Should you visit China or Thailand?
Thailand and China are both very popular destinations, seeing millions of tourists every year. But each country has something unique to offer.
China is massive, diverse, enigmatic, beautiful, and chaotic. But it's hard to summarize the price of everything in a country as large as this. From sprawling metropolises to sparsely populated countryside, the price of travel in China is as diverse as its attractions. Large cities are generally higher in price than the countryside, but overall China is surprisingly affordable.
Thailand is the most popular country to visit in Southeast Asia, and its economic dependence on tourism can be felt in even the smallest and most remote parts of the country. The beauty of Thailand is quite evident, and the diversity of landscapes, combined with the generally friendly nature of its people lead to a huge number of tourists every year. But all of these visitors can drive prices up a bit. Bartering is a must in Thailand where the tourist prices are dramatically higher than local prices.
Which country is cheaper, Thailand or China?
Should I visit China or Thailand? This is a popular question for many travelers. By figuring out which country is more expensive, you'll understand where you'll get more bang for your buck. A week in Thailand can cost you about $686 (per person), while a week in China may cost you around $497. These differences become even more noticable if you plan to spend a longer time in the country. 10 days, two weeks, or even one month of travel to Thailand or China can really add to your travel budget.
Accommodation is often cheaper in Thailand compared to China ($30 vs. $31). Budget travelers usually stay in less expensive hostels and guest houses, while nicer hotels often appeal to families and upscale travelers.
Compare hostel, B&B, and guesthouse prices between Thailand and China to find the cheapest accommodation here: Thailand hostels and China hostels.
When comparing food in China vs. Thailand they are not just different in cuisine, but also in price. Meal and restaurant costs in China ($20) are often cheaper than Thailand ($15).
When is the best time to visit China and Thailand?
Dali, Yunnan, China
As China is geographically large, the weather varies by region. The northeast experiences four seasons, while the south is fairly mild and tropical. The west can be cold in the winter as well, and sometimes harsh in the high plateaus and mountains.
In northeastern China, winters can be very cold and less tourists visit during this time. However, some areas have winter festivals (such as Harbin) which bring in large crowds despite the chill. Summers in the northeast can be warm, and sometimes hot and humid. This is still the peak season in this region, especially in Beijing. Traveling in the shoulder season will usually give you lower prices and good weather.
In the south, from Shanghai down and across to southwest China, expect warm weather almost all year. While winters do get a little cooler, it's not much to worry about. For this reason, travelers visit southern China year-round. Some even avoid the warmer summers in favor of the cooler winters.
In the west, the mountains make everything a little more complicated. Even in the usually warm southwest, higher elevations equate to colder weather. As you venture into the northwest, expect frigid winters but mild summers.
Other than weather, the only thing to look out for are the Chinese national holidays. During these times, which usually last a weekend or a whole week, many local Chinese people will be traveling to experience their own country's grand beauty. Expect hotels to be full and transportation to be crowded. You may wish to avoid the country during these times, or hunker down in a smaller city. Make reservations in advance if you can.
The high season for travel in Thailand is between November and February, although visitors come all year. The seasons are caused by monsoon winds more than temperature changes, though. In the north, the dry season is between November and May. The southern coasts stay relatively dry during this time as well. Due to a change in weather patterns, the east and west coasts receive rainfall at different times of the year. The wettest time on the western coast is usually between April and October, while the east coast experiences more rain between September and December.
Why is China more expensive than Thailand?
China's economy has been growing in leaps and bounds in recent years and decades, leading to a growing middle class and rising tourism industry. While competition is keeping prices down, it's not enough, thus tourism prices are generally increasing. Furthermore, with large populations moving to the larger cities looking for work, the overall cost of living is going up.
Transportation in China is also become more high-tech. With bullet trains, subway systems, and internet-enabled ride sharing services, moving around is becoming more convenient, but also more expensive.
Thailand is generally cheaper due to its economic reliance on tourism and agriculture instead of other high-end industries. The cost of living in Thailand is fairly low. While it's still more expensive in Thailand than in some of its neighboring countries, Thailand's overall economy is not as strong as some of the larger Asian nations. This means that the tourist dollar goes farther here than elsewhere (one of the best reasons to visit).
What are the most expensive and cheapest cities and regions in China and Thailand?
The beach at Koh Tao
Like large cities in any part of the world, with more people comes more diversity in prices. Some of the most expensive hotels and restaurants in China can be found in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as other touristy areas. But at the same time, these crowded cities also offer cheaper options.
Western China can be an expensive region due to its remote location. Here, transportation is pricey, food is more scarce and thus more expensive, and hotels are less frequent. But this enigmatic region can be worth the visit, and isn't too much more expensive than the more populated eastern regions.
Otherwise, some of the most expensive places in China are those that require more activities. A cruise through the famous three gorges, for example, is a must-see, but not so cheap. Hiking in the mountains or visiting famous parks that require entrance tickets, while worth the visit, can add to your travel budget.
Tibet is also relatively expensive due to travel restrictions, remote locations, and a lack of infrastructure.
As a general rule in Thailand, the more touristy a destination, the more expensive it is. Southern Thailand is more expensive than northern Thailand with some of the most expensive areas being the islands of Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan. The time of year can also dramatically effect cost. During the Full Moon Party festivals, prices in Koh Phangan can climb, but expenses are more reasonable during slower times.
Just like in China, visitors to the larger cities in Thailand can experience a mix of prices. With a more diverse range of options, travelers to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and other urban areas can find both cheap and expensive accommodation and food options.
In the countryside of northern Thailand, prices tend to be cheap. Smaller towns in the north wish to attract visitors and lower their prices accordingly. However, sometimes transportation can get pricey. The same is true in rural China.
How you can save money when visiting China and Thailand?
Use public transportation whenever possible. China's network of trains between cities has grown lately, and high speed rail lines connect every major city in the east, as well as some in the west. Not only is it fast, but it's also affordable. Avoid paying a premium for tourist or "VIP" buses that travel between major tourist destinations. Often, the government bus station will be in the center of town or separated from the tourist areas.
Stay at locally owned hotels, and eat at local restaurants instead of giving your business to national and international chains. The prices are great, the service is great, and you'll have a more enjoyable and authentic experience.
Negotiate hard! This is particularly true in Thailand as well as many parts of China.
Go off the beaten path. Prices in touristy areas tend to be the highest.
Slow down. If you're rushing through the area you're going to spend more money. Transportation costs can be somewhat expensive, so the more places you visit, the more money you're going to spend.
Plan your timings. Festivals and national holidays are fun but expensive. If going to the Full Moon Party isn't your priority, avoid the island areas of Thailand during these times. Also look at the holiday schedule to see when locals are on vacation.