Bagan vs Siem Reap

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.

 

Appearance

Siem Reap
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.

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Bagan
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.

Bagan (19)

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.

 

Setting

Siem Reap
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.

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Bagan
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.

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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

Siem Reap
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.

Bagan
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.

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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.

 

Cost

Siem Reap
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
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.

 

Other

Siem Reap

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

 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.

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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.

 

Conclusion

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.

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Kyoto

Type : City, Provincial
Best Date : Feb-May
Expense : Expensive
Things to do : Sightseeing, religious prayers, dining, shopping, dress up in kimono, ect
Points of Interest: Nijo Castle, Fushimi-Inari, Kiyomizu-Dera, Gion, Kyoto Impreial Castle, Nishi Hogan-Ji, ect
The Good: Best preserved Japanese culture
The Bad: Generally expensive

Brief

Kyoto is another of Japans former capitals. Rich and famous for is various Buddhist temples, shrines, gardens, imperial palaces and wooden houses. The Prefecture or city is said to be the historical and cultural centre of the country with its traditional society, dining and architecture still experienced today. The kaiseki dining and the female entertainers known as geishas are found within this city.

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The Place

Getting a train from Osaka to Kyoto (S rapid train) within 30minutes was amazing to say the least, even though it was very busy and crowded. I was expecting to get out of a very rural small station but was surprised to arrive to a large station just like Osaka central. Walking out of the station I was starting to get a vibe that Kyoto was anything but provincial but another metropolis.

I arrived in Kyoto in the evening and planned to check-in and head straight out to visit what I could. The first building you see once stepping out of the main entrance of the station is ‘Kyoto Tower’ which is an observation tower overlooking the city, I didn’t enter the building but ive heard its a sight to see. After we planned a trip to a place called Shijo Dori (Shijo Street) to have something to eat and see what the nightlife is like as it was also the area for their clubs and bars. Walking around the streets there were plenty of shops some more traditional than others. Arcades were also a big thing around these streets and can get very busy with local children, some even still in their school uniform.

The next morning we went to ‘Fushimi Inari-Taisha’ it rained but this gave our experience a little more character. Dating back to year 794 when Kyoto was capital, this shrine is one of the most important which is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari. The iconic shrine is famous for having over a thousand orange vermilion torii gates which routes up mount Inari and into the wooden forest. The experience was incredible, the whole visit took about 3-4 hours in total trekking up and down the shrine. There were plenty of stops and different shrines to visit. I saw lots of fox statues and didn’t know what they were for till I found out that foxes are seen to be the messenger for the God Inari. The top of the mountain (shrine) was a bit of an anti climax (in my opinion) as there was nothing different than the various shrines that you pass along the way.

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After hiking for almost 3-4 hours, we went back to Shijo street then got something to eat in ‘ Nishiki market’ which is known to have the best traditional food in the city.

On that same day we also visited the ‘Kiyomizu- Dera’ which is a one of Kyoto’s notable attractions. ‘ Kiyomizu Dera’ is a huge Buddhist temple which is significant to the city and named a UNESCO world heritage site. When I visited the main building was being refurbished and had plenty of scaffolding and a cover, so it wasn’t as picturesque as it would normally be. Nonetheless the Kiyomizu-Dera is one of Kyoto’s main attractions and must be visited, even with all the construction the place was still very beautiful and scenic.

‘Gion’ is also an excellent place to visit especially in ‘ Hanamikoji Dori’ the street famous for the Geisha tradition. Filled with long-established wooden buildings, this area is also famous for its traditional dining and hospitality. The walk is only about 10 minutes from one end to the other and the Geishas are rarely seen, there are very strict rules in the street which include no touching of the geishas, selfie sticks, littering and others alike. Take note although dining here is a must, it is very expensive.

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Nishi-Hogan-Ji is another place that should be visited as it is the largest school for a particular type of Buddhism. Here you will find beautiful large traditional Japanese architecture.

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One place that is not really advertised for tourist to visit is actually an observation point above Kyoto station. Here there are views of Kyoto but the most observed are its stairs with LED lights acting like one huge screen where short light shows happen. I don’t know a special name for this place but yeah, the light stairs!

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Conclusion

Kyoto was the best place I went to in for Japanese culture and history. I was expecting a provincial rural atmosphere but was surprised that the whole city looked like a miniature Osaka and Tokyo with many lit up and technological areas such as ‘Gion’. Although it rained when I was there, this only just gave the city more character. Tourists rent Kimonos and Geisha outfits whilst around the city. This was interesting as this is not done in any other place around the world with their local traditional outfits. I did however under estimate the time I needed in the city, so there were plenty more places I haven’t visited.

Back to my Japan Trip
Reference:

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html

Photo:

www.circumnavacation.com (Kyoto station light show)
663highland (Nishi Hogan Ji)