Which is Better for Travel: Vietnam or Thailand?
One of the most popular questions among first-time travellers to South-East Asia is: should I go to Vietnam or Thailand? Both are popular destinations, with Vietnam recently eclipsing Thailand in economic growth and opportunities.
The differences between Thai and Vietnamese cultures are many. Here, we explore personality differences between Vietnamese vs. Thai people, as reported in scientific studies that use Big Five Factor analyses. Interestingly, the quantitative analyses confirm national stereotypes, such as:
- Thai people are more open and creative;
- Vietnamese people are more careful and have a stronger work-ethic;
- Thai are slightly more sociable and chatty;
- Thai are slightly more kind but can be a little more pushy; and
- Vietnamese are much more anxious and nervous.
The above summary is based on the following Big Five results from Buehler et 2019 2020 (click to expand)
We will discuss each of the factors (Agreeableness, Openness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, etc) and what they say about Thailand vs. Vietnam.
However, it is important to note that these studies were conducted on 1000+ rural respondents. Also, they are statistical averages: individuals can vary considerable from the national averages.
Are Thai people ruder or nicer than Vietnamese people? (Agreeableness Factor)
Contrary to national stereotypes, there is not strong evidence that Thai people are nicer than Vietnamese, nor that Vietnamese are ruder than Thai. Many tourists swear that they find Thai people to be friendlier and more welcoming than Vietnamese — even most Vietnamese will openly admit that!
However, the studies suggest otherwise: among all the 5 traits, Thai and Vietnamese people are most similar in the Aggreeableness factor vs. other factors. The Thai people do seem to be more forgiving and kind, with Thai males being particularly nicest of all.
Surprisingly, Thai people are actually slightly more “rude” (i.e. pushy, assertive, willing to create disharmony) than Vietnamese.
Note about the Agreeableness factor: it is not necessarily a positive thing. While everyone prefers people who are kind and not rude, the Agreeableness factor also measures conformity, being weak-willed, and willingness to acquiesce to others. What is “rude” in one culture is merely assertiveness in another culture.
Keeping this in mind, it seems Thai are little superficially nicer, but are willing to assert themselves if they disagree with something, whereas Vietnamese people are slightly more deferential.
Which culture is more open – Vietnam or Thailand? (Openness Factor)
The Openness factor is associated with being artistic, curious, imaginative, insightful, original, and having wide interests. On the flip side, it is also associated with gullibility to foolish ideas and demonization of past institutions.
Not surprisingly, the Big Five studies show that Thai people are much more open than Vietnamese people. This aligns with stereotypes of national character and historical context. For example, Vietnam has only recently opened-up to the world via an explosion of free-trade agreements and relaxation on controls on information.
In contrast, Thailand is so open that it has mainstreamed very radical ideas like trans-gender surgery, sex-tourism, and “baby ghosts” — such phenomena are much rarer in Vietnam. When looking across countries, Thailand scores much higher on openness than other Western countries: it scores 4.6 compared to Germany’s 4.49 (Schäfer 2016) or Australia’s 4.24 (Cobb-Clark and Schurer). Vietnam scored 4.04.
One interesting result in the research (Boehler et al 2019) is that Vietnamese males score higher on the Artistic sub-factor of Openness (M: 3.9, F:3.65) whereas this relationship is reversed in Thailand (M: 4.92, F: 4.42), suggesting that Vietnamese women may be slightly more conservative than males.
Openness Within Vietnam: North vs South
Despite scoring lower on the Openness factor, Vietnam is nonetheless a rich land of artistic gems and is increasingly accommodating of people from around the world.
There also large differences between North and South Vietnam (we have a whole article dedicated to these cultural differences). In general, the South has a longer history of welcoming foreigners, capitalism, and pop-culture, whereas the North was historically more suspicious of foreigners, and was also the centre for traditional arts. Nowadays, the cultural differences are more blurred, especially in large urban areas like Hanoi.
Who works harder – Thai or Vietnamese? (Conscientiousness Factor)
The Conscientiousness factor is associated with qualities like being organized, dutiful, reliable, and having a strong work-ethic. Together with IQ, it is one of the best predictors of success and achievement (Gensowski, 2018).
Not surprisingly, Vietnamese people score significantly higher in Conscientiousness than Thai people. This is evident in the current meteoric economic growth in Vietnam, as more and more brands relocate manufacturing plants to Vietnam to employ Vietnamese skilled-labour.
While Thai people may measure higher in creativity and trait-openness, the fine-detailed craftsmanship and technical-artistry is astounding in Vietnam. The technical sophistication of Vietnam appreciated when touring the artisan guild-streets and neighbours in big cities — it is one of our favourite things to do in Vietnam:
RELATED: DIY Tour of Hanoi’s Artisan Guild Streets and Neighbourhoods
Who is more sociable – Thai or Vietnamese? (Extraversion Factor)
The extraversion factor is just like its layman definition: an extrovert person is more outgoing, talkative, and seeks external stimuli to feel good. An introvert person prefers quiet contemplation and is more comfortable being alone.
Overall, the Big Five studies suggest that Vietnamese and Thai have very similar levels of overall trait-extraversion. When the researchers break-down the trait into into sub-components, then Thai have higher talkativeness and have a lower tendency to be reserved.
Interestingly, both countries are more extrovert than Westerners (Germany and Australia and USA). This may seem surprising at first glace. However, it makes sense considering how Vietnamese people are more deeply involved with their community than Westerners: they spend much more time obliging their neighbours and family, and spend less time alone at home. Vietnamese are also much more willing to get into your personal space and speak frankly.
As a traveller in either country, you may notice that if you befriend a local, they are much more clingy and seem to require less time alone time than friends in the West.
Who is more anxious – Thai or Vietnamese? (Neuroticism Factor)
One of the largest cultural differences between Vietnam and Thailand, according to the Big Five psychometric metrics, is the degree of negative-emotions (aka Neuroticism). Vietnamese people score much higher on measures like nervousness and anxiety, while Thai people are more relaxed.
This is somewhat unsurprising: travellers to Thailand often praise Thailand’s chilled culture and laid-back attitude, whereas Vietnam can feel superficially more tough and hard-edged. But, there are laid-back/chilled-out enclaves in Vietnam as well, e.g. West Lake in Hanoi or Da Nang City.
Note: Neuroticism doesn’t mean “crazy” like it is used in everyday language. Instead, it is a technical factor associated with a constellation of normal emotions like anxiety, self-pity, being tense, overly sensitive, and prone to worrying. We all feel these emotions, but some people feel them more than others.
Thailand vs Vietnam – which is better for travel?
Can we use the science of the Big Five psychological traits to help inform whether Vietnam or Thailand is better to visit? It depends on what you are looking for.
The studies show that Thailand is more open, less anxious, and more laid-back. Whereas Vietnamese culture is more hard-working, less laid-back and more nervous.
Neither country is objectively “better”, and there is a lot of heterogeneity across individuals within the countries (e.g. North vs South Vietnam). But, depending on the type of tourism you prefer (such as resort-going vs. backpacking), then you may prefer a different psychometric profile. For example:
- If you are a resort-goer and/or packaged-tour traveller, then Vietnam may be better: you prefer that staff and guides are highly conscientious, dutiful, and anxious about the quality of your stay.
- If you are a transient, adventurous backpacker, then Thailand may be better: you prefer a care-free culture that is open to wild, new experiences and doesn’t judge you for your eccentricities.
- If you are a digital-nomad or other long-term stay (e.g. ESL Teacher), then Vietnam may be better: although it would depend on your personal needs and character, the high-economic growth and conscientious-culture may provide more work opportunities.
Learn more about Vietnamese culture on our blog.
Buehler, D., Sharma, R. and Stein, W., 2019. Personality traits in Southeast Asia: Evidence from rural Thailand and Vietnam (No. WP-014). TVSEP Working Paper.
Cobb-Clark, Deborah A. and Stefanie Schurer, 2012, “The Stability of Big-five Personality Traits.” Economics Letters, 115, 11–15.
Schäfer, Konrad, 2016, “The Influence of Personality Traits on Private Retirement Savings in Germany.” SOEP Papers No. 867, German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Berlin, Germany 2016.
Gensowski, M., 2018. Personality, IQ, and lifetime earnings. Labour Economics, 51, pp.170-183.