I visited 7 years ago and I still feel quite unsettled. It’s not from the genocide in the late 70s, but the dark side of tourism that is occurring in the country.
I feel anxious when I think about Cambodia. I wish I could say that I had been a responsible traveler, I did buy souvenirs from a charity that employs land mine victims, but I also had the infamous “magic pizza.” It’s the kind of place where tourism could help or hurt and I do think a lot of foreigners, especially men, visit to do terrible, dark things that I don’t want to think about.
Wes from JohnnyVagabond wrote about an encounter with the Cambodian Street Mafia, for me it hit home. It wasn’t about shaming children in Cambodia but the role we as travelers are teaching. How we spend our money will shape the future of this country. But I can also see how perhaps tourism can help, so much has changed. In fact I was surprised to read someone could write a post on best vegan restaurants in Siem Reap. When I visited that wasn’t an option.
So when Emily Martin, a volunteer from Phare reached out for a guest post I knew I had to share their story:
As a traveller have you ever asked yourself how you can leave a positive impact on the communities and places you visit?
Cambodia has come a very, very long way since the dark days of the Khmer rouge and other conflicts that tormented the country. The people are said to be some of the friendliest and most positive travellers have met – but still, poverty and corruption is ever-present.
Tourism has helped with the rapid development of Cambodia, but with a dark side to the business – such as child trafficking for the ‘Orphanage Business’ – it’s incredibly important to concentrate on responsible tourism while travelling here.
Phare the Cambodian Circus, in Siem Reap, is one of these organisations concentrating on the needs of the local community.
Phare is a highly acclaimed circus show (animal-free), featuring performers from the NGO School, Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS). The school was formed 20 years ago by 9 children and their art teacher returning from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. They found that expression through art had given them an outlet and a way to heal themselves after the atrocities they had lived through.
They wanted to share this gift of art with others and so PPS was formed. Today more than 1,700 pupils attend the free public school with arts at its centre. Young people from the streets, orphanages and struggling families come to PPS to learn, express and like the founders, heal themselves through art.
The Circus venue in Siem Reap was set up in 2012 to give these students the opportunity to further their skills, perform for large audiences and earn money to support themselves. When you buy a ticket to see one of Phare’s shows your money is going directly to the local grassroots effort to improve the lives of disadvantaged Cambodian children.
The shows are uniquely Cambodian and concentrate on sharing the history, culture and beliefs of Khmer people through the art. So not only will you get to see the impressive ‘tricks’ the performers can do but you will come away with a greater understanding about the country you are visiting.
I can tell you now, you have never seen anything like it.
You can read more about Phare’s mission and buy tickets to the show on their website: PhareCambodianCircus.org
If you’ve been to Cambodia I’d love to get your perspective in the comments below.