Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Temple topping

A birds-eye view of East Mebon temple

So how would I describe my microlite experience? I was remarkably calm as Eddie did a five-minute test flight to check everything was in wording order. I didn’t dwell on what could go awry, focusing instead on what I would see and wondering whether my point and shoot camera would do justice to the views. Eddie landed, I climbed into the rear seat and he strapped me in and checked the microphone was on. Within two minutes we were airborne, so there was no time for last minute panic, as we bounced along the narrow track before lift-off. If I say the first few minutes or so took my breath away it would be a gross understatement. Buffeted a little by the wind, don’t forget we are open to the elements not in a helicopter for cissies, we quickly rose to a high altitude – the highest we reached was 1,100 feet – and I found it difficult to focus as the nerves and adrenalin kicked-in. I had no choice but to put my trust in Eddie’s flying skills and he kept me expertly occupied with a running commentary.

Ta Som is almost obscured by the trees enveloping the site
A great view of East Mebon with the morning sun highlighting the temple
Pre Rup stands out way above the treeline
An almost perfect picture of Pre Rup considering I couldn't see what I was doing!

With a blanket of smoke obscuring the bottom half of Phnom Bok and beyond, we quickly arrived above the first of the eleven temples, Ta Som, that we’d fly over on our 1-hour flight. I was pleased to still see a good amount of tree cover at this edge of the Angkor Park as we soon encountered East Mebon and Pre Rup in quick succession. Despite the haze in the distance, I could make out Srah Srang lake and the Angkor balloon, as we dropped a little lower and headed out over a patchwork of rice fields, small trapeangs (ponds) and villages with Eddie waving constantly whilst I gripped my camera tightly to take some photos. Battling with the wind – we were cruising at about 40 miles per hour – the sun’s reflection on my camera view finder meant I couldn’t see what I was taking pictures of, so it was really a case of point, shoot and pray. Eddie meanwhile was flying with one hand and snapping away with the other like a true pro.

A view of the fields leading to Srah Srang in the distance
The solitary tower of Prasat Trapeang Phong at Roluos
In what seemed like no time at all we were above the area of Roluos and circling the tower of Prasat Trapeang Phong before an incredible approach to the temple pyramid of Bakong. Even I couldn’t fail to get a good picture of this. Preah Ko and Lolei were next as we headed out for Banteay Samre and the tiny Prasat Tor, passing the brand new golf course that has been plonked in the middle of this rural landscape. My first real feelings of trepidation – Eddie had kept our tiny machine so steady and level throughout the flight – was when he announced we would fly over the top of Phnom Bok. I immediately thought of updrafts, downdrafts and stuff I had no idea about though Eddie said it would be fine, and of course it was. In my mind, flying over level ground is one thing, flying over a hill is altogether different but it was a thrill to look down on the summit, where I had been on foot two weeks earlier. Just behind the hill was a small brick prasat, Leak Neang, that I’d never seen before and it felt weird to discover a temple from the air rather than on the ground. We tracked the new road that leads to Anlong Veng for a couple of minutes before beginning our approach to landing, on the same narrow track we’d left exactly an hour before. We landed with the merest of bumps and I thanked Eddie over the intercom for a fantastic trip as we came to a stop in the field behind the police station, a few kilometres south of Banteay Srei. My birds-eye view of a part of Angkor and the Cambodian countryside was a privilege and I can’t thank Eddie enough for taking me up and looking after me so well. It was a thrill of the highest order and as ‘safe as houses’. If you fancy getting the same buzz, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with rocky-steady Eddie The Eagle. It's no exaggeration to call it the trip of a lifetime.
The majestic pyramid temple of Bakong surrounded by water
The microlite is in competition with Preah Ko in this photo
The temple of Lolei is almost hidden in the grounds of the pagoda

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Anonymous Steve Mc. said...

Man, that looks like fun. On the "things to do" list for my next visit.

February 12, 2009 12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy, beautiful pictures of some of the Angkor monuments from the sky. You're so lucky to get to see them from the air. Anyway, I thought how the East Mebon temple was once right in the middle of the Eastern Baray (now dried), comparable to the Western Baray, the gigantic man-made artificial moats or lake during the heyday of the Great Khmer Civilization of Angkor. Thanks for sharing the beautiful, stunning pictures from the air. Enjoying brawsing your website a lot since you always posted something new everyday. God Bless.

February 12, 2009 2:47 AM  
OpenID alisonincambodia said...

Wow, Andy- these are truly amazing photos. Looks like I might have to get over my fear of heights to give this a try! On a separate note it seems like you might have some fun with this website tweaking your new aerial photos:

February 12, 2009 7:43 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

I am lucky and I keep telling myself that. Getting to see Angkor from the air, though the most obvious parts like Angkor Wat and Bayon are off-limits for obvious reasons, and the Cambodian countryside was a fantastic experience. I am so glad Eddie gave me the opportunity. A ten minute whirl in the microlite costs $20 and the prices go up from there. Shout me if you need Eddie's contact details.

February 12, 2009 10:31 AM  
Blogger Droonsta said...

is the pilot from Wings Over Cambodia Andy?

I will have to try it

February 12, 2009 10:58 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Yes try it but I'm not aware if its the same guys. i don't think so but don't hold me to that. I know Eddie doesn't personally have a website like Wings Over Cambodia do.

February 12, 2009 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Andy, you did a beautiful superb job at taken the beautiful, stunning pictures of some of the mesmerizing Angkor monuments from the air. Please tell us more of your experience up in the air. Everything looks so beautiful and breath-taking from high in the air, isn't? I wonder, is there hang-gliding over the Angkor Archaeological Park system? I would like to one day sign up for that experience as well. God Bless.

February 13, 2009 2:28 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

There's not much more to tell aside from my post comments. There's almost too much to take in on your first flight into the skies. Your senses are being bombarded with the whole experience, the adrenalin and the fact that you are flying around 1,000 feet up in a elongated moto with wings! I think it would take at least two or three flights to really get your bearings, to understand your location and to better appreciate what you are seeing.
Though I was in the air for an hour, it passed by in no time and it took me a good part of the flight to feel comfortable enough to fully relax and to 'enjoy' the experience. Having never done anything like that before, your brain takes time to adjust (well mine did) to these new circumstances and surroundings.
Eddie was speaking to me throughout the flight, identifying various features on the ground, etc and that was a great help in keeping my mind focused on what I was seeing rather than letting my brain wander into areas of worry and concern.
He was able to keep the microlite very steady throughout the trip aside for a couple of times when the wind was stronger than normal and we rose or dropped slightly. To him it was nothing, to me it was a big deal due to my inexperience. When he said we'd fly over Phnom Bok, I said it was okay we could do that another day, but he insisted and I'm glad he did. It was a great way to end the trip and an experience that I will never forget.

February 13, 2009 9:15 AM  

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