Thailand vs Malaysia: A Comparison Guide

written by local expert Catrin Lynn

Catrin is a history enthusiast based in Wales. Her passions are her animals, exploring the Welsh mountains with her husband, wellness, and traveling to different European cities.

Are you planning your next adventure but can’t decide on Thailand vs Malaysia?

You’re in the right place, Founders of this blog, Tom and Anna have traveled to both Thailand and Malaysia and lived in Thailand so they have plenty of advice and insider tips.

From soaking up the culture, tasting the delicious cuisine, figuring out how to get around, and keeping your expenses in check, we’re here to spill the beans.

Get comfy, grab your fave snack, and let’s compare these two countries in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is renowned for its vibrant cities, beautiful beaches, and extensive cultural history.

It’s an attractive destination for travelers seeking a balance of adventure and relaxation.

While Malaysia boasts gorgeous islands, stunning national parks, and a diverse mix of cultures that make it a unique and fascinating visit.

Both countries offer visitors an array of activities and experiences, from vibrant nightlife scenes to serene natural beauty.

Whether you want to explore ancient temples, sample street food, or unwind on a pristine beach, Thailand and Malaysia have something for everyone.

PS. Want to find out how Thailand compares to other place? Check out some of our comparison guides

Thailand vs Malaysia: A Comparison Guide | Trying to decide between Thailand vs Malaysia for your next trip to Southeast Asia? Click here to see our complete guide details. #travelthailand #travelmalaysia

Infographic on Thailand vs Malaysia

To help you even more, here’s a quick infographic comparing both Southeast Asian countries, Thailand and Malaysia.

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General Travel: Thailand vs Malaysia

Thailand Travel

Thailand is a hot spot for travelers, but navigating the country can seem daunting at first. No worries, though – Thailand has plenty of transportation options, so getting around is easy.

There are 38 airports in Thailand and internal flights are pretty cheap. It ranges from around $30 to $100 USD based on distance.

For getting around towns and cities, public transport is an easy option. Bangkok has a well-developed public transport system that includes buses, the BTS Skytrain, and the MRT subway. Tuk-tuks and taxis are also easy to come by, but make sure you settle on a fare before you get in.

In other areas, songthaews (pickups with benches in the back) and motorbike taxis are prevalent. Songthaews operate on set routes and are usually the cheapest choice, while motorbike taxis are great for shorter trips.

There is also a substantial bus network that can get you to almost any town or city you need.

When you get to the islands, if you want more freedom, renting a motorbike or car is an option. Make sure to wear a helmet as Thailand’s traffic accident rate is high.

Transport expenses in Thailand are quite reasonable. Local public transport usually costs less than $1 USD, while long-haul journeys via bus or train can range from $5 to 20 USD based on distance.

Motorbike rentals start at around $10 USD daily, while car rentals can run anywhere from $35- 50 USD each day based on the vehicle type and company.

With some preparation and flexibility, exploring Thailand is easy-peasy.

Breathtaking shot of big buddha in Phuket, Thailand
The Big Buddha in Phuket, Thailand

Languages used in Thailand

While Thai is the official language of Thailand, English is widely spoken in tourist areas and cities. You can find signs, menus, and other important information that are often translated into English for the convenience of travelers.

That said, English may be more limited outside of the popular tourist areas, so learning some basic Thai phrases can be helpful and respectful to locals.

Must-Visit Attractions in Thailand

Ton Sai Beach: Thailand offers an endless selection of stunning beaches, Ton Sai Beach offers a gorgeous and relaxing setting away from the crowds. Accessible only by boat from Ao Nang, Ton Sai beach offers the perfect balance of chilling and activity (like rock climbing, kayaking or diving).

Chatuchak Weekend Market: Feed that inner foodie and visit one of the largest markets in Bangkok. Open on weekends, Chatuchak market has a huge selection of food markets serving street foods and Thai classics. Check out these other Bangkok Night Markets to visit.

Khao Lak: Imagine white sandy beaches and lush forestry, that is the landscape of Khao Lak. Set in the Andaman sea, Khao Lak is perfect for exploring the nearby islands of Phuket, Similan and Surin Islands as well as the Khao Lak National Park.

Other than the places listed above, a visit to Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and the other famous beaches is always a good addition to the itinerary.

Beautiful landscape of Ton Sai Beach
Beautiful beach of Ton Sai in Krabi, Thailand

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Malaysia Travel

Moving around Malaysia is relatively simple and economical, with various modes of transportation to choose from, especially when you’re in Kuala Lumpur which is a huge hub in Asia.

There are 6 international airports you can choose to fly into for Malaysia. You can grab a taxi, bus, or train from either airport to get where you need to be.

The KLIA Ekspres is an inexpensive and convenient train option for heading to Kuala Lumpur’s city center.

Malaysia’s public transportation system is extensive, including trains, buses and LTR systems (light rail transit) systems. The RapidKL LRT is a popular option for moving around Kuala Lumpur, alongside buses, taxis, and ride-hailing services like Grab. Be sure to settle on a fare beforehand or utilize the meter to prevent overpaying.

For those who prefer more freedom and control while traversing Malaysia, renting a car or motorbike is also possible. We only really recommend this when you’re out of the big cities and exploring smaller places like Langkawi.

Depending on what you rent and from which company,  rentals can range from roughly $35 USD to $50 USD per day, while motorbike rentals begin at approximately $10 USD per day.

Driving in Malaysia can be challenging due to the amount of traffic, particularly in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, so be aware and safe if this is your chosen option.

If you’re a beginner at riding motorbikes, we recommend you stick to public transportation!

Overall, transportation fees in Malaysia are relatively affordable.

You can pay under $1 USD for local trips. Longer trips on buses or trains can range between $10 and 20 USD, depending on travel distance.

Taxis and ride-hailing services are also reasonably priced, with short trip fares beginning at around $2 USD.

There are plenty of options available for you to travel around Malaysia with ease.

Breathtaking shot of Petronas Twin Towers
You can visit the beautiful Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Languages used in Malaysia

English is widely spoken in tourist areas and cities in Malaysia with Malaya being the official language.

Many Malaysians are bilingual, with English being the second most spoken language after Malaya.

While it’s not necessary to learn Malay before visiting Malaysia, knowing a few basic phrases can help to connect with the locals and show appreciation for the local culture.

Overall, the widespread use of English makes it easy for travelers to communicate and get around in Malaysia.

Must Visit Attractions in Malaysia 

Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur: Once the tallest structure in the world, Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers offer breathtaking views of the city skyline from their observation deck. Entry to the towers costs around 22 USD and I would advise booking tickets in advance during peak times.

Tioman Island: The island located just off the east coast of Malaysia, boasts pristine beaches, clear waters, and a range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Mount Kinabalu: in Sabah is a must-visit spot for adventure seekers, offering a challenging 4.1km climb to its summit but a rewarding experience with a stunning view at the top.

Malacca: A historic city on the west coast of Malaysia, is another must-visit destination. Once an important trading port, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can explore the city’s many temples, museums, and historic buildings, such as the A Famosa Fort and St. Paul’s Church.

Taman Negara National Park: is a must-visit destination, which has an old rainforest full of various flora and animals, including tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses. Guided jungle treks, river exploration by boat, and canopy walks are just some of the activities available for visitors.

Langkawi is an archipelago of 99 islands that is renowned for its exquisite beaches, breathtaking scenery, and duty-free shopping. It is a popular destination in Malaysia if you want a seaside getaway. The Perhentian islands is another tourist attraction worth visiting while in Malaysia.

Peak of Kota Kinabalu
Founder of this blog, Tom got into the summit of Mount Kinabalu

Comparison of Landscapes: Thailand vs Malaysia

Summary: Personally speaking, it is quite difficult comparing these two countries as they are very different. Landscape wise, it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you are looking for a tropical holiday, head to Thailand. If you want to experience lush jungles, mountains and a variety of outdoor activities, head to Malaysia.

Thailand and Malaysia are two stunning countries in Southeast Asia with diverse landscapes that offer unique experiences to travelers.

Thailand is renowned for its idyllic beaches, scuba diving, clear waters, and verdant foliage. Koh Samui, Krabi and Phuket are examples of gorgeous locations that attract people from all over the world with their white sandy beaches and clear turquoise waters.

Places like Koh Samui, Koh Lipe, and Koh Phangan are just a few of the famous beaches that Thailand is known for.

Inland Thailand offers a wealth of beautiful temples, majestic mountains, and bustling cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Malaysia is known for its breathtaking islands, jungle trekking in dense rainforests, and towering peaks.

Langkawi and Tioman Islands are famous for their beautiful beaches and stunning coral reefs, while Taman Negara National Park is a must-see destination for those looking to experience the natural beauty of Malaysia’s ancient rainforest.

Mount Kinabalu, located in Sabah, is the highest mountain in Malaysia and provides an arduous but rewarding climb for those seeking a challenge. Apart from this, Malaysia has a lot of other National Parks worth visiting.

Perhentian islands is another popular tourist attraction in Malaysia with beaches that can compare to Thailand.

Both countries offer amazing natural beauty, but Thailand’s landscapes tend to be more tropical, whereas Malaysia features more rugged and varied terrain.

In Thailand, coconut trees, vibrant flowers, and picturesque rice paddies abound, while Malaysia is home to dense jungles, towering peaks, and lush greenery.

Overall, whether you are looking for a tropical beach paradise or an adventure in the wilderness, Thailand and Malaysia have something unique and breathtaking to offer. Ultimately, the choice between them comes down to personal preference and the type of landscape and experience you seek in your travels.

Luxurious resort in Phi Phi Island
Phi Phi Island Resorts

Comparison of Food: Thailand vs Malaysia

Summary: Both cuisines offer very rich and unique flavors. While I am biased towards Thai food, Malaysian food is as good as well so we might have to call this one a tie? Both cuisines make use of bold flavors and spices which I love.

The cuisines of Malaysia and Thailand are well known for their rich and varied flavours, which are crafted from fresh ingredients and cultural influences.

Galangal, lemongrass, and chili are common ingredients in Thai food. The cuisine is known for its potent, spicy flavors that blend sweet, sour, and spice.

The most well-known Thai dishes include Tom Yum Goong, a hot soup with shrimp, lemongrass, and lime juice, and of course Pad Thai (one of my personal favorites), a stir-fried noodle dish with shrimp, egg, and peanuts.

Curries are also popular Thai staples, such as green curry and massaman curry, which are typically served with rice.

Just as varied and savory is Malaysian cuisine, which combines Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences to produce distinctive dishes.

You can expect a variety of aromatic spices, including cinnamon, cumin, and coriander in Malaysian cuisine. Both Coconut milk and palm sugar are used to balance the sweet and savory flavors.

Nasi Lemak, a rice dish infused with coconut milk and served with an array of sides, and Laksa, a spicy noodle soup with fish or chicken, bean sprouts, and herbs, are popular Malaysian dishes. Satay, marinated meat skewered and grilled, is also a must-try dish in Malaysia.

Vegetarians and vegans can be catered for in both countries with fresh herbs and vegetables commonly used in dishes it is easy to find a non-meat alternative.

Thai food frequently incorporates a variety of fresh herbs such as basil, coriander, and mint, while Malaysian cuisine often features ingredients like pandan leaves and turmeric.

Overall, the cuisine of Thailand and Malaysia is diverse and flavorful, with unique ingredients and flavors that set them apart. Whether you’re seeking the bold and spicy flavors of Thai food or the aromatic and flavorful dishes of Malaysia, both countries offer something for every taste bud.

Famous Curry Laksa Noodles of Malaysia
You can try the famous Curry Laksa Noodles in Malaysia

Comparing the Culture

Summary: Personally speaking, I think Thailand has a few more cultural attractions that you can visit when you travel around. Cities like Bangkok and Northern Thailand are full of must-visit temples with incredible Buddhas and palaces.

Thailand and Malaysia are two countries with rich cultural histories, unique customs, and traditions that are worth exploring.

In Thailand, Buddhism predominates, and the nation is home to numerous exquisite temples and shrines. Monks wearing orange robes are a common sight, and it’s important to dress conservatively when visiting these sacred sites.

You can expect to be greeted with a warm smile wherever you go because Thai people are recognised for their hospitality.

When it comes to cultural attractions, Thailand is known for its ornate temples and historical sites. Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is a favorite for this.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok, for example, is a complex of buildings that includes a reclining Buddha, an Emerald Buddha, and more.

Another popular destination is the ancient city of Ayutthaya, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features numerous temple ruins and ancient structures.

Malaysia, on the other hand, is a melting pot of cultures, resulting in a diverse range of cultural attractions.

One of the most iconic cultural sites in Malaysia is the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine located just outside Kuala Lumpur. The caves are accessible via a large staircase, and visitors can explore several caves and temples inside.

Going up the stairs can be a workout but the views are 100% worth it!

Another popular destination is George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and features a unique blend of colonial architecture, street art, and Chinese temples.

In addition to historical and religious sites, both Thailand and Malaysia have vibrant street markets and food scenes that reflect their unique cultures.

The Malay, Chinese, and Indian ethnic groups are all represented in Malaysia’s fusion culture. Islam is the predominant religion, and when visiting mosques or other religious buildings, guests are encouraged to dress modestly.

Malaysians are known for their warmth and generosity, you’re sure to be made to feel welcome. It’s also important to note that public displays of affection are not widely accepted in Malaysian culture, so visitors should be respectful of this.

Every nation has its unique customs and traditions and Thailand and Malaysia are no different. Visitors should respect and abide by any applicable local ordinances. For instance, disrespecting the king is forbidden in Thailand, and narcotics possession and distribution are forbidden in Malaysia.

In summary, both Thailand and Malaysia have rich cultural histories and unique customs and traditions that are worth experiencing.

By showing respect for the culture and customs of each country, visitors can have a more meaningful and enjoyable experience in these beautiful destinations.

Beautiful structure of Grand Palace

Comparison of Nightlife: Thailand vs Malaysia

Summary: While both places certainly have a vibrant and fun nightlife scene, I think it is safe to say that Thailand offers more for those who want to party. Aside from the capital city of Bangkok, places like the Thai islands offer a fun night out for those who enjoy some music and dancing. Malaysia on the other hand is a predominantly muslim country which means it is a lot more conservative.

In Thailand, the nightlife is legendary, with bustling cities like Bangkok providing endless options for party-goers. Khao San Road in Bangkok is a well-known hotspot for backpackers, offering affordable drinks and a lively atmosphere.

The Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan are a must-visit for those looking for an unforgettable beach party experience.

Kuala Lumpur is the center of Malaysia’s nightlife, with a variety of bars and clubs to choose from. Changkat Bukit Bintang is a popular area for nightlife, with various bars and clubs to suit every preference.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe, check out one of Kuala Lumpur’s speakeasy bars, such as PS150 or The Vault, for an elegant experience with delicious cocktails.

Overall, Thailand and Malaysia have amazing nightlife experiences, with something for everyone, from wild parties to calmer nights sipping cocktails.

Busy road of Khao San in Thailand
Busy road of Khao San in Thailand

Comparison of Transportation and Accessibility

Summary: I would call this a tie as both places have relatively easy transportation systems. Although with that being said, transport in Malaysia, at least in the capital city, is a lot more modern. Since both countries are built up for tourism, there are easy connections between places.

When it comes to getting around Thailand and Malaysia, you’ll have a few options to get yourself from A to B. Both countries have well-established transport systems so you’ll be in good hands.

In Thailand, tuk-tuks, taxis, and motorbike taxis are probably the most popular ways to get around for short distances. Tuk-tuks are a fun and affordable way to get around, but it’s important to agree on the fare before the ride.

Taxis are more expensive (still very affordable though!) but offer more comfort and safety.

If you’re comfortable with riding a motorbike, motorbike taxis are a convenient and economical choice, particularly in busy cities like Bangkok.

Taxis and Grab, are the most commonly used modes of transportation in cities such as Kuala Lumpur.

Public transportation options such as buses and trains are also available, with RapidKL offering a comprehensive network of routes.

Buses are a popular and cost-effective way to travel between cities, with frequent services running between major destinations.

In terms of accessibility and costs, both Thailand and Malaysia offer affordable transportation options. Tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis in Thailand are relatively inexpensive, with short rides costing only a few dollars.

In Malaysia, Grab rides are generally cheaper than taxis, and public transportation is also reasonably priced.

Just remember that traffic can be a nightmare in both countries, especially in cities. It’ll be wise to factor in extra time for travel.

Overall, transportation options in Thailand and Malaysia are accessible and affordable with both countries having a well-established transport infrastructure.

Famous Tuk Tuk vehicle of Thailand
You can try riding a famous tuk-tuk vehicle in Thailand

Comparison of Affordability: Thailand vs Malaysia

Summary: Overall, people say that Malaysia is a cheaper destination but in my opinion, they are about the same. Both countries have extremely affordable food and accommodations. Since there are more tourists in Thailand, you might find more hotel options at different price points.

When it comes to public transportation, both countries offer affordable options. In Thailand, tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis are affordable and convenient modes of transport, while Bangkok’s Skytrain and MRT systems are efficient and reasonably priced.

Malaysia also offers reasonably priced public transportation, with buses and trains available at affordable rates through RapidKL.

Accommodation is affordable in both Thailand and Malaysia, with a range of options to suit every budget. Budget travelers will be happy because hostels and guesthouses are popular choices in Thailand and Malaysia, providing comfortable accommodation at affordable rates.

Check out this Ultimate List of the Best Hotels & Hostels in Thailand for more ideas of where to stay.

If luxury is what you’re looking for, you can find luxury resorts available at affordable prices, particularly outside peak travel seasons.

Food in both countries is also affordable and delicious. Street food is a must-try, with Thailand’s pad thai and Malaysia’s nasi lemak being particularly popular and affordable dishes.

Certain popular tourist destinations in Thailand may be more expensive than their counterparts in Malaysia.

That being said, both countries still offer affordable travel experiences and are well worth visiting regardless of budget constraints.

With a range of options available to suit every budget, visitors to Thailand and Malaysia can have an amazing travel experience without breaking the bank.

Affordable and delicious Nasi Lemak
Delicious and affordable Nasi Lemak

Conclusion on Thailand vs Malaysia

To conclude, both Thailand and Malaysia provide travelers with fantastic travel experiences that are worth exploring. With their rich cultures, delicious food, stunning landscapes, and exciting nightlife scenes, both countries have a lot to offer visitors.

I absolutely loved everything about Thailand, so I would always edge towards favoring Thailand. Malaysia however can offer an equally amazing experience.

Ultimately, the decision to choose between the two destinations will depend on the individual traveler’s personal preferences and travel style.

FAQ on Thailand vs Malaysia

Is it cheaper to go to Malaysia or Thailand?

When it comes to comparing the cost of traveling, Malaysia is generally slightly cheaper than Thailand, particularly in terms of food and drink expenses. However, the overall cost of travel may vary depending on individual preferences and travel goals. Both countries offer great value for money and unique experiences that make them appealing travel destinations.

What is the difference between Thailand and Malaysia?

Thailand and Malaysia are two distinct countries that differ significantly in terms of culture, landscape, food, and lifestyle. Thailand is well-known for its lively cities, stunning beaches, and rich cultural heritage, while Malaysia is famous for its natural beauty, diverse culture, and fascinating history.

Is Malaysia more advanced than Thailand?

When it comes to economic development, Malaysia is often regarded as more advanced than Thailand, with a higher GDP and a more diversified economy. Malaysia also has better infrastructure, modern facilities and efficient public transportation systems.

Is Malaysia hotter than Thailand?

Both Malaysia and Thailand have tropical climates with high temperatures and humidity, and therefore, it’s difficult to say which country is hotter. However, there may be variations in weather conditions depending on the region within each country. Therefore, it’s important to check the local weather conditions before visiting either destination.

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Thailand vs Malaysia: A Comparison Guide | Trying to decide between Thailand vs Malaysia for your next trip to Southeast Asia? Click here to see our complete guide details. #travelthailand #travelmalaysia
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