Among people who've never set foot in Asia, Taiwan is sometimes confused with Thailand. Taiwan is an up-and-coming tourist destination, yet Thailand still receives far more visitors.
We've just returned from a 20-day trip to Thailand, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the kingdom with Taiwan, from a traveller's perspective.
National Parks and museums
We entered two national parks, both of which charge foreign adults 400 baht and foreign children 200 baht - at today's exchange rate NT$391 and NT$191, respectively. Thai citizens pay 40 baht and 20 baht. None of Taiwan's national parks charge admission, and none of them get as crowded as Erawan's waterfalls. Entering the island's forest recreation areas costs between nothing and NT$200.
Thailand's major museums do charge for admission, sometimes up to 100 baht (NT$95). Few of Taiwan's museums charge more than NT$100. (One that charges exactly NT$100 is Lanyang Museum). Seeing the world's leading collection of Chinese art and antiques in the National Palace Museum will cost you NT$160, and half-price tickets are available are certain times each week. The National Museum of Taiwan History is currently free.
To our surprise, eating from night markets and street vendors in Thailand wasn't significantly cheaper than in Taiwan. That said, mid-range restaurants are less expensive in Thailand than Taiwan.
Milk and fruit juices are around 30% cheaper in Thailand than Taiwan. Packaged snacks and toiletries are also less expensive. Local beers and spirits bought from convenience stores are very slightly cheaper in Thailand than in Taiwan, but wines imported from Europe and Australia are pricier.
Offices of the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) are helpful but not conveniently located, even in heavily-touristed areas like Kanchanaburi. Taiwan's policy of putting visitor information centres in train stations and other transport hubs is very sensible.
The amount of litter beside Thailand's major roads is truly depressing; if anything, the situation there is currently worse than it ever was in Taiwan, the latter having made considerable progress in recent years. That said, the two national parks we toured in Thailand (Erawan and Khao Yai) were just as clean as Taiwan's national parks.
In tourist areas, a good many Thais – even street vendors – speak some English, but few have a really good grasp of the language. There's a very widespread and heartfelt willingness to assist. In Taiwan, it sometimes seems as if the first five people you address in English are so unused to talking with non-Taiwanese they freeze up – but then the sixth turns out to speak excellent English. When exploring Thailand's countryside on motorcycle, we didn't notice many English-language or bilingual signs to attractions. When navigating Thai towns on foot, it's often hard to find road names. Almost everywhere in Taiwan, roads and streets are clearly labelled in both Chinese script and some form of pinyin.
Thailand isn't an especially dangerous destination in my opinion, but almost every year there are stories of travellers being robbed at knifepoint, or drugged on long-distance buses and waking up to find their bags have been plundered. Also, in recent years there have been violent political protests in central Bangkok, and at one point the international airport was closed. In terms of both political stability and conventional criminality, Taiwan is exceptionally safe for tourists. To put it simply, Taiwan's felons and gangsters have bigger fish to fry.
The standard of driving in Thailand has improved since I first visited in 1991, yet in both countries crossing the road must be done with great care. Also, central Bangkok is rather like certain urban areas in Taiwan in that motorcyclists treat the pavements/sidewalks as a lane along which they can zip in either direction. For foreign tourists, renting a motorcycle is far easier in Thailand than Taiwan.
Compared to Southeast Asia, the cost of lodging in Taiwan is a major disadvantage. On average, a room in a Taiwanese hotel or guesthouse costs two to three times what its equivalent costs in Thailand. Also, because many destinations in Taiwan are dominated by the domestic visitors, some very attractive homestays do not have signs in languages other than Chinese. That isn't an issue in Thailand.