To help you get over the line we compare costs, flights, hotels, cuisine, beaches and travel styles to see which comes out on top.
TL;DR: Our verdict
The winner: Bali is the cheaper and bigger people pleaser of the two. More direct flights are available to its shores on budget airlines and on-ground costs are generally less than they are in Phuket. It also offers a variety of landscapes, from beach to mountain to rice paddy, making it ideal for the beach lover and the adventure seeker.
One of Bali's most iconic temples, Pura Ulu Danu Beratan Image: Getty Images
Phuket's giant Buddha Image: Pixabay
Which is cheaper?
Phuket is one of the most expensive destinations in Thailand. Compared with Bali, the cost of hotels, food and tours is higher overall. That being said, both are still miles cheaper than what you'd expect to pay in Australia. For example, a cheap meal in Bali averages $2.77 while in Phuket it's $4.44.
Prices obtained on 26 March 2019. Food and meal prices obtain from Numbeo.
Winner: Bali is much cheaper than Phuket for virtually everything, except beer. Though at 39 cents more it's not too much extra to pay for a drink.
Which is better for flights?
Cost: Flights to Bali can start from as little as $99 each way on low-cost carriers. Flights to Phuket generally start from around $150 each way on budget airlines.
Airlines: You won't struggle to find direct flights to Bali with Jetstar, AirAsia, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Garuda Indonesia all servicing the island paradise from cities across Australia. Phuket is a little more difficult to get to with Jetstar being the only airline that offers direct flights to the city. Indirect flights are available on airlines such as Qantas, AirAsia and Scoot though these may include long stopovers in their home hub cities.
Airports: Both destinations are serviced by a single airport. Bali's is Ngurah Rai International Airport, which is also known as Denpasar International Airport. Phuket's is Phuket International Airport.
Flight duration: Being closer, Bali flights are generally shorter from whichever Australian city you're flying out of. For example, direct flights from Sydney to Bali are 6 hours 40 minutes while direct flights from Sydney to Phuket are 9 hours and 20 minutes long.
Flight times and frequency: Something else you may want to consider is when flights depart and how often. As flights can be quite long, you may want to fly out in the evenings, sleep on the plane and wake up fresh in your destination city. From Sydney, Bali flights depart daily on Garuda Indonesia, Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar however all the departure times are during the day, with the latest departing at 6.45pm. Direct flights to Phuket are available only three days a week.
Winner: Bali is much cheaper and easier to get to with more direct flights available. You also have a wider variety of airlines flying directly there, including budget airline Jetstar and full-service airlines Qantas and Garuda Indonesia.
All times and details are current as at 4 April 2019.
Which is better for hotels?
Bali offers everything from beachfront resorts and spas to mountain retreats and city centre living. All budgets can be accommodated for with hotels ($10), homestays ($15), budget hotels ($30), villas ($100) and luxury resorts ($500+).
Phuket also accommodates for various budgets with hostels ($10), budget hotels ($14) and luxury resorts for $100. Phuket is known to have some of the cheapest 5-star hotels in Thailand. However, Phuket has mostly beachfront resorts which have a road between the resort and the beach.
Winner: While Bali has a wider variety of accommodation options but starting prices run much cheaper in Phuket, particularly for luxury accommodation. We're giving this one to Phuket, purely on cost. Compare your hotel options now through Hotels Finder, which powered by HotelsCombined.
The 5-star AYANA Resort and Spa, Bali Image: Getty
There’s no shortage of romantic or luxurious accommodation in either Phuket or Bali, so what it mostly boils down to is when you plan on going on your honeymoon.
Bali and Phuket have total opposite travel seasons with Bali experiencing its dry season from April to September and Phuket from November to May.
Outside of the weather, the other factor to influence your decision is the activities available. Phuket is ideal for beach lovers as island hopping is popular. Bali is better suited for active travellers as hiking a volcano or swinging over a rice field is common.
Verdict: Choose your destination based on the travel season, we definitely would prefer to stay dry and be able to explore the island.
Which is better for families?
Both Bali and Phuket offer water activities, culture, scenic sites and nightly entertainment suitable for the whole family.
If surfing is your family’s thing, make your way to Bali. The flight time is much shorter than to Phuket, which could reduce some stress when flying with young children.
Verdict: For families with young children Bali is our obvious choice but for an older family it’s really a toss-up.
Things to do
Which is better for nightlife?
No matter which destination you choose you'll be able to experience the nightlife.
Bali often has international DJs hitting the stages at the island's world-renowned clubs. Bars, beach lounges and a more sophisticated vibe take over Bali's hottest partying spots in Kuta and Legian. Canggu and Uluwatu offer more-relaxed party venues. You can get a feel for the nightlife with Bali nightlife tour.
Phuket is known for its nightlife but not for being as classy as Bali's. Patong is the main party area in Phuket with half of the street lined with go-go bars and the other filled with backpackers. Buckets (sand buckets filled with beverages) are aplenty and bars open onto the street where the party flows out on to. You can get a feel for the nightlife with a Phuket nightlife tour.
Verdict: If you're serious about music Bali is a must but if you prefer to party on a budget Phuket is the clear winner.
Which is better for beaches?
Bali and Phuket aren't short on beach bliss. To pull out some major differences, Bali offers travellers more choice with volcanic black sand beaches as well as coral and white sand beaches. It's also a prime destination for surfing, though be warned the beaches are quite dirty. Short on time? You can see the best with a Bali beach hopping tour.
Phuket on the other hand has idyllic white soft sand beaches that are well maintained. Beach-hopping tours abound to let you see more in a short space of time.
Verdict: We opt for cleaner and more idyllic beaches making Phuket the winner in this round.
Which is better for food?
For those of us who travel according to our stomachs, Bali and Phuket both have much to offer. Balinese food consists of flavoursome rice, noodle and soup dishes. Due to its popularity with Australians it boasts numourous Western food options. This makes it ideal for picky eaters or the unadventurous.
Food options on Phuket are more traditional, featuring noodle, soup and fried dishes that are packed to the gills with flavour. This is because Thai food in general aims to hit all flavour tastebuds: sweet, salty, sour and bitter, making it the ultimate taste sensation.
Winner: Phuket's food is by far more renowned, adventurous and authentic.
Bali vs Phuket: Features compared
Sunrise volcano trek
Snorkelling and diving
Both. Bali for land-based activities, Phuket for water-based activities.
Bali has no public transport system so transport is limited to private drivers and some shuttles.
Phuket is very easy to walk around in most areas. Public buses are available and tuk tuks or taxis are affordable to hire.
Best months to visit
April to September
November to May
Type of landscape
Airlines that fly there (direct) from Australia
Thai Lion Air
Average flight cost from Australia (according to Skyscanner)
$277 (Darwin, cheapest city to fly from)
$662 (Sydney to Phuket)
$680 (Melbourne to Phuket)
$899 (Brisbane to Phuket)
Indonesian cuisine mostly consists of rice, noodle or soup dishes. Dishes are typically fried and are packed with flavour.
Thai cuisine is world famous and has a wide range of flavourful noodle, rice and soup dishes.
Travel style best suited for
Bali vs Phuket: which wins?
Bali offers a wider range of scenery, has a well-regarded nightlife scene and has a much cheaper starting flight cost from Australia. Things also cost less once you’re there, apart from the slightly more expensive beer.
Cheaper to fly to from Perth and Brisbane
Cheaper overall for food and sightseeing
More direct flight options from Australia
Wider variety of accommodation options, including homestays and villas
Better to travel to in April to September
Better for active travellers/families
World-renowned nightlife scene
Wider variety of beaches
Ideal for surfers
Cheaper to fly to (on average) from Sydney and Melbourne
Better to travel to in November to May
Better for marine-based activities
Public transport options for the budget-conscious
Wider variety of food
Top Bali and Phuket deals:
AirAsia sale: Asia flights from $216 return
Valid for travel between October 2019 - February 2020. Destinations include Singapore, Phuket, Ho Chi Minh City, Bali, Shanghai, Delhi, Bangkok and more. Sample fare is Perth-Lombok.
Valid for travel until 31 October 2020, including over Christmas. Package includes accommodation at The Pavilions, flights from Sydney, Melbourne and more, airport transfers, daily breakfast and more. T&Cs apply.
Valid for travel between October 2019 - June 2020. Sample fare is Perth-Singapore. Destinations include Manila, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Phuket, Koh Samui, Bangkok, Delhi, Tokyo, Maldives and more.
Valid for travel on select dates between 1 October 2019 - 29 February 2020 with AirAsia. Includes accommodation at Champlung Mas Hotel, return flights from Perth, welcome drink on arrival and more. T&Cs apply.
Bali: 5-night luxury holiday with flights from $1,765
Valid for travel until 20 December 2020. Includes accommodation The Leaf Jimbaran, return flights from Brisbane, one 60-minute massage, two three-course dinner, private transfers, daily breakfast and more. T&Cs apply.
Bali villas, homestays, hotels and hostels from just $12 per night. Sample destinations in Bali include Jimbaran, Seminyak, Kuta, Denpasar, Legian and more. $12 sample price is for Vilarisi Hotel in Legian.
Destinations include Gold Coast, Port Douglas, Bali, Phuket, Fiji, Vietnam and Hawaii. Sample packages include a 5-night stay in Surfers Paradise for $299 (Regularly $579) and a 5-night package to Fiji for $999 (Regularly $2101),
Taylor Lorenz is a writer for Finder, focusing on travel content. She has previously written guides for World Nomads, Matador Network and the Huffington Post, and she also writes for her own travel blog, Taylor’s Tracks. Taylor makes her way around the globe writing and beach hopping and can usually be found with a book and a cup of tea in hand.
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