You would never think a circus in Siem Reap exists, but it has become one of the city’s biggest attractions. And one with a positive social impact.
Siem Reap likes to surprise visitors with its growth. Whether that’s new adventure activities, travel initiatives and excursions that show an alternative side to the town aside from the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the infamous Pub Street, alongside the growth of amazing charity and community projects which aid this still troubled country.
I had heard about the ‘Phare’ Circus in 2013 during one of my return visits and heard on the grapevine it was a must-see show, as well an initiative benefiting a great cause.
Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak (Association), which translates into “Brightness of the Arts” in English. PPS Association is a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province.
It serves as a facility to help vulnerable children, young adults and their families, build the careers of Cambodian Artists, to revive Cambodian art scenes, to make worldwide arts connections with Cambodia and to contribute to the artistic, educational and social programs of PPS Association (watch the video below for further insight).
Which means when you visit the circus in town, you are doing more than paying to be entertained. Your money is benefiting a growing arts scene in Cambodia.
And the skills they possess saw them performing around the world before bringing this unique show to Siem Reap.
The Phare circus is an incredible hour of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, athleticism, juggling and contortion all beautifully choreographed and performed in stories about Cambodian lives and society. Not to mention the famous smiles and slapstick humour that the Cambodian people are known for.
There are two shows, of a different theme or ‘tale’, alternating approximately every eight days. I saw the tale of “Phsong Preng” (The Adventure) which tells the story of a young boy who flees home, where he is abused by mother, in search of a better life – domestic violence being an ongoing issue in Cambodia.
In his adventures, he meets some unusual friends, who all travel to Phnom Penh together – an exciting endeavour that sadly ends with the boy being beaten and robbed by a gang of thugs. Saved by a chance meeting with a new group of friends, who take him in and help build his confidence, he finally decides to return home – stronger, assertive and more resilient.
I know from my Khmer (Cambodian) friends that tales and sayings are a big part of the culture – it’s how you learn to address issues, accept things and find the strength to carry on. The circus is just an extension and visual representation of this, with the moral of this particular story being about facing your fears in order to overcome them.
Knowing a Khmer friend who wanted nothing more than to flee the violence he sometimes experienced at home as a child – these issues being more ingrained in Cambodian society than they are in my own – it certainly resonated with me. But overall, it was a delightful hour of music, dance and circus tricks.
Combining entertainment and education is another step in the right direction for visitors to Cambodia to understand the complexities here, at the same time as sharing in the laughter, happiness and entertainment of a fabulously coordinated show.
Things to Know About the Siem Reap Circus
Where to Find the Circus:
Look out for the huge red tent on Comaille Road behind the Angkor National Museum – for now it is a permanent fixture and a sign of bigger things to come for these very talented performers, and for a project bringing the arts to life in a country whose arts scene is not normally known outside of it’s ancient and traditional Apsara dancing.
For further details of the Phare Cambodian Circus, visit the website here.
Reservations and ticketing:
Advance reservations are strongly recommended during high season: November through April. The performances sell-out most nights during this period. Don’t miss out.
Preferred Reserved Seating (Section A)
- Through 30 Sep 17:Adult (age 12+) : US$35 / Children (age 5-11) : $18 / Infants (age 4 and younger) no charge with no allocated seat
- From 01 Oct 17 : Adult (age 12+) : US$38 / Children (age 5 – 11) : $18 / Infants (age 4 and younger) no charge with no allocated seat
- Reserved Seating in the front three rows of the middle section, refillable Phare sports water bottle from Phare Boutique with chilled water. (Gift not included with free / infant tickets)
Preferred Open Seating (Section B)
Through 30 Sep 17 : Adult (age 12+) : US$25 / Children (age 5-11) : US$15 / Infants (age 4 and younger) no charge with no allocated seat
- From 01 Oct 17 : Adult (age 12+) : US$28 / Children (age 5 – 11) : US$15 / Infants (age 4 and younger) no charge with no allocated seat
- Open seating in the rear three rows of the middle section
General Open Seating (Section C)
- Adult (age 12+) : US$18 / Children (age 5 – 11) : US$10 / Infants (age 4 and younger) no charge with no allocated seat
- Open seating in the two side sections. Some views are partially obstructed by support poles.
All tickets can be purchased online.
Images copyright of Guy Singer, with permission from Phare Circus to use. Images are not allowed during the performance.