While my friends drew pictures of Khmer Rouge killing people, I drew lovers holding hands and beaches.

Srey Bandol was a truly inspirational man and a great artist in his own right. The co-founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak, his devotion has led to the development of a generation of Cambodian artists as well as a sustainable tourism-art model.
Like many of his fellow Cambodians Srey Badoul lived for many years in Site II Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. It was here that he received drawing lessons from French humanitarian worker Veronique Decrop in 1986. This experience taught Srey Bandol the powerful healing role that art can play for those trying to overcome trauma – such as the mass genocide in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

In 1994 he returned to Battambang where he established the non-profit arts school Phare Ponleu Selpak together with eight fellow former refugees in order soothe the wounds created by so many years of civil war and foster a sense of Cambodian cultural identity.

Starting from basic drawing lessons, Phare Ponleu Selpak has grown to become one of the leading cultural centres in the Mekong region, nurturing generations of artists, children and young people through artistic, educational, social and outreach programmes.

Bandol himself assumed the role of Head of Community Outreach Engagement as well as continuing to forge a reputation as a leading regional artist in his own right.

In 1998, the Phare circus was created and it swiftly developed a reputation for excellence not just within the Mekong region but across the globe.

Now Phare Ponleu Selpak consists of an educational program, a visual and applied arts school, performing arts school, and social support unit. More than 1,700 pupils and approximately 500 individuals currently attend the public school vocational arts training programs respectively.

Phare Ponleu Selpak helps the Cambodian youth from difficult social and economic backgrounds through its art schools and educational programs, whereas Phare Performing Social Enterprise, especially Phare Circus, provides employment to those who are nurtured and trained by Phare Ponleu Selpak. This self-sufficient business cycle is innovative and has created the feeling of genuine appreciation and gratefulness.

Phare Circus generates significant economic benefits for the local Cambodian youth who come from difficult backgrounds. Phare provides jobs and fair wages, reduces the unemployment rate, and prevents child abuse. The artistic knowledge and skills given to Cambodian communities create the opportunity for jobs and opportunities to earn extra incomes.

Tragically, earlier this year Srey Bandol died from COVID-19 complications, however his legacy lives on through the continuing work of the organization he helped develop – Phare Ponleu Selpak.
Srey Bandol is our 2021 Mekong Hero. RIP.

You might also enjoy


“Once you arrive at Keemala, it is the personal touch and bespoke experiences that really make a lasting impression for our guests,” she says. “From personalised villa host service to customised celebrations ranging from romantic date nights to engagements and weddings, private excursions, and cultural immersion experiences. For us, and our guests, it is these little touches that make all the difference.”


IHHVTC is part of the Inle Heritage Foundation, a not-for-profit organization working to preserve and enhance the culture of Inle Lake and the people who call it home. The Foundation began as just “Heritage House”, a stilt building in the middle of the lake used as a sanctuary for Burmese cats being reintroduced to the country.


Aung Kyaw Swar is the owner of A Little Eco Lodge, a small guesthouse on the outskirts of Nyaung Shwe. We are looking out on a field of a couple of acres where in a few months – and then only for several weeks – a hundred heads of sunflower will bloom. The sound of monks from the nearby monastery is receding into the distance.