains popular due to its proximity to good transport links, international schools, hospitals and work. The community here is varied and offers a diverse mixture of ways to socialise from sports and leisure to hobbies and get togethers, the key to most of these well-run gatherings is to help new expats to network and integrate with local people and culture.
That said, there can be a tendency in the larger cities and resorts of Thailand for westerners to surround themselves with the comforts of home. In a country that is embracing the convenience of the west, it can be easy to bypass an authentic Thai experience and submerge yourself in an expat-annex to Thailand.
When it comes to entertainment and nightlife Thailand has the edge over Vietnam. Not only has the country been entertaining tourists for longer but it also knows exactly how to do it. There is something for everyone in all of their cities; bars, clubs, discos and cosy pubs.
Thailand is very much on the backpackers list of places to ‘do’, still and, as a result, you tend to find plenty of university aged students in addition to the seedy sex tourists giving Brits a bad name. As a result, living in Thailand can sometimes feel a little like being a parent who is invited to watch their teenager at a school prom; a little uncomfortable, sometimes awkward and just a little embarrassing.
Vietnam (vs Thailand)
By and large, Vietnam is less developed than Thailand and, outside of Hanoi, you won’t find the larger resorts and hotels that exist across Thailand.
In this way, you can find it easier to get more involved with local communities and experience a genuine Vietnamese lifestyle including culturally, gastronomically and in day-to-day modern life.
The cities offer convenient modern living and, of course, provide access to a lot of the things that you would expect from a global capital.
One of the main differences between the two countries can be seen in the service and hospitality sector; Vietnam is fast emerging as the new and trendy tourist hotspot that Thailand was taken for in the 1990s. As a result, staff are being well-trained to keep the customers happy in a way that some Thai restaurant and bar owners have become lackadaisical about.
Hanoi has the biggest expat community in Vietnam and is well integrated with the locals who appreciate the value they add to local businesses as well as acknowledging people as individuals.
Overall life in Vietnam for an expat can be a little quieter and seemingly more grown-up whilst still offering the thrills of living in such a diversely rich and entertaining country.
Cost of Living Comparison: Thailand vs Vietnam
We’ve given a comparative example of the capital cities to demonstrate the differences between high-life living in both Thailand and Vietnam.
There isn’t that much difference in many respects but overall, Hanoi has the edge for taking your budget further. Out of 61 major countries, Vietnam is ranked 18th in terms of the cost of living index, Thailand 20th and the UK 44th.
|3-Course Meal for 2||£15.63||£17.62||£55.00|
|Bottle of Imported Beer||£1.38||£2.86||£4.00|
|1kg Chicken Breasts||£3.05||£2.98||£6.68|
|Packet of Premium Cigarettes||£0.86||£2.55||£9.50|
|Basic Monthly Utilities (1-Bed)||£53.74||£58.62||£150.75|
|Pair of Jeans (Levi’s)||£35.45||£46.43||£63.31|
|Rent Monthly (1-Bed)||£334||£440||£1,675|
|Price per sq. m to Buy Property||£2,200||£3,100||£15,195|
Is Life Better in Thailand or Vietnam?
The Quality of Life Index is a means by which we can take all the various performance indices of any nation and, dispassionately, determine which country has the best quality of life.
A large amount of data goes in to compiling these rankings (including, but not limited to, purchasing power, healthcare, cost of living, crime rates, climate and pollution). So, on a like for like, comparative basis Thailand and Vietnam compare with 61 other nations as follows:
|Quality of Life Index||Ranking||Nation|
So, Thailand tips the odds in its favour but not by a convincing measure. The facts are that, particularly for those born in the country, both nations fall firmly at the bottom of global quality of life as well as across Asia.
In the west, we are preoccupied by climate change and the impact that pollution has on our environment both in terms of general health but also to avoid a negative effect on future generations. We are used to energy efficiency measures, carbon reduction programmes and a zero-tolerance approach to emissions.
However, manufacturing, traffic and general pollution by populous is commonly very high across Asia, particularly in developing nations.
Out of 108 major countries, Vietnam is ranked 8th with higher levels of pollution than Thailand (ranks 32nd); by comparison, the UK comes in at 88th with Iceland bringing up the rear at 108th.
With the exception of Pakistan and Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are at the bottom of the Asian table when it comes to how safe tourists and residents feel living in the country. On the Safety Index there is very little to split the two however Thailand does just about come out on top.
However, this may offer a skewed vision of the real situation.
Crime across the country is actually moderate at a general level but in the higher ranks of society, corruption and bribery is a problem.
Thailand still has a higher rate of crime when it comes to people using and dealing in drugs whilst Vietnam has a higher rate of robbery and theft. Violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery, in both countries, is a low to moderate risk.
When it comes down to it, choosing between Thailand and Vietnam feels almost like ‘Sophie’s Choice’, there is much to commend both countries and not much to choose between them; ultimately let your heart decide because your head can always make a strong case to support it.
Have you lived in Thailand or Vietnam?
Have you travelled to both?
How did they compare? Let us know your experiences and thoughts below.