Cambodia: Beng Mealea and Phare Circus

On Wednesday we drove an hour out of Siem Reap to Beng Mealea, yet another temple ruin. We chose this day trip because we read that Beng Mealea a kid’s paradise. We also wanted this opportunity to see the Cambodian countryside.

The scenery was beautiful–we drove past villages, open-air markets, rice fields, and grazing oxen. When we arrived at Beng Mealea, we played Indiana Jones, climbing over tumbled sandstone blocks and pillars (until we got yelled at, that is). The temple had a boardwalk that wound in and through the temple. Otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to get anywhere. This temple has undergone very little restoration or reconstruction, so the boulder-sized blocks are lying in piles, leaning precariously on one another.

There was a large group of Chinese tourists at Beng Mealea at the same time as us. At one point we ended up on a overlook platform with at least 20 other tourists. For lack of a better word, we basically got mobbed. But it was the kindest, friendliest mob I’ve ever seen. They were all taking pictures with their fancy cameras of Knox and Clementine and with Knox and Clementine. There wasn’t much viewing of the temple going on. After 10 minutes or so, Ben decided to make a quick retreat with Knox and the older boys. I put Clementine back into her baby carrier to follow, and all the women started exclaiming and pointing and chattering. It was clear there was a lively discussion going on about my carrier, but I didn’t know why. I watched for a little while as they puzzled over me and the baby. Finally I said loudly, “Does anyone here speak English?”

After a moment, one woman stepped forward and explained in halting English that they had never seen pants with a baby carrier built into them. I looked down to see that I was wearing black pants that blended perfectly with the black baby carrier on my front. It looked like a baby-wearing bodysuit or overalls. I showed them that it was two pieces–just pants and a baby carrier–and we all laughed.

We continued to climb on the ruins, pretending we were wrestling a snake, pretending the claws of a long-gone statue were our own feet, and generally goofing off.



We ended the day at Phare Circus. Phare Circus is a performance written and performed by graduates of a school started by 8 refugees returning home after the Khmer Rouge regime. The school provides a free education to hundreds of Cambodian youth, equipping them for life in today’s Cambodia. The circus takes place in a circus tent, but the tent is very small. That means whatever seat you’re in, you’re up close to the performers. But of course, we had not paid the higher cost for tickets front and center. Shortly before the performance began, Knox let out a yell. Two ushers came over and led us to different seats, “in case the babies cry and we need to leave.” The babies never made a peep for the whole performance, but we got the best seats in the house. Hooray!

There were musicians, acrobats, contortionists and jugglers who all acted in a story taking place in a bar in urban Cambodia. Live music (lots of percussion!) accompanied the performance. The plot line was not exactly appropriate for small children, but ours didn’t pick up on much of that. They sure were impressed with the contortionist who stood on her head and, holding a bow with her toes, shot an arrow at a target, popping a balloon. And the clowns (who were not wearing face paint!) were a favorite. We were riveted by the strength, agility, and flexibility on display, not to mention sheer nerve! I gasped audibly and even cried out several times, fearing we were about to witness a death. But these young people always landed on their feet. We were absorbed in enjoying the show, so we only took one picture of the tent. But here are some that I was able to find, showing the performance we saw:
Images from Phare Facebook

Image from Phare Facebook
Image from Phare Facebook

Image from Phare Facebook


Phare Facebook

A few more pictures of Beng Mealea:





One thought on “Cambodia: Beng Mealea and Phare Circus

  1. Getting yelled at for climbing on things you shouldn’t? That sounds like the time we were at Jumping Joey’s. (-: Miss you so much! But thanks for sharing your adventures!

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