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A visit to the circus is a great addition to any trip to Siem Reap and this particular circus has become one of the top attractions of the city. The Phare Cambodian Circus has no animals, no elaborate sets, no fancy expensive costumes and no ringmaster. Instead you’ll be entertained by a troop of energetic young performers who amaze crowds with acrobatics, unicycles, comedy, drama, mime, music, fire dance, aerial ballet, juggling, balancing acts and contortions. Their special brand of entertainment strips away special effects and loud costumes so that all you attention goes on the amazing things these performers do with their bodies. The show tells traditional Cambodian stories using modern circus skills.
The greatest thing about this incredible show is the energy and enthusiasm of the performers. You can tell that each performer loves what they are doing and are passionate about their role in the circus. The story behind this great circus makes it all the more special.
In 1986 nine orphan boys in a Refugee Camp were taught art as part of recovery therapy. When the war ended the boys went their separate ways but made a pact to one day help rebuild the cultural life of their country. The group reunited in 1994 in the rural border town of Battambang and started teaching drawing to street kids. Battambang began to see an influx of many destitute orphan refugees. Poverty drove these war orphans to drugs, alcohol, violence and other social problems. The group of friends opened an arts school called Phare Ponleu Selpak – Brightness of the Arts which provided shelter and education to many of these orphans. The school offers formal education including theater, music, dance, visual arts and circus performing, all for free. Eventually the school focused the student’s skills and energy into a circus performance troop. Today the school has 1,400 students and the lucky ones get to join the troop (each time a different group of kids) and also earn a living.
The troop has a permanent big top on the outskirts of Siem Reap where they play to packed houses and regularly tour around the world. The circus gives kids a chance to tell their story, perform and make a living. By attending a performance you will also be helping fund the arts school’s non-profit organization.
The shows rotate so check the schedule before booking as some shows are more serious and deal with “heavier” issues and others are light and funny. Get there early and enjoy the gift shop and some snacks. The food in the circus café is kid-friendly (spring rolls, chips, noodles etc). It is a good idea to tell your kids the background of this circus to give them a deeper understanding of its significance. If your travels take you to Battambang you can take a guided tour of the school.
Where: From the center of Siem Reap it is about a 15 minute drive to the Ring Road, south of the Sok San Road intersection.
When: Café and gift store open from 6pm; doors open 7:30pm; show starts at 8pm and runs for about an hour.
Price: Adults (12+) US$25-$35; children (5-11) US$10-$18. The audience in the more expensive seats gets a complimentary gift and water. You can book tickets online or through your hotel.
Contact: +855 (0) 15 499 480