City Rumble – Angkor versus Bagan

angkor bagan city rumble flyer This week’s city rumble takes us back… in time! Back centuries to when ancient stone cities ruled the roost of large areas of South East Asia. Angkor is the city that ruled lands in Cambodia and Thailand from the 8th to 14th century AD. Its stone structures and Bas Reliefs are simply amazing. With a jungle setting, exploring the temples and structures that made this city what it was, including Angkor Wat, is one of the most brilliant experiences there is in world travel.

Across Bagan
Across Bagan

Juxtapose this (ah-HA) with Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan’s temples were the cornerstones of a great and powerful empire from the 9th to 13th century. They stretch for as far as the eye can see, and are spread out over a very large area. Many are still in use today, whereas I’m not sure the same can be said for those of Angkor. Which you know, might be a negative. Because of the lack of jungle, there seems to be something a little more epic about Bagan as a whole.

Many and varied forms of transport at Bagan!
Many and varied forms of transport at Bagan!
bagank 6

Let us primarily consider them as tourist destinations and experiences today. Both have a tourist infrastructure built around them. Bagan is perhaps easier to explore on your own, bikes and electric bikes (not to mention horses and carts if you so desire) abound. My experience of Angkor was a long time ago now, nearly 15 years but it was common then to have guides. Except they were really just people who transport you around on the back of their motorbikes, not actual guides that explain things. The towns nearby are tourist hubs of course, it’s the only strong industry in those parts. Bagan provides three options for staying – Nyaung U, mostly for the backpacker, New Bagan and the slightly more expensive Old Bagan. For Angkor, it’s principally Siem Repp – a place that I believe has really boomed over the last 20 years and is a far bigger town than the three at Bagan put together. But then, Angkor is more popular and much more well known. At Bagan you can find plenty of spots to be alone, enjoy the place and find a little quiet. No doubt that will change, Angkor though was swarming with tourists back in 2000.

As you cross a bridge in Angkor, these friendly guys greet you
As you cross a bridge in Angkor, these friendly guys greet you

Angkor is though, without a doubt, magical. It’s not just temples, it’s a city with bridges and palaces as well. Along with Angkor Wat, the most famous temple there is Ta Phrom, known also as the ‘Jungle Temple’. A HUGE temple where the roots of trees have grown through every which way. One can simply lose themselves there for hours, it’s massive.

Inside a Bagan temple.
Inside a Bagan temple.
The ruined nature is part of Angkor's charm.
The ruined nature is part of Angkor’s charm.

The Bagan temples, because they are still used, have been restored somewhat and are in better condition. Most still have rooves for example. You can climb up many temples in Bagan for awesome views across the flat plains. Breathtaking landscape. Great places for sunsets and rises. From Angkor Wat though, the sun does special things at dusk and dawn too.

It's pretty dry at Bagan
It’s pretty dry at Bagan
Ta Phrom
Ta Phrom

Weather? Well, Bagan is a more dry heat, which I greatly prefer, whereas Angkor is sticky as. Yuck! And that can affect your enjoyment depending on what you prefer. I’ve never really enjoyed humidity. But, Angkor is in the jungle! The dryer Bagan, although it does have the river which is a major plus, does not have a lot of nice vegetation. It’s prickly and I picked up plenty of spurs in my socks whilst I was there. And, shade is another thing hard to come by considering Bagan’s environment. banank 7

An Angkor temple
An Angkor temple

So much to weigh up, but I have to give the gong this week to… Angkor. It’s really the stuff of dreams, and even with the throngs of tourists, it’s just one of the premiere sights of the world. Not that Bagan isn’t right up there too! But the stickiness, the crowds, the town of Siem Repp which seems to just be there for tourists, all well worth bearing for the utterly amazing ancient city of Angkor. What do you think? Please do vote in the poll, and may the journey never end!


  1. I haven’t been to Angkor yet!! But I’d love to go – the jungle around the temples sounds amazing. I really liked Bagan, probably my highlight from Myanmar.

  2. Angkor is a masterpiece of human achievements and ingenuity. How can one compare the two. I’m not saying Bagan isn’t spectacular but Angkor is the largest ancient city in all of human history prior to the Industrial Revolution. Just the temples of Angkor alone contains more stones than all the Egyptian Pyramids! There is so much more to Angkor when we talk about great civilizations. The Khmer Empire built thousands upon thousands of temples all a cross mainland South East Asia where as the Pagan Empire only concentrated building their temples in one core area. So how can one compare the two? The Khmer Empire built a massive city called Mahendraparvata on top of Phnom Kulen mountain with a Pyramid measuring 200 meters at the base (almost the size of Kufu Pyramid). Building sophisticated dykes, canals, ponds, temples, reservoirs, settlement complex, and many more structures on the mountain alone makes Bagan look like a joke.

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