When people think of Siem Reap, Cambodia, the first thing that comes to mind is Angkor Wat. The temple certainly plays a significant role in the city’s past and present. But it’s not the only worthwhile attraction, as we learned during our time in Siem Reap. We heard about something called Phare, the Cambodian Circus from Lara and Terence at Gran Tourismo, who are currently living in Siem Reap. The night turned out to be so much more fun than I had imagined.
The cause behind the circus
The performers in the Phare Circus aren’t just any circus performers. They are young Cambodians who have trained at a special school in Battambang, Cambodia. The non-profit school was founded in 1994 by ex-refugees with the goal of helping victims traumatized by the Khmer Rouge era. Today street kids, trafficked kids, orphans and other children troubled by poverty and poor health are given free education here.
In addition to traditional education, there is a big emphasis on the arts. Children are taught visual and performing arts as a way to cope with trauma and learn social skills necessary to integrate with society. The creativity helps the children deal with these traumas by showing them they can achieve goals they thought were impossible.
Not your typical circus
Don’t expect elephants, lion tamers or clowns here. Phare Circus is all about the performers. There was a little bit of music to enhance the show and a few props, but no flashy effects. The real sparks came from the performers, and occasionally some actual fire. In acting out the story, the performers did tricks and displayed outstanding acrobatic skills. I was beyond impressed with what they could do: balancing on a stack of chairs, balancing on each other, flips, and more.
Each show tells a different story, and the one we saw was called Chills. On the surface it was about a group of kids who were visited by ghosts in the middle of the night, which frightened them. They eventually decided to fight through their fears, confront the ghosts and they succeeded in scaring the ghosts away.
But the story was really about our bigger fears. The ghosts symbolize the fears and anxieties we all face. Throughout the performance, the kids realize the only way to overcome their fears is to face them, as we all must do at some point in our lives.
Going to the Cambodian Circus
The dialog is in Khmer but a big screen translates into English, French, Chinese, and one or two others. Even aside from the translations, the story is pretty easy to follow without knowing exactly what they’re saying. The show is one hour long.
Standard open seating tickets cost US$15 per person. If you want a reserved front and center seat, the preferred seating tickets are US$35 per person. I see that as a generous (though obviously worthwhile) donation, since it’s a small venue and there almost isn’t a bad seat. You can buy tickets online and show an electronic ticket on your phone, so no need to find a printer.
2018 UPDATE: Tickets are now $18 to $38 depending on which section you choose.
The circus is located on Comaille Road behind the Angkor National Museum. Our tuk tuk driver knew exactly where it was, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting there. From our hotel, the ride was $2, though if you’re an incredible negotiator, you might convince someone to take you for $1.
For more information check out the Phare Cambodian Circus website here.
Andy and I had a rough time in Cambodia, but the Phare Cambodian Circus was one of the highlights of our time in Siem Reap. Not only does buying a ticket support a great cause, but the show is incredible. The skills, flexibility and daring stunts blew me away. Instead of another night drinking on Pub Street, I highly recommend checking out the circus for something more entertaining.
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