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Second Mekong Hero Celebrated at 2021 Destination Mekong Summit

Late Co-founder of Phare Cambodian Circus honored

30 November 2021, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Destination Mekong honors late Srey Bandaul from Cambodia as the second Mekong Hero.

During its second Summit on 21-22 October, Destination Mekong proudly honored late Srey Bandaul, co-founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Cambodia, as its second Mekong Hero. 

The ‘Mekong Heroes’ program was introduced in 2020 by Destination Mekong, with the support of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO). Every year, it distinguishes one colleague in Mekong tourism who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes, influencing the direction of our industry in a positive and creative way. Mekong Heroes join the Mekong Heroes Gallery where we tell their inspiring personal stories.  

Nominations of Mekong Heroes are always open at: 

According to Jens Thraenhart, former Executive Director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO): “Achieving a prosperous and sustainable tourism industry is not possible without committed leaders, with special kinds of vision and determination. The Mekong Heroes program is important, so the whole industry benefits from their authenticity of vision, purpose, commitment, and determination maintained over years of hard work. Recognized not only as builders, creators, and innovators, but also as mentors, teachers, and motivators, these individuals have made it their mission to bring out the best in people.” 

The recognition of Srey Bandaul was announced as second Mekong Hero during the 2021 Mekong World Tourism Day Forum, the first part of Destination Mekong Summit series, on 6-7 October, by H.E. Ms. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, former Minister of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, and chair of the 2021 Mekong Heroes Selection Committee.  

Srey Bandaul, who tragically passed away earlier this year from COVID-19, was a truly inspirational man and a great artist in his own right. Thanks to his devotion, the co-founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak, a Cambodian non-profit art school, has spearheaded the development of a generation of Cambodian artists and a sustainable tourism-art model. 

Like many of his fellow Cambodians, Srey Bandaul lived in Site II Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border for many years. It was here that he received drawing lessons from French humanitarian worker Veronique Decrop in 1986. This experience taught him the 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 Phare Ponleu Selpak with eight fellow former refugees to 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 centers in the Mekong region, nurturing generations of artists, children, and young people through artistic, educational, social, and outreach programs. 

The legacy of Srey Bandaul lives on through the continuing work of the organization he helped develop – Phare Ponleu Selpak. 

Srey Bandol is our 2021 Mekong Hero. RIP. 

Image Credits: Phare Ponleu Selpak