Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the America Day Reception

Hard Rock Café, Siem Reap
June 13, 2017
(as delivered)

Mr. Governor, Mr. Minister, my wife Sotie and I are thrilled to be hosting this event to showcase the strong and growing ties between the United States and the very special city of Siem Reap.

This reception is also an early Independence Day party as well as a celebration of an important anniversary in U.S. – Cambodia relations.  Fifty years ago, in 1967, Jackie Kennedy paid a 10-day visit to Cambodia that drew worldwide media attention, including a seven-page cover spread in Life Magazine.

Jackie spent three days strolling around the Angkor Temples with Prince Sihanouk, fulfilling what she said was a “lifelong dream.”   That visit started a process that resulted in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between our countries a year later.

Since that day, millions of Americans have followed Jackie’s footsteps to visit Siem Reap and its amazing temples, although not all have had her sense of style!

And those who are repeat visitors over many years, like Sotie and me and many of the people in this room, are amazed at the development of Siem Reap—not just the hotels and restaurants, although they are world class, but also the rapid growth of services, educational institutions, non-governmental organizations, and even light manufacturing.   The Governor and Minister’s leadership has been a critical factor in this success.

There is something very special about Siem Reap for Americans.  I have met many Americans who came here with a plan to tour the temples for three or four days, but wound up falling in love with the people and culture, and found their calling here.

I think about Danny and Pam Spitler, of Phoenix Arizona, who came here as tourists in 2005.  They were so taken by the story and commitment of their tour guide, Chea Sarin – who is here tonight – that the three of them opened the Spitler school the next year.  Today, that school serves 650 disadvantaged students in a village just outside Siem Reap.

Or the thousands of Americans who have supported Friends Without a Border, an American non-profit that founded the Angkor Hospital for Children in 1999.  That hospital, which is now an independent, Cambodian non-profit organization, continues to treat hundreds of sick Cambodian children a day.

We also are proud of the Cambodian-Americans who have built business and economic ties between our two countries.  One very special such person is here tonight, Mr. Sary Pann.  Sary is actually a former U.S. Embassy employee who emigrated to California in 1975 at the end of Cambodia’s civil war.  After 30 years, Sary retired from his job in America, returned to his home town Siem Reap, started buying Cambodian horses, and then opened up the Happy Ranch Horse Farm.

The U.S. government also has strong ties to Siem Reap and the surrounding provinces.   Since 2004, in cooperation with the Apsara Authority, the Embassy has proudly contributed nearly $3 million to the restoration of Phnom Bakheng, the state temple of the first capital at Angkor and one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures.

We also support health services, including HIV/AIDs treatments and child and maternal health programs, as well as agricultural development programs to help farmers increase their income.   We support humanitarian demining in Siem Reap and all of the surrounding provinces so that every corner of Cambodia is safe for development.

And five years ago, we founded an American corner at the University of South East Asia here in Siem Reap, where Cambodian students can take advantage of a range of English language materials and educational resources.

Your Excellencies, to celebrate our first America Day in Siem Reap, we’ve held several terrific activities today to further strengthen our ties.  We held a town hall with American citizens living in Siem Reap and hosted an EducationUSA fair to help Siem Reap students explore educational opportunities in the United States.

We also welcomed a hundred of our friends in the hospitality industry to a wine tasting event featuring many wonderful California wines.  This was, of course, very difficult work, but someone has to do it…

Moving forward, I hope we can make America Day an annual event here.  And we are committed to working together to develop even stronger cultural, people-to-people and business ties for the benefit of both Siem Reap and the United States.

I don’t want to talk too long because I know the real reason you are here is to enjoy the excellent food and music provided by the Hard Rock Café and the very American beverages from Budweiser, Gallo Wines, and Coca-Cola.

It is now my great pleasure to invite to the stage Governor Khim Bunsong for his remarks.

Thank you very much.