Police were out in force in Siem Reap yesterday as the town anticipated last night’s arrival of the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama – though only some details of the visit were available.
Accompanied by Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Obama was expected to be greeted at Siem Reap International Airport by Cambodia’s First Lady Bun Rany and government officials.
Obama will be in town through Sunday as part of her tour to promote the international Let Girls Learn initiative, launched in Japan on Thursday.
Obama is the first sitting first lady to visit Cambodia. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was the first to visit, though it came four years after her husband’s assassination. Hillary Clinton, another former first lady, visited in 2010 and again in 2012 in her role as US secretary of state.
During her trip, Obama is expected to meet female students at Hun Sen Bakong High School and deliver remarks to Peace Corps volunteers involved in the initiative.
Local authorities also said she planned to visit Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm.
Siem Reap deputy governor Bun Tharith earlier in the week said that security would be tight, though he declined to provide details beyond Obama’s planned visit to Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm this afternoon.
“We arranged a couple of meetings between our officials and US Secret Service. They have a lot of security personnel,” Bun Tharith said. “Some of them will [come] from the White House and some from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh.”
The deputy governor said that roads will be blocked around the areas where Obama will stay and visit, although he said he did not know which hotel she would be checking into nor did he have details of plans to visit the temples.
“What we do is to provide the best security during her visit,” Bun Tharith explained, adding “I cannot tell how many police will be guarding the roads or how many US Secret Service will be there during that day. It is a secret thing.”
Obama’s trips have in the past been criticised by some for their expense, said to exceed those of former first ladies due to her large entourage of White House staff and security. In 2010, during a visit to southern Spain, the First Lady and her entourage booked out at least 30 rooms worth between $500 and $6.600 a night at the five-star Hotel Villa Padierna near Marbella, the New York Times reported. On the plus side, media reported at the time a study that said the visit might be worth a billion dollars to the local tourism economy.
Business owners in Siem Reap’s old quarter wondered this week whether they would get to see the spectacle that Marbella enjoyed when Obama, daughter Sasha and a large entourage filled the leafy lanes of the old town, which were temporarily blocked to the public. It’s not known if the First Lady, known for her keen eye for fashion, will make time to shop at any of the town’s high-end fashion boutiques.
There has also been speculation in Siem Reap as to which Cambodian social media sensation might join Obama to promote the initiative.
In Tokyo, YouTube celebrity Michelle Phan fielded questions to Obama submitted via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Throughout her trip, the First Lady is updating an online diary.