Wat Bo Pagoda, close to the Siem Reap River on the east side, is one of the oldest in Siem Reap and a peaceful place to escape and take a break from touring the major temple sites of nearby Angkor.
Immersing yourself in a culture sometimes requires getting away from the tourist honeypots. Wat Bo, which gives the area of town its name where a hub of backpacker accommodation can also be found, is a quiet pagoda worth a stop if you’re interested in connecting more with Cambodia’s spiritual side.
The country may be Buddhist, but this 18th century pagoda is particularly notable for its detailed wall paintings portraying Reamker, the Cambodian version of one of the great Hindu epics, Ramayana. The mural montage of intricate Khmer art is painted finely on the walls. Though for some pieces time has evidently taken its toll, many are still well preserved. That said, not all can be viewed easily and not just because it’s gloomy inside, but because you’d need to be on stilts to see up high.
The patchwork of paintings is especially interesting here as it also depicts daily life and shows how scenes such as market shopping has little changed over the passage of time. You will also spot foreigners painted in the some hundred odd scenes, such as a row of French soldiers – there are some eyebrow raising outfits to be seen, as well as customs such as smoking suspect substances…
Wat Bo is free to visit and you need only allow a few minutes. Handily there is usually someone around to let you in should you find it closed.
A quick bike tour can lead you around Siem Reap’s most prominent pagodas in an afternoon including Wat Damnak, Wat Thmei, Wat Preah Enkosei and Wat Preah Prom Rath. As with all pagodas, they tend to be busiest around religious holidays and prayer times, which may involve an early rise if you want to catch what’s going on.
Though Wat Bo is not a significant site in Siem Reap with the world wonders of Angkor just up the road, it is a pleasant enough diversion. For those with an interest in Khmer art a private puppet show performed here will give a wonderful glimpse into traditional art forms.