Siem Reap, Cambodia

We travelled from Sydney to Siem Reap (Cambodia’s second-largest city, home to Angkor) via the new airport of Bangkok. A brand-new, gigantic and fantastic airport (it seems like there is a worldwide competition for who can build the biggest, best designed and most expensive airport!).

We were flying for half an hour over soggy swampland and, as the aircraft got lower and lower, I started to wonder where it was going to land. In the middle of a swamp or the jungle?

All the more surprising was the refined and subtle design of the new, little airport in Siem Reap. Traditional local architecture outside and super modern design inside. Every detail a delight.

From the first encounter, the friendliness of the Cambodian people was striking. Our hotel, the Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel, the official N7W partner, was another wonderful surprise. A real oasis situated next to a conference and culture center, and nearby, there was also one of the cleanest and best designed hospitals that I have ever seen in the developing world. An incredible achievement by Swiss doctor Beat Richner, who does all of the fundraising and runs it with total commitment and energy. The conference center he added and where he gives free cello concerts every Saturday evening is a piece of modern architecture design that contend for any world design award. It was designed by the Cambodian architect Mr. Ros Borath and his daughter and son – indeed, Mr. Ros Borath also happens to be running APSARA, the Angkor Archaeological conservation department with over 1,200 employees, with which we had been working hand in hand to make our stop here a success. When he was giving us a tour around Siem Reap, I asked him who in the world had designed this magnificent building. “It’s me, together with my children,” he answered simply, as if it he was saying he did it before breakfast this morning! I could not hold myself back, I had to give him a big hug … this is absolutely great and he is such a humble man.

The next day, we were invited to join his Excellency, the Governor of Siem Reap Mr. Sou Phirin at his residence. Our team was received with all honors and the long but interesting discussion and questions ended in an informal tea setting with the Governor becoming a committed friend of New7Wonders. He spontaneously had a lovely idea and ordered that we be invited for a candlelight dinner AT Angkor Wat temple, an honor that was last accorded to the President of France, General de Gaulle, and was next being planned for the visit of the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton.