Phare: The Cambodian Circus, Siam Riep


The chair across from me sat empty. The pile of fries on the small table would be mine alone to tackle. Glancing at the young couple giggling to my left, the older couple softly talking in front of me and the family with three children to my right before circling back to my fries, I dug in. My hand looped from mouth to plate in a continuous track with only a pit stop for some ketchup en-route.

A creak sounded out, the kind that comes from a metal grinding metal and I looked across the outdoor restaurant for the source of the noise. The crowd had heard it too and surged toward the now-open gateway like zombies alerted to new prey (I watched World War Z last night).

Anyway, I was halfway through the fries and my face probably looked something like this at that moment.

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Noooo don’t take the good seats!

The crowd pressed through and onward, preparing to break up and claim the best seats before the outdoor stage. Staring after them I munched with more vigor. I wanted a good seat, but I wasn’t about to let good fries go to waste.

My hand, the faithful courier, dashed back and forth feeding coal to the hungry machine that was my body.

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From plate….to mouth.

Moving into a complex two-hand technique I polished off the plate in record time and stood. Sauntering across the small yard of tables I attempted a casual speed-walk but it turned out as oxymoronic as the words. I wasn’t fooling anyone as I pretended to mask my anxiousness to get inside.

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The waiter took one look at my face and dashed off to bring me change from the payment for my meal.

With my stomach full and my wallet lighter, my legs quickly dragged me through the gate into Phare: The Cambodian Circus in Siam Riep.

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I was greeted with cushions on the ground, elevated chairs and bugs—oh so many bugs. The massive stage lights attracted them by the hundreds. They formed clouds and jabbed at my clothes.

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Surrounding the whole ensemble was a wall of images depicting artfully made-up performers frozen in a number of difficult feats. There were scenes of poi, juggling, acrobatics, shadow puppetry and aerial silk acts. Looking from poster to poster I was filled with anticipation.

Play 10An hour later, as I looked across this wall of images once more, my mind growled in hunger. The show hadn’t been as extravagant as I’d hoped and the pamphlet had led me to believe.

Apparently I’d picked the wrong show for my preference of the depicted marvels.

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This is me at the realization that I wouldn’t see poi.

I really need to learn to research these things a bit before diving in. Sometimes the exploration technique works and sometimes it doesn’t.

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I mean it’s certainly not as if it was a bad performance. In fact, they put on a great show.

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The plot was unique, entertaining and full of unexpected strife—including a strong alcoholism theme.

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It was just limited. I was looking forward to the performers somehow delicately hanging from silk and the poi performers manipulating fire into streams and circles of light. There was neither.

Unfortunately it was their first-ever gauze (circus dictionary time!) performance and the bugs weren’t helping the acrobatic tosses. Sometimes I thought I saw the acrobats spitting out bugs…

What I did get to see—amazing acrobatics, juggling and a diabolo act —I’d seen many times before. They were of course circus trademarks.

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They did earn some points for original stunts with a stunning “taxi” crafted from people though and the narrow towers of people were still a sight to behold. I gawked alongside the crowd as performers reached for the heavens with their toes.

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If you’ve never been to a circus before and want to see some crazy acrobatic feats I recommend this show if you’re in Siam Rep with a young family. (They even pass out candy to sate the kids for a bit in the form of “emergency supplies”.)

If you want poi (fire dancing) make sure you are going to the Sokrias (Eclipse) show. It looks like it has a fascinating storyline and the biggest pictures on the pamphlet come from that show.

I saw all this for “just” $15 American dollars. I saw “just” because while it’s cheap according to American terms it’s pretty darn expensive in Cambodia.

However, the money is going to a good cause. They are raising money to bring education and the arts to underprivileged kids across Cambodia.

And there are a lot of kids who need it and deserve it.

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