siem reap – As soon as the plane touched down, the television personalities poured out and hurried toward the stage. Makeup was dabbed on, spotlights were rolled into place, and the cameras were ready to roll. There was little time to spare.
The real star of the show, however, had waited patiently for hundreds of years. Angkor Wat got possibly its widest exposure yet last week when US television network NBC broadcast live from the temple complex during its popular “Today” show. About 7 million people watch the show every morning, and Cambodian tourism officials hope the broadcast will give the country’s biggest attraction a boost.
“We hope the smile of Cambodia will be seen around the world,” said Thong Khon, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism. His ministry hopes to increase Angkor Wat tourism by 25 percent to 30 percent each year.
Certainly, there were plenty of examples of the famous Cambodian smile around the set at Angkor Wat Thursday evening. About 20 local children and elderly villagers who lived nearby were placed in front of a camera to smile and wave before and after commercial breaks—a long-standing “Today” tradition.
Meanwhile, a few dozen more people, mostly foreign tourists and tourism officials, gathered behind the cameras to watch the show unfold. The show began at about 6 pm so the show would appear live on televisions in the eastern US at about 7 am.
Spotlights lighted the famous Angkor Wat—which towered just behind the anchors—to a near-daylight intensity. The lights awoke the cicadas in the trees; the jungle seemed to reverberate to their screeching song.
The show’s co-anchor Matt Lauer and other “Today” staff went on a whirlwind tour by corporate jet to five different locations around the world last week, broadcasting from Rio de Janeiro, Scotland and other locations. The cast spent a mere six hours in Cambodia last week, including the three hours of the “Today Show” itself.
But an NBC camera crew of 30 had spent three weeks touring Cambodia and speaking to villagers and NGO workers. The show included about 45 minutes on Cambodian history and current conditions. Apsara dancers also performed live.
“This is a chance to introduce our culture to every country in the world,” said apsara dancer On Sophearika, 21.
Keith Miller, senior foreign correspondent for the show, came to Cambodia 15 years ago to do a story about the Vietnamese troops then staying in Cambodia. He said Cambodia has changed greatly since then.
“At that time there were almost no cars on the road, no hotels, and there was fighting…. Now I find that Cambodians are smiling again, and the people have become more gentle.”
“The Today Show,” which appears every weekday morning, includes news, business and entertainment coverage. Spokeswoman Allison Gollust said that broadcasting from Cambodia should encourage US citizens to visit.
“It’s obviously not an easy trip here from the US, but I think we’ll show people, based on the stories we tell, that it’s well worth the visit.”
As soon as the broadcast was over, host Matt Lauer—famous in the US for his personable demeanor and high salary—rushed off to his airplane. Even with his limited time on the ground, he pronounced the temple “gorgeous” and said the people “couldn’t be nicer.”
“I think this will encourage people to get out and go to exotic places they don’t go to often. And I think Cambodia will rank right up there as one of the best locations we’ve ever done,” he said.