After our fantastic Indian dinner at Curry Walla, we availed ourselves of one of Siem Reap’s most highly flaunted attractions – Phare, the Cambodian circus.

This organization has been providing children and families with training and opportunities in the arts and education. According to the description on the circus’ website,

Phare Ponleu Selpak was formed 20 years ago by 8 young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime. They were greatly helped by art therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school. A public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programmes, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.

Cambodians face many and myriad challenges growing up, and this organization has been instrumental (ba da ching) in keeping families whole and children learning during stressful times, as well as playing a major part in jump-starting the national art scene. And honestly, the art here in Vietnam is pretty terrible, but Cambodia? Nation-State, you got it goin’ on! I’m pickin’ up what you’re throwin’ down!

Here’s the description of tonight’s show (they have since debuted another show). It wasn’t complex, but it addressed its chosen themes head on and always kept them in its sights. There’s a lot to be said for focus and brevity.

I thought this circus was so unique (and they let you take pictures! I took… a few) that I wanted to give it a separate post. There’s not a lot more to tell here, but please enjoy these shots of some of Cambodia’s most talented circus performers. Youths or not, they’re utter professionals, and put on a hell of a show.

One of the most interesting parts of the performance was the element of clowning. In many circus shows, clowns are a specialized role. In Phare shows, the cast is both clown and circus performer, lending a fluidity to a main story not always found in more typical circuses. As they boast, it’s thoroughly modern and, for my money, a more fun show than the AO Show in HCMC (which was stellar, but this was far more vibrant).

There was NO FEAR on display. The grinning and physical humor never stopped, and the feats spanned the range of circus acts, from contortion and gymnastics to juggling and silks – all presented in a loose story about ghosts and overcoming an overwhelming fear.

Ok, now they’re just showing off.

I have to assume some of these are “just because we can” and I LOVE IT.


They’re just utterly talented, and obviously thriving through mastery of this art form. It was a genuine pleasure to see something so unique and rooted in the place where we were visiting, attempting, in its own way, to address the absurd amount of emotional, financial, and societal fallout from the Khmer Rouge regime.

And, it appears, succeeding. Phare: The Cambodian Circus is an absolute must-see – right up there with the temples themselves, I’d say!

…and that’s it, folks. That’s the Cambodia I saw, and how I felt about it, and how fast and how much I ate and drank of it. It’s a well I would return to any time. Have you gone to Cambodia? Do you have any suggestions for where I should try next time I’m in town? Please leave them in the comments!

As always, let me know if you have any questions. I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts about this fascinating and slowly-healing kingdom! Thanks for reading!