With only two days in Battambang we turned to the towns infamous newspaper to seek advice on the best things to see and do…..and there we saw a full-page advert for a Circus, “Battambang’s Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus”. Most of our evenings before this date were spent, eating, drinking or watching a movie in the hotel room and so we jumped at the chance to try something different. The advert didn’t say much but we did notice that the entry fee was $10, since this is 50% of our daily budget we hesitated a little but after googling the Circus we read so many amazing reviews that we thought what the hell, why not?
Our research told us that Phare Ponleu Selpak means “the brightness of art.” It is not just a Circus but a complete Social Centre and School that offers young people a way out of poverty by training them to become professional artists and performers. The school was actually set up by young returnee Cambodians from the refugee camps and was primarily used to promote and develop Khmer culture over the years after the Khmer Rouge genocide you can learn more about them on their website here. They offer classes in Art, Graphic Design, Drama, Music and The Circus. It really is an amazing project and the children and young adults that are a part of the scheme are so talented. Two of their students have actually been accepted to The National Circus School in Montreal and you can read more about them here.
Anyway back to the evening in question……the actual show runs from 7pm-8pm, but its worth getting there a little bit early as they show students artwork in some of the class rooms which you can walk around before the show begins, also you can see some of the rehearsals going on, or catch the smallest children working on their gymnastics! If you can’t last an hour without having a drink the School have their own bar, unfortunately this wasn’t open the day that we went but there are a few vendors just outside the gates who offered a variety of beverages.
At 7pm on the dot we were ushered over to the ‘Big Tent’ where the show was going to take place, we found some pretty good seats as I was impatiently fidgeting around at the front of the queue so we managed to be one of the first ones in. There was a small introduction in both English and French to explain a little about the school and then the curtains opened and the show began. We had read reviews that likened the show to Cirque du Soleil, now we haven’t seen Cirque but we know what it’s about and looking at the small stage we couldn’t see how this was going to compare, but nevertheless we were just happy to be doing something different.
Since pictures speak louder than words I wont say much about the show apart from GO AND SEE IT! If you have plans to visit Battambang, Siem Reap or Phnom Penh in the near future you can catch a performance, it may seem like a lot of money but it is well worth it!