It had been over a year — fifteen months to be exact — since I’d last visited Cambodia, the longest stretch I’d ever stayed away from the country since my first visit in 1999. I subsequently moved there in 2002 to open a bookshop in Siem Reap, but returned to Bangkok again in 2004 to — yes, once again — open another bookshop. I still keep telling friends in Mandalay: Watch out, you never what I’ll do next!
In any case, I still go back once or twice a year, but my main focus in recent years has been visiting Myanmar, so I felt that a return trip to Cambodia — in this case, four days in Siem Reap — was long overdue. Long story short; it was great to see my friends again, but that joy was mixed with depressing sights. Look around Siem Reap and you can’t help but be appalled by the ingrained poverty juxtaposed by the rampant growth (some might call it development, but all I see is more people being forced to move from their comfortable old homes and neighborhoods) — and greed — that you can see around Siem Reap. My head was spinning by the sight of more ugly cookie-cutter hotels, the new-rich driving gaudy SUVs, people of all ages begging, and amputees hobbling down the street. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to leave town.
I didn’t go to Angkor this trip — too many busloads of tourists to contend with, so no thanks! —- but one thing I did do was visit Wat Bo, an old temple in the middle of town. Surprisingly, this was the very first time that I’d visited Wat Bo. I’ve eaten countless meals at restaurants on Wat Bo Road, and stayed at hotels and guesthouses in the vicinity, but for some odd reason I’d never taken the time to visit the temple that the road was named after.
So, late one afternoon, I snuck away from my hotel and walked alone to Wat Bo, taking a back road that ran parallel with Wat Bo Road. The temple is like most of the active ones you’ll find in Cambodia and nearby Buddhist countries such as Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. There is main shrine, plenty of Buddha figures, some smaller buildings and stupas, plus living quarters for the monks. Like most temples and monasteries, I found the atmosphere at Wat Bo very peaceful and relaxing. There’s just something about these old Buddhist buildings — or complexes, in this case — that is so blissfully tranquil. In the midst of all this so-called progress, it was comforting to spend time at a peaceful old temple.