Whilst planning a trip to Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan I thought to myself the similarities that it would have with the ancient province of Cambodia, Siem Reap. During my visit to Bagan I saw some similarities and also some differences but I think both regions are comparable as travel destinations. Here I will write my perceptions between the two provinces and what visitors would expect and which I believe is better in certain aspects.
I first start by saying my comparison of Bagan and Siem Reap is my own opinion. I respect that the two are largely religious pilgrimages but am only comparing its beauty as a tourists point of view.
Siem Reap had the more spectacular temples in terms of appearance. Its age, artwork and variety of design were something of a goose bump moment. Siem Reap’s temples were also much larger and the fact that their temples were built in more ancient times the appeal was greater. Furthermore many of Siem Reaps temples had roots growing around them giving their overall appearance a majestic movie feel.
Bagan’s temples although amazing were much simpler, smaller and newer in architecture. Furthermore, most of the temples/ pagodas I visited had similar design which mean it was easier to get bored seeing Bagan temple after temple.
Which is better?
For me hands down Siem Reap gets my vote on the appearance for its temples and Pagodas, its architecture and decorations were just superior in appearance.
In terms of the setting Siem Reap’s temples were predominantly set in a jungles. Whereas some have been situated near lakes, I have been told many of them are manmade and not natural. Having its temples set in the middle of the jungle means that nature is constantly taking its cause and tree roots grow take over the temples structure.
Bagan’s Pagoda’s and temples were situated in dusty, sandy grass fields, there are trees but far less than Siem Reap. There are a few pagodas situated lakeside, but the majority are set in isolation. However this is a positive as from various viewing points if high enough you are able to see all or a bunch of temples and pagodas together, a sight to see especially upon sunrise or sunset.
Which is better?
For me I love both settings but edge towards Bagan for the settings due to its capabilities to see the collection of temples in a very beautiful landscape. Seeing the sunrise and sunset here is probably the best in the world.
Environment and Atmosphere
One thing I have acknowledged between the two is that Siem Reap and its temples are fully secured with security, no go zones and ticket inspections which is a must for the community and its structures but can dampen the experience.
Secondly the huge negative for Siem Reap are its crowds. Although not entirely on all its attractions and not on every single time of the day, I do believe it is no exaggeration if you sometimes hear the atmosphere being described as a zoo of people. There are so many nice photo opportunities and from many different angles however you’d be lucky to find a spot without crowds in the background.
One of the things I love about Bagan and have been very vocal about is its freedom. The fact that I can rent an Ebike and ride around as if I was a local was a huge difference to the experience. There was also far less crowds in Bagan which is always a positive in areas like this. Furthermore there are far less security and ticket officers around Bagan this is a good thing for the freedom of exploration however I do acknowledge that this is something that may have to change in the future as an increase in tourism is possible.
Which is better?
The environment and atmosphere between the two region were very different from each other. One was very busy whilst the other was quiet. In my opinion I easily and passionately say Bagan tops this one. The sheer freedom to walk wherever, whenever and enjoy the setting without huge crowds is just perfect to enjoy.
I didn’t experience large differences in price but do acknowledge Siem Reap as being much more advanced in infrastructure. There are Malls, Reputable Restaurants/ hotels, Banks and much more. That being said food, accommodation and or souvenirs were a little more expensive.
Bagan was cheap, even for the areas pleasing tourism (albeit a little more expensive for locals). Food outlets looked like family businesses rather than chains. Due to this prices vary but still very cheap.
Which is better?
I didn’t feel a huge difference with prices but I do feel Bagan was a little bit cheaper than again Siem Reap had the more reputable outlets.
I could see that tourism is very important for Siem Reap and they have built a lot of facilities to accommodate its influx. A theatre for cultural dance, dedicated night markets and also a strip for nightlife were positive extras for the region.
Transport wise there was countless tuk-tuks on offer when needed.
Bagan was a little bit quieter than Siem Reap, there was no malls for shopping or a strip for nightlife. Groceries were also scarce so snack would be bought from restaurants, hotels or independent vendors.
The Ebikes made Bagan the extravagant experience it was, due to the freedom to explore where you want when you want for a fixed price. There was very little in any other transport, I did see horse carriages and a few tuk-tuks.
Which is better?
The Ebikes made my experience unlike any other I have experienced around the world and if only Siem Reap incorporated the same that would be amazing but I don’t expect it would be possible there because of the amount of tourists at any one time.
Overall this one is hard because Bagan had the Ebikes but then it was very quiet and little to do after seeing the attractions. Whilst Siem Reap was huge to facilitate tourism and tourists requirements.
I’d go for a draw on this one I cant chose between the two.
For me this was very close and although I maintain the structures of Siem Reaps temples were incredibly majestic and in my opinion better than that of Bagan’s. There is also more to see and do in Seam Reap, if you get bored of temples there are other amusements for any sort of visitor.
However there is something about Bagan which made my time visiting one of the best I have ever experience. I have concluded that the Ebikes, the freedom of movement and the aspects of the sunrise and sunsets made the overall experience special and different.
Although I edge Bagan being better than Siem Reap as an overall experience I believe both provinces are spectacular and top the list of places I have ever visited.