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Set among dense forests, the temple complexes of Angkor (Here means Angkor Wat in Cambodia) and Bagan (in Myanmar) are both among the most remarkable architectural masterpieces and striking historical ruins in Southeast Asia.
Which you should visit first is a matter of opinion. Ideally, you’d be able to visit both Angkor and Bagan.
If you are on your first trip to Southeast Asia, we suggest you focus on the rich cultural heritage of Angkor, as it reveals the ancient civilization of the Khmers and sightseeing can easily be arranged.
Most visitors to Myanmar stay approximately 9 days, visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, not simply Bagan alone.
So if you have prepared enough time and money – for hotels generally cost more in Myanmar than in Cambodia – and want a unique experience, in a somewhat quieter yet still wonderful medieval world, take a trip to Bagan, and also visit other fascinating spots in Myanmar.
|Located in||Siem Reap, Northwestern Cambodia||Mandalay region, Central Myanmar|
|Arriving||Siem Reap International Airport hosts regular flights from many Asian cities||Nyaung U Airport hosts regular flights from Yangon and Mandalay|
|Getting around||Tuk tuks, bicycles and cars||Electric bikes, bicycles, horse carts and cars|
|Popularity||Popular with tour groups, especially among Asians||Still outside the average visitors’ radar|
|Crowds||Flooded with people in the dry season, from November to February||Relatively few, bringing more freedom to explore|
|Main attractions||Outstanding temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and Banteay Srei||Three areas: Old Bagan, Nyaung U and New Bagan|
|Special experiences||Cycling through the jungle or driving a quad bike||At least 2 days to explore the archeological zone and visit the temples|
|Visiting time||1 day to see the highlights and 3 days to see most of the temples||Taking a horse cart or a hot-air balloon flight|
|Budget (including hotel, tour and food expenses)||Mid-range costs are around US$120-150 per day||Mid-range costs are around US$220 per day|
|Suited for||First-timers to Southeast Asia who are interested in history, religion and architecture||Travelers who are looking for unique experiences and would like to explore the wonders of the medieval world|
Angkor — located in Siem Reap, northwestern Cambodia, Angkor was the capital of the great Khmer Empire from approximately the 9th to the 15th centuries. The ruins of Angkor now occupy 77 sq miles (200 sq km) and contain around 70 temples. At the heart of Angkor is the magnificent Angkor Wat, the largest single religious monument in the world.
Many of the temples have been restored under the direction of a French institute, the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO), which has been in charge of conservation work since 1907. Since 1992, Angkor has collectively enjoyed protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Now, official figures show that over 2 million tickets were sold annually over the last few years to foreigners visiting the ruins of Angkor. The popularity of the site presents challenges to the preservation work.
Bagan — was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Its ruins are scattered across an arid plain in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar. Once a thriving metropolis, the Bagan Archaeological Zone occupying 26 sq miles (67 sq km) is now home to the remains of over 2,000 temples and pagodas.
Bagan today, with its amazing wonders, is the main attraction in Myanmar’s nascent tourist industry. Since the 1990s, many of its ruins have been undergoing a renovation program overseen by the military government.
Rebuilding work has often been conducted using modern materials, regardless of the original architecture, and this must have been a big contributing factor in the denial of the designation ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ to Bagan.
Another significant setback is that Bagan has suffered from hundreds of earthquakes. The latest was on 24th August, 2016, a major earthquake damaging almost 400 temples. Now, a reconstruction effort is being made by the Bagan Archaeological Department, with the help of UNESCO experts. As a result, visitors are currently prohibited from entering the damaged temples.
Angkor — Siem Reap International Airport hosts regular flights from many Asian cities, especially neighboring cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Bagan — most foreign visitors arrive in Myanmar by air at Yangon or Mandalay, before transferring to Bagan. Flights to Bagan arrive at Nyaung U Airport.
Angkor — tuk tuks are easy to find around the temples. They’re a fun but rather bumpy experience.
Bicycles are also available. These might tire you out after a lot of walking, unless you really like cycling.
The most flexible and hassle-free way of getting around is to hire a private car with a guide.
Bagan — electric bikes are widely available and an ideal way of exploring, although they sometimes run out of power. The rental company will come and provide a fresh battery as necessary.
Bicycles are easily rented from most hotels. Just be aware that they are liable to pick up a puncture.
A slower way to travel is to hire a shaded horse cart, with a driver who knows the area well and provides a commentary.
Perhaps the most relaxing option is to hire a private car with a driver and guide. This usually costs about US$80 per day, much better value than merely renting a taxi.
Angkor — three types of ticket are available: a 1-day ticket for US$20, a 3-day ticket for US$40 (valid for any three days within a week), and a 7-day ticket for US$60 (valid for any seven days within a month). Tickets should be bought at the ticket-office on the road from Siem Reap to Angkor.
Bagan — entry tickets to the archeological zone cost US$10 per week. Once paid, you can explore this fascinating area at your own leisure. Tickets can be bought on arrival at the airport or at some of the larger temples.
Angkor — Angkor Wat is best visited from the west entrance, at sunrise or sunset. Bayon, Ta Prohm and Banteay Srei also shouldn’t be missed.
Bagan — most visitors explore three rewarding areas: Old Bagan, Nyaung U and New Bagan. Among the many temples and pagodas, the beautifully preserved Ananda Pagoda is the most stylistically refined.
Angkor — the temple complex at Angkor, with its remarkable architecture, is enormous. Normally, any visit to Angkor includes the most famous three temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. After being shown around the three temples, you may wish to try some fun activities such as cycling through the jungle or driving a quad bike. There are many good opportunities for photography here.
Angkor is popular with tour groups, especially among Asians. So you’ll find the temples are flooded with people in the dry season, from November to February. It tends to be quieter with fewer tourists in the rainy season, from June to November.
Bagan — a hot-air balloon floating across the sky has become an iconic image of the archaeological zone. Taking a hot-air balloon in the early morning to view the thousands of temples, you’ll enjoy a fun experience flying over the Bagan complex, with an unrivaled perspective.
Mysterious as it is, Myanmar is still outside the average visitors’ range. So you will find relative peace and quiet here, along with more freedom to explore.
Angkor — Siem Reap serves as a gateway to Angkor, and the tourist industry in Siem Reap has experienced a major boom. The variety of lodgings and eateries in Siem Reap, together with easily arranged transport and tours, has made sightseeing in Angkor quite a straightforward thing.
Most visitors to Cambodia stay 3 to 5 days, visiting both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. If you only have 2 or 3 days, save your time for Siem Reap. If you stay a week, Battambang might be a good place for extension.
As for budget, mid-range costs are around US$120-150 per day, including hotel, tour and food expenses; quite a good-value option.
Read more about Plan a Trip to Angkor Wat
Bagan — despite the fact that Myanmar still lacks adequate infrastructure, many visitors have flocked to the country since the easing of the boycott on tourism in 2010.
Most visitors to Myanmar stay approximately 9 days, visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. Please note that by Southeast Asian standards, hotels of all grades are expensive here, so the mid-range costs are much higher than for Angkor, at around US$220 per day.
The true delight of both Angkor and Bagan is walking around the ruins of an imperial capital that ruled an empire for several centuries. The beautifully sculpted structures still reflect the glory of the former empires.
Both A and B are rich in history and culture, and each provides a unique experience. It’s advisable to travel with a knowledgeable guide, who can help with supplying detailed information and showing you the best way around.
Here are some popular tours including Angkor or Bagan: