There aren’t many shows that you can say hand on heart you’d like to see again and again, and again… Dylan discovered just that when he went to see Phare: The Cambodian Circus perform in Siem Reap.
Cambodia is well-known for the famed temples of Angkor Wat and the tragic recent history of the Khmer Rouge. But for me the thing that best describes the people and culture of Cambodia is Phare: The Cambodian Circus.
Nine young Cambodian men founded parent company Phare Poneu Selpak in Battambang in 1994, after returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the camp they took drawing classes and found art to be a powerful tool for healing, so when they returned home they began offering free drawing classes to street children. They went on to open a school offering formal education and professional training in visual arts, theatre, music, dance, and circus skills to the students for free.
Under this parent company, Phare: The Cambodian Circus opened in Siem Reap in 2013. They perform nightly in a big top stage and 75% of the profits support the arts school in Battambang.
I have had the great fortune of seeing this show twice, once in 2013 shortly after it was set up, and again this year. Both times they were one of the main highlights of my trip. Spare a night in your itinerary to watch it – you won’t be disappointed.
First show: “Same same but different”
The first time I went I saw “Same same but different”. It was a truly hilarious show about the differences between the local Cambodian people and the tourists who visit. Situations such as weather and power outages are examined through different eyes resulting in really funny encounters.
These left me laughing out loud in front of my fellow crowd (sometimes it’s too hard to hold it in). But in true Phare style they also touched on some very serious issues within this funny environment.
Second show: “Sokha”
This year I saw a show called “Sokha”. It was very touching, but still had the comedic elements that Phare is known for. The story follows a young child haunted by war, memories of the Khmer Rouge and the devastation of her country. But she finds a way to express herself, and with new found strength she starts to heal both her and her community through art.
Based on the real life stories of the Phare Ponleu Selpak School founders, this is a powerful mix of contemporary circus techniques, live painting, and original, live music. The show highlights the long-term effects suffered by post-war victims and the way art can provide a powerful way to heal and rebuild the country.
Both shows left a lasting impression with me, and when I return to Cambodia on my next travels I will go to see their newest performance. I have pretty high expectations now, but experience tells me that they will exceed. A truly unique and essential part of any trip to Cambodia.
See the incredible Phare Circus on our Vietnam & Cambodia Uncovered Small Group Tour.