What is the first thing that comes to mind, when you think of a Circus?
Monkey’s on bicycles? Elephants juggling? A Lion jumping through a burning hoop, guided by a ringmaster?
I guess that is a stereotypical view of a Circus yes, and one which I do not endorse. The use of animals in Circus acts, or any human activity is wrong, and cruel. However, perhaps that is a rant for another time.
When I was in Chiang Mai, another traveller was giving me advice (as many travellers do) of the places to go in Cambodia. He talked about the Cambodian Circus, which I had vaguely read about before.
So when I got to Siem Reap, and after a full on day of exploring the Temples of Angkor Wat, I decided to book tickets and see what this circus was all about.
From where I was staying at the Jasmine Family Hostel, it was a short 15 minute walk to where the Circus was held. However, a tuk tuk journey anywhere in Siem Reap will cost you no more than $2, so as I was going with another traveller, $1 versus a 15 minute walk didn’t seem like much.
What is Phare, The Cambodian Circus all about?
The circus is a branch of an NGO called Phare Ponleu Selpak. After the Khmer Rouge, 9 refugee children, recieved art therapy. They were so surprised with how it made them feel and how they healed through this, and so decided to set up this organisation along with their art teacher. This was set up 20 years ago.
The organsaition supports local young people from difficult social and economic backgrounds to gain skills in creative arts, from the circus school, to music, craft and painting.
The Organisation was founded and based in Battambang, a few hours South of Siem Reap, were they have the arts school, and a public school, which provides children, with free education. The Circus, also has performances in Battambang, three nights per week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday).
How much does it cost and when is it on?
The nightly show in Siem Reap first started in 2013, and has grown to be one of the number one attractions in Siem Reap. It starts at 8pm, at a cost of $15, or you can pay $35 for a VIP ticket, were you have seats at the front, get a free bottle of water and a gift at the end.
You should aim to get there around 7.20pm, to queue for good seats. There is a small cafe, were if you wish, you can have snacks or a meal before hand. This is open from 6pm.
The organisation runs the show in a big top in Siem Reap, but are currently looking for a more permanent home. If you wish, you can donate towards this fund here
The circus uses people only (no animals!). Students that have been trained in circus skills (anywhere from 8-10 years of training) perfom. The aim of each evening is to tell a story in the performance, which has historical and cultural relevance. The performers are paid for each show, and the money you pay for your ticket goes toward offering other children the opportunity to join the programme.
The show I went to was called Éclipse, and told a story about a young boy that was disadvantaged and pushed away by society, within the village that he lived in, and how people slowly changed and finally accepted him.
There are subtitles in English, Cambodian and French on the screen, as the performance plays.
You can also support the organisation, buy buying crafts and other gifts from the shop at the end of the show.
It was a very inspiring performance to watch. The students were incredibly talented. skipping over fire, doing acrobatics, jumps and crazy juggling acts.
It kept me entertained from start to finish. At the end you can donate towards the organisation, and also meet the performers.
Talking to the students, you get a real feel that they loved being there, and performing, it gave them a sense of satisfication and happiness (as one of the boys told me)
At the end, we were told that, Phare, The Cambdodian circus is also touring Europe, so even if you’re not in Cambodia, you may be able to experience this. However, I have no information as to where they currently are. We were told that from September to November 2014 they would be in Europe (possibly France). So far, I can not find any inforrmation online about this.
For some more information, here is introductory video, put together by the organisation.
Have you been to Phare, The Cambodian Circuis? If you are going to be in Siem Reap, skip getting drunk in Pub Street, and get yourselves to the Circus first! It is is well worth checking out, and supporting.