Acrophobics may not appreciate the liberating adventure of hurling themselves from the treetops along zip lines and canopy walkways – but everyone else will.
Following in the successful footsteps of Flight of the Gibbon in Thailand and The Gibbon Experience in Laos, the Angkor Archaeological Park is now home to its own vertiginous adventure playground where you can release your inner Tarzan.
Swinging above the jungle is an adrenaline-inducing outdoor activity that requires a disclaimer to be filled in on arrival. But fears of safety standards should quickly be dispelled – this is a highly professionally-run operation, with excellent equipment and clear safety instructions. You’ll always be accompanied by two ‘Sky Rangers’ who are exclusively responsible for clipping on the karabiners, unlike some zip line tours where it’s down to you to remember. So then, all that’s left to fear is the idea of stepping off that unnervingly 80-metre high wooden platform…
Trussed in your harness, the first of the 10 zip lines is deliberately short to ease you into the experience. Trust may be tested with the “Honeymoon zip line”, where you have the pleasure of soaring in tandem. However, you’ll soon be in the swing of things, even if you don’t quite pull off the elegance of your primordial ancestors.
The canopy course covers six hectares and is nestled near Ta Nei temple, an Angkorian ruin that’s relatively off the tourist trail. The spiral staircases and 21 wooden platforms elevate you well above the routes of mass tourists and you fly mostly above, as opposed to through, the trees.
It was as quiet and peaceful as we’ve ever experienced the Angkor Park. Except, that is, for the intermittent uncontrollable nervous laughter as the next simian-imitator shuffled up to the edge of the platform to take their leap of faith, with the altitude-averse shrieking as they shot over the forest on zip lines up to 300 metres long. In fact, the unsteadiness of bouncing over the boscage below along the four wooden sky bridges might actually provoke more giddiness than the sensation of whooshing between the trees, where the soft breeze is warmly welcomed.
Around half way through the course is a treehouse lookout point where you can rest, re-hydrate and pause to admire views, especially if you’ve been doing any of the course with your eyes shut. While there are no temples in sight, the low-lying plateau of Kulen Mountain provides a scenic backdrop to go ape about. The course concludes with an abseil back to terra firma and a short nature trail.
All this monkeying around also has a more serious side with regards to the conservation of the forest: the course has been constructed using cables as opposed to hammering in nuts and bolts to the trees, in an effort to protect the environment. You wouldn’t even be aware of the course as a ground-level visitor to Angkor, which is precisely the objective of the environmental impact: If it were all to disappear tomorrow, you wouldn’t have known it had ever been there.
In tandem with the launch of the zip line eco-adventure in mid-2013, two gibbons were released into the wild to reinstate the otherwise extinct population from this neck of the woods and the Flight of the Gibbon company also runs a tree-planting scheme.
The zip line course lasts around two and half hours, though the tour takes a full half-day from pick-up at your hotel to drop off after lunch (included, taken in a local restaurant by Srah Srang in the centre of the temple complex). There’s no minimum age, but a minimum height of one metre – little monkeys can fly in tandem with a guide – and a maximum weight limit of 126kg. Group sizes are limited to nine to fit comfortably – and safely – on the tree platforms.
Though the price is not light, early 2014 promo rates at US$79, thereafter $129, especially considering a temple pass is also required (one-day, US$20), it is a highly memorable and fun way to experience an otherwise unseen aspect of Angkor.
By Caroline Major
Last updated on 7th June, 2014.