If you have visited Thailand, then you have probably fallen in love with the country's white sand beaches, green jungle interiors, Buddhist temples, friendly people, and delicious food, just like I have.

I have returned to Thailand so many times and traveled all across the mountainous region of Northern Thailand and extensively hopped around the islands in the South, and I have many favorite spots that I always love to come back to.

But having been so many times, and wanting to tick off a new country off the list at least once a year, I found myself looking for some Thailand alternatives with a similar vibe.

And I've found a few, many but not all in Southeast Asia, that offer a similar welcoming culture, bustling cities, value for money, stunning beaches, and incredible nature to discover.

What makes Thailand so special?

thailand james bond island

There are a lot of different factors that make Thailand one of the most visited countries in Southeast Asia. It starts with the bustling city of Bangkok, where you will meet friendly people with a culture steeped in Buddhist traditions, and discover a big modern city with a rich cultural history.

It's certainly a favorite personally and a great hub to fly to from my home base in Australia to catch up with family and friends from Europe. As a gateway to the rest of the country, Bangkok is also popular with backpackers and shoppers.

From Bangkok, many travelers head to Chiang Mai, the cultural capital of Northern Thailand. As well as being a beautiful town with more than 300 Buddhist temples, it is the gateway to the north where you can discover jungles, waterfalls, rice paddies, and ancient Buddhist ruins.

It is a nature lover paradise with plenty of day trips and a great place to sample Thailand's famous spicy street food.

thailand island hopping

Head south for a beach vacation in the Andaman Sea and stay in Phuket, known for its beach bars, vibrant nightlife, and island hopping, while Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand is known for its tranquility and quality resorts.

Thailand's south offers beautiful beaches with turquoise waters, affordable luxury resorts, night markets, and colorful cocktails. And don't forget the excellent diving!

So, where else in the world can you travel to find a similar experience?

Top 7 Thailand Alternatives

1. Palawan, The Philippines

Palawan philippines

An archipelago of over 7,000 tropical islands, the Philippines matches Thailand for beautiful beaches and rich jungle interiors that hide plenty of natural wonders.

It is culturally different, being predominantly Christian rather than Buddhist, but the people are just as friendly and welcoming.

The Filipino capital of Manila is crowded but doesn't compare to vibrant Bangkok. For stunning beaches and natural attractions, head to Palawan, the long island string in the west. As one of Southeast Asia's most popular destinations, you will find crystal clear waters, white sand beaches with stunning limestone cliff backdrops, and lush jungles.

Base yourself in El Nido for island hopping and snorkeling, plus many of the best hotels and seafood restaurants. Coron is a scuba diving paradise with several WWII Japanese shipwrecks. Travel to Puerta Princesa to discover the Cabayugan River, the world's longest underground river.

Across the island, you will find street vendors selling rustic Filipino food, which is rich and hearty rather than spicy, and bars serving bottomless beers.

2. Cambodia


Sharing a border with Thailand, Cambodia has a similarly warm and friendly culture steeped in Buddhist traditions and Khmer culture.

I loved staying in Siem Reap, the gateway town to discover the Angkor Wat temple complex, one of many stunning and interesting temples with majestic structures and intricate carvings, alongside Bayon and Ta Prohm.

Like Thailand, Cambodia has beautiful beaches along the south coast at spots such as Sihanoukville and the island of Koh Rong. Even more impressive are the lush rainforests in the mountainous interior, especially around Cardamom Mountain.

Like in Thailand, Cambodian food favors spicy curries. Both the country's capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are bursting with local flavors. The streets of Phnom Penh are lively with shops, bars, interesting markets, and street food stands.

But Cambodia also has a darker history with over a million people who died when the Khmer Rouge rose to power in 1975; many are buried in the Killing Fields. Nevertheless, the people of Cambodia as I have experienced them were very friendly and joyful, welcoming visitors from across the globe.

3. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

The island nation of Sri Lanka, off India's southern coast, is a tropical paradise known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. It has a rich culture that dates back thousands of years and is soaked in traditions such as Buddhism and Ayurveda.

Explore the past at ancient city ruins such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the cave temples at Dambulla, and the Sacred City of Kandy, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are plenty of wonderful places in Sri Lanka with a unique blend that resembles pieces of Thailand.

This rich culture is matched by beautiful beaches such as Unawatuna, Mirissa, and the surf haven of Arugam Bay and the hidden gem of Hiriketiya Beach. Head inland to the central highlands to discover the “tea country” around Nuwara Eliya and Ella.

And did you know, that you can see diverse wildlife such as elephants, leopards, and birds at Yala and Wilpattu National Parks?

Sri Lankan food matches Thai food for its spiciness, with rice, curries, and seafood served at most meals. But expect to feel more isolated in Sri Lanka than in Thailand, and be prepared to make do with what is available on the island. You can also read my in-depth Sri Lanka itinerary here.

4. Costa Rica

Costa Rica

While not geographically located in Southeast Asia, Costa Rica shares many characteristics with Thailand, including tropical weather and stunning scenery.

It has both Caribbean and Pacific beaches with clear warm waters and diverse marine life. It is estimated that Costa Rica has 25 different species of whales and dolphins, and other fascinations such as sea turtles and rays.

Costa Rica is also home to various endangered species, including the jaguar and the green macaw.

Costa Rica is known for its diverse landscapes. Lush forests are ideal for hiking, such as Corcovado National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There are also several volcanoes and hot springs.

Costa Rice is one of the top countries for eco-tourism with plenty of outdoor activities and adventures such as kayaking, hiking volcanoes, rafting and surfing as you travel cross country.

Costa Ricans, better known as Ticos, also have a reputation for being friendly and relaxed. They have a philosophy, known as Pura Vida, that life is to be enjoyed happily and slowly.

Costa Rican food is a blend of Spanish influences but shares the Thai focus on fresh fruits and seafood. Of course, Costa Rica is also famous for its coffee.

5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur

If the place that you love most in Thailand is Bangkok, consider traveling to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of nearby Malaysia as an alternative.

You can expect similar vibrant streets that are a mix of historical and new skyscrapers, packed with markets and street food vendors, and home to diverse cultural heritage that is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous influences.

Explore the Golden Triangle, the city's main commercial and nightlife district with various shopping, entertainment, and dining options. You won't want to miss visiting the famous Petronas Twin Towers, you can even walk the sky bridge on floor 41 or head to the observation deck on the very top. Or simply watch the light and fountain show from the bottom.

downtown kuala lumpur

Walk Chinatown and Little India, and visit the many mosques dotted around the city. Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, so expect to dress more modestly than you would in Thailand. But the nightlife is still fantastic and you can find anything from rowdy backpackers to high-end clubs.

The food in the city resembles that in Thailand, with lots of rich spices, however, it has more Indian and Arab influences.

You can expect the same tropical and humid climate in Kuala Lumpur, but you have to drive out of the city to find beaches. The city is surrounded by green forested hills. It is also worth visiting the nearby Batu Caves that hold a massive statue of the Hindu deity Lord Murugan.

From Kuala Lumpur, it is a 5-hour drive to the island of Penang with its main town George Town, which reminds me a little of Chiang Mai with its Old City boasting rich cultural heritage, historical architecture, vibrant street markets, and a diverse culinary scene, blending tradition and modernity.

6. Goa, India

Goa India

India is an enormous country and it can feel very different depending on where you travel. But if you want a Thailand-esque experience, head the Goa on the West Coast. A beach paradise, it feels different due to the mix of native and Portuguese colonial influences.

The entire coastline of the region boasts beautiful beaches. Baga and Calangute have lively beach villages with shacks and restaurants while Ajuna and Vagator have the best nightlife.

Turn inland to explore spice plantations and wildlife sanctuaries in Mollem National Park. There are also cultural treasures to discover, like the ancient Shree Mangueshi temple complex.

While you can expect famous Indian dishes on the menu, Goa has its own Portuguese-influenced cuisine. Expect spicy curries and fresh fish on the menu. If you love Thailand's markets, head to the Anjuna Flea Market, Mackies' Night Bazaar or Mapusa Friday Market.

In contrast to Thailand's yoga offerings, Goa's retreats uniquely embrace a fusion of ancient yogic traditions and the laid-back charm of its coastal setting, providing a distinct and immersive experience for wellness seekers.

In contrast to Thailand's yoga offerings, Goa's retreats uniquely embrace a fusion of ancient yogic traditions and the laid-back charm of its coastal setting, providing a very immersive experience for wellness seekers.

7. Bali, Indonesia

bali indonesia

If you have been to Thailand but you haven't been to Bali, then you are in for a treat. This Indonesian island is a popular tourist destination thanks to its excellent weather, stunning beaches, and value for money.

Plan your Bali itinerary with plenty of activities or nothing but relaxation. You could be hanging out at the local beach club or head to a different beach every day, and make a day trip to the nearby Nusa Islands of Nusa Penida, Lembongan, and Ceningan for snorkeling and gorgeous vistas.

The best surfing in Bali can be found around Uluwatu. My personal favorite spot is Canggu, which has trendy cafes, beautiful boutiques, and some of the best beach clubs on the island and plenty of digital nomads also tend to congregate here.

Like Thailand, Bali also has a deeply spiritual side and there are many ancient temples to explore, such as the cliffside Uluwatu Temple and the Ulun Danu Beratan Lake Temple. Or take yourself on an adventure to trek Mount Batur, an active volcano that offers breathtaking views at sunrise.

If you are looking for natural attractions, explore the rice terraces, rainforests and waterfalls surrounding Ubud, which is also famous for its Art Market and wellness and yoga retreat offering.

Best Thailand Alternatives – Frequently Asked Questions

❓ What is the best alternative country to Thailand?

If you love Thailand, there are many other Southeast Asian countries worth exploring that offer a similar mix of vibrant cities, beautiful beaches, jungle interiors, and fascinating and welcoming culture. The nearby nations of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia all offer many of the best things about Thailand, but in their own unique way.

🏙️ What is a good alternative city for visiting Bangkok?

If you like the vibrancy and versatility of Bangkok, you might enjoy visiting Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. It is also a thriving and modern city that retains a local feel, though it is worth remembering that Malaysia is a majority Muslim country. Singapore is also an interesting alternative.

🍴 What countries have similar cuisine to Thailand?

Thai food is known for its fresh and spicy flavors. Several countries in Southeast Asia share some similarities in cuisine with Thailand due to geographical proximity and cultural influences. You can find similarly flavorful dishes in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Best Thailand Alternatives – Final Words

Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world for a reason, and many visitors fall in love with the beautiful and friendly nation.

If you are eager to recapture some of the magic of your Thai experience but want to broaden your horizons and explore somewhere new on your next holiday, many other places share some of the best that Thailand has to offer but in unique ways.

The destinations on our list are just some of these wonderful destinations and I hope they help inspire you.

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