A popular expression in Asia is “Same Same But Different” and this perfectly describes Phare, the Cambodian Circus show in Siem Reap. It is held in a big top, but there are no animals performing, marking it different from your traditional circus. It is similar to Cirque de Soleil in the acrobatics performed, but the difference is all the performers are young people from the streets, orphanages and struggling families of Cambodia.

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The shows rotate often and the one I saw, “Same Same But Different,” explores the different habits and ways between Cambodians and western tourists. In the different situations portrayed, there are funny encounters and opposing perspectives, but in every situation they find understanding and connect at a human level. The performers are incredibly talented and one very impressive moment is when two of the artists play tourists stuck in a monsoon, dance out of the mud and are lifted into the air by rigging and they fly in a beautiful sequence of aerial acrobatics.

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All of the shows use theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern. The performers are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA), an NGO school and professional arts training center in Battambang, Cambodia.

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PPSA was founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the camp they took drawing classes and found art to be a powerful tool for healing. When they returned home they began offering free drawing classes to street children. Soon they opened a school, eventually offering formal education and professional arts training in the areas of visual arts (illustration, painting, graphic design, and animation), theater, music, dance, and circus. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the vocational arts training programs. All programs are offered for free.

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In 2013, with the aim of financial self-sufficiency, PPSA created Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE) to create meaningful employment opportunities for Cambodian artist, create financially sustainable social businesses that provide a reliable income streams for Phare Ponleu Selpak and to revitalise the arts sector in Cambodia.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus opened in February 2013 and there now nightly professional shows under a 330-person big top, 365 days a year with 75% of profiting PPSA. The shows do sell out so be sure to book in advance.

Riders on our Angkor Family Explorer tour experience the big top and we also offer the option of participating in a workshop with the circus before the show. For any of our riders in Siem Reap we are happy to arrange tickets and transport to and from the show.

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