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As a nomadic creature, I was never one to settle in one place without thinking about or plotting my next departure. I was a migrant since childhood. First from Poland to France, then to Canada, followed by my solo move to Korea as a teenager…after that the list of places I travelled to goes on, and on. It was my insatiable curiosity of Humanity that kept spurring me forward, leading me to discover various places and remote regions of the globe. Then in 2017 something very odd happened: I paused....and rented a small apartment next to Wat Bo Pagoda in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

(2017: View from my place: Traditional Khmer homes & Wat Bo Pagoda. ©MaggiePadlewska)

Did I need to defrost after a six-month stint in the frosty Arctic region? Was I tired after decades of solo travel? Or, did I officially hit a burn out? Staying put in one place without daydreaming of the next was unusual for me, so I often wondered about that. I eventually realized that it was a combination of all those reasons, but most significant of all was the fact that upon arriving here, I felt something truly magical and fell in love with the warmth and kindness of Khmer people, and the Siem Reap community as a whole.



Many of my friends here are this week oozing with joy after Time Out magazine published an article declaring Wat Bo Village the third coolest neighbourhood in the world…in the world!!!

Such a great nod to a small neighbourhood in the famously praised city of Siem Reap (the gateway city to the revered Angkor Wat archeological complex),! And, for a neighbourhood that flourished even more recently, during the grim period that began to reveal itself in 2020....we all know what happened around the globe - and it was felt profoundly here, in a city almost entirely reliant on the tourism industry.

During that time, Siem Reap underwent a major transformation. New roads and sidewalks were built, old ones re-paved, street lights were erected, while nests of electric wires disappeared. We lived in a city-wide dust cloud.

(Siem Reap Under Construction 2021 ©MaggiePadlewska)

I'll delve into that in my documentary “Siem Reap: While You Were Away” (to be produced in the near future - please become my Patron if you'd like to support my independent work), but for now I too would like to bow my head to my wonderful neighbours, friends and people who make our beloved Wat Bo neighbourhood so incredibly special.

(Siem Reap Under Construction 2021 ©MaggiePadlewska)

As a creature who generally flees from big cities and glitzy urban settings, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my host city. Would I as an observer mourn the unique ruggedness and quaintness of a neighbourhood I fell in love with five years ago? I wondered as I watched my neighbours' charming traditional wooden Khmer homes be dismantled and vanquish, practically overnight, to make room for a new street right in front of my door…

(2021: View from my place: Most of the traditional Khmer wooden homes have vanished, revealing the area that will be paved over, making room for a new road. ©MaggiePadlewska)



Fast-forward to today, Siem Reap has morphed into a charming clean city that is…yes - indeed quite beautiful, just like its Wat Bo neighbourhood, this week recognized in a global publication, largely due to all the wonderful people who remained hopeful and worked tirelessly through a very dark period.

There are countless people, smiling and welcoming faces, shopkeepers and businesses owners along its streets and alleys who make Wat Bo so heartwarmingly wonderful - so many people and spots, that it would take me weeks to write about them all…so for now, I’ll zoom in on one in particular.

The riverside part Road 26 was formerly a block like many others, with a mix of small businesses and, in 2020, a few vacant buildings. But, when it emerged from the dust of the past few years…the Laundry Bar, Miss Wong Cocktail Bar and Stewart on 26 (formerly Village Cafe) aka SO 26 had jumped ship from their previous locations on the west side of the river to join Footprint Cafes, Tevy’s Place, Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant, and a few other businesses on this one - giving birth to the great new hotspot that it has become while earning global recognition and its star on the map.

I applaud you my dear friends and wonderful neighbours for all of your hard work and perseverance. I’ve seen you overcome your challenges, doubts and struggles…and look at you now!!! You most certainly deserve your ranking on that list of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world - BRAVO!!!!

(December 2021: Road 26 host the Angkor International Festival for the Arts afterparty. ©MaggiePadlewska)

Cheers to the entire Wat Bo neighbourhood, and thank you to all who created this wonderful gem of a gathering spot on Road 26, and for making a random nomadic creature like myself feel so very welcome and at home…



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