Jackie in Cambodia, 1967


Jackie and Prince Sihanouk, driving.

Did you know Jackie Kennedy visited Cambodia in 1967? I sort of did, I mean I’d heard about it, but then I’d forgotten. It didn’t seem so important. Lots of people visited Cambodia, even back in the 60s. It’s normal.

But when you’re the glamorous widow of Jack, nothing is normal.

The 60s – it seems another civilisation. It was. Nothing is the same, all has changed. The Beatles and Bob Dylan, the war in Vietnam, pill-box hats and funny hair. Anyway, when you’re the glamorous widow of Jack, you don’t just go for a holiday in Cambodia. You go for a reason. You get sent. It’s a State visit. (Though this one had private moments).

1967-03-Jackie-07Jackie was sent by the White House to charm Prince Sihanouk. Da Prez wanted out of Vietnam, but first those damn Commies had to be beat, and maybe Sihanouk could help. So jump on that plane, Jackie, with a pillbox hat and a gaga smile, and go charm.

Jackie visited Angkor, of course. To see Angkor was “a lifelong dream,” she told reporters (and folks like Jackie never travel without reporters – read all about it at the estimable devata website).

The apsaras were adorable, their breasts divine. Then to business: charming the prince. Sihanouk was a handful, not easily charmed: he lectured the press for referring to his land as “tiny.” An insult. Almost an incident. But Jackie was more than equal. In Phnom Penh she and Sihanouk fed the royal elephants together. (I really must write elsewhere about the sacred white elephants united Sihanouk and President Nixon, but that’s for another time). They shared jazz together (the prince could have been a great saxophonist had fate not chosen him to be an oriental despot instead), they watched the cute Princess Boupha Devi dance a classic apsara dance, and they went together to Sihanoukville, where they cut the ribbon on Kennedy Road. Unkind souls hinted that this a slight: why wasn’t the road in the capital?” but Sihanouk replied that this was his own city, bearing his own name, and besides. Phnom Penh had no roads left to name.

Unkinder souls have since hinted that Jackie’s visit was actually all about getting Sihanouk to agree to let the Americans bomb eastern Cambodia, which the Viet Cong were using as an R&R area. Rest no longer: more bombs were to be dropped on Cambodia in the next few years than on Germany in the whole of World War II.

But it was a happy time, an innocent time, 1967. In this degenerate age, an age the gods have deserted, you can stay in the Jackie Kennedy Suite at the Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville (don’t ask about the ghosts), and in Phom Penh there’s another at the Raffles Le Royal, where you can sip the femme fatale, a cocktail created in Jackie’s honour, and gaze in wonder at the original cocktail glass with Jackie’s original red lip-prints on the unwashed glass (bloody unhygienic if you ask me, but nobody does).