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A smile says it all

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The building of Angkor Wat, as depicted by the Smile of Angkor production.

Eight months after it opened, the $5million Smile of Angkor light and sound show looks set to become a permanent tourist attraction at the Angkor Coex convention and exhibition centre in Siem Reap.

And in April, the company behind the 104-person dance spectacular moved to a swanky new office on busy Sivutha Boulevard.

Smile of Angkor’s Chinese general manager Fang Shun Dong told 7Days the company’s previous office, on the outskirts of the Angkor Archaeological Park, next to the Apsara Authority offices, was too far from the city to attract tourist bookings for the show.

“The main reason I moved our office to the centre of the city is because tourists could not find us as easily,” he said. “Now we have more visibility because of big signs advertising the show. Tourists can see it and come to us to learn more.”

Premiering in November 2010, Smile of Angkor is a 75-minute dance epic involving up to 104 performers. Billed as the “number one epic performance in Southeast Asia” by its organisers, the Siem Reap Performance & Arts Co Ltd, the show also receives support from the Chinese and Cambodian Ministries of Culture.

Dong told 7Days the show was designed to act as a “window showing Khmer culture to the whole world”, and has proven to be commercially successful even during low season.

“Even though it’s still early days, our audiences are growing, and I’m sure tourists remember seeing the show as one of their most enjoyable times in Siem Reap. At the moment we have around 300 visitors per day to the show which has a maximum capacity of 800 seats.”

The Smile of Angkor show is divided into six chapters covering hundreds of years of Cambodian history. It features several Khmer royal dances as well as displays of bokator martial arts which Dong says have been met with an enthusiastic reception by tourists.

“Smile of Angkor not only marks a great achievement in Cambodian culture and arts, but makes a great contribution to the Cambodia people. About 90 percent of the Smile of Angkor dancers are Cambodian, some are orphans and some are victims of landmines. We give them jobs and train them to be dancers.”

After drinking tea in a small room upstairs at the new booking office, Dong took me on a tour of the building and remarked that he would like to see the provincial government invest more in Siem Reap’s communications infrastructure to lure investors to more rural areas of the province.  

Inside Dong’s office hangs a framed poem by Mao Tse Tung which he explained was a gift from his best friend, a famous Chinese artist, who gave it to him when he decided to move to Cambodia last year.

“The poem is about cherry blossoms that always bloom during the cold season in the north of China when all other flowers die. The cherry blossoms stand tall to remind us that springtime is coming soon. In the poem, the example of the cherry blossom is used by Mao to refer to people who endure hardships in their lives to achieve a goal which benefit society.
 
“I had to confront a million problems in organising this show, which is why I have to learn to be as the flower which Mao describes. After overcoming the challenges, success is now ahead for us and after it happens I will take a step back, stand with the audience and smile as I watch Smile of Angkor. I hope the show will continue to attract people forever.”

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