Of all the amazing destinations in Asia, Angkor Wat might be one of the most well-known. Seeing it from the ground is stunning, but doing so via helicopter takes it to a whole new level – proverbially and literally. I’ve had the chance to fly high over Angkor Wat and its surrounding area on several occasions, wearing the headset and listening to the whirling of the rotors – a truly thrilling experience.
Seeing Angkor Wat from the air really puts things into perspective — the perfect symmetry of the moats, and the scale of the structure are impressive, considering they were built in the 13th century without the help of modern technology. From a distance, Angkor looks tiny, almost like a scale model. As the helicopter gets closer, however, the kingdom’s true splendor is revealed. From the sky, there are no crowds and the view is my own.
It’s hard to believe the work and manpower that went into creating these complex structures. The entire area around Angkor is said to be the size of greater Los Angeles, and more temples are being reclaimed from the jungle all the time.
My flight glided overtop of many temples that would normally be overlooked on a typical ground-based tour. Prasat Pre Roup, built in the 10th century as King Rajendravarman’s state temple, was particularly stunning from the air. Long stretches of rice fields (particularly verdant in rainy season), jungles and mountain ranges, as well as Tonle Sap Lake, all opened up before me in a matter of minutes.
In Cambodia, it’s surprisingly inexpensive to fly by helicopter, compared to neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar (the most expensive in the region) and even Thailand. The helicopters in Cambodia are new and well-maintained, and the pilots are usually expatriates from Australia or New Zealand.
Chartering a helicopter in Asia opens up an entirely new world of opportunity, allowing easy access and revealing views of even the most difficult-to-reach, off-the-beaten-path spots. Driving times along the typical tourist routes are often long and arduous, and often, it’s necessary to overnight in remote areas – sometimes in substandard accommodation. However, by helicopter, remote sites can be visited with ease, and from an entirely different perspective. Nearly all Remote Lands clients visiting Cambodia take helicopter tours – usually around 15 minutes or longer, with many doing half- or full-day excursions
There are several Angkor Wat helicopter adventures to choose from. One of the most popular is a forty-minute flight that descends into a local village near a remote temple. The villagers are always excited when a helicopter touches down, and it’s a kind gesture to give the bashful, giggling children useful items such as pens, paper, or basic medicine.
Other options include a visit to the now infamous Preah Vihear temple, which borders Thailand. Preah Vihear sits on a 500-meter cliff in the midst of the Dangrek Mountains in Cambodia. It’s a stunning temple often neglected by tourists due to its long distance from Siem Reap. Thailand and Cambodia both claim ownership of this temple and there is an ongoing dispute between the two countries that occasionally turns ugly. A visit to Preah Vihear can be organized in conjunction with a landing at a live landmine-clearing operation run by the HALO foundation. See my blog about that experience here.
Yet another option is a visit to the remote temples of Koh Ker and Beng Mealea. Beng Mealea is about 20 miles to the east of the main temple complex at Angkor Wat. Koh Ker is about 45 miles northeast of Angkor Wat and was once the capital of the entire Khmer empire. These solitary temples have been partially enveloped by the dense, lush jungle, which only adds to their exotic allure, making them some of the most stunning structures in the entire area, and certainly not to be missed!
Taking a helicopter over the temples of Angkor, for me, was an expedition reminiscent of floating over Myanmar’s Bagan in a hot air balloon, or paragliding over Pokhara in Nepal – traveling through the clouds and above the crowds, with a breathtaking perspective on some of Asia’s most spectacular sites, is a travel experience not to be missed!
Why not contact Remote Lands at [email protected] to begin planning your trip to Siem Reap to see Angkor yourself.