Siem Reap, a small gateway town to Angkor region is a sought-after Cambodian tourist destination that owes its popularity to its proximity to the Angkor temples, the most popular attraction in Cambodia today. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together, they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture (The Khmer Empire was the predecessor state to modern Cambodia; editor's note). Visitors approach two million annually so the temples get sometimes crowded - while the 'ground' view of the temples is a mesmerizing experience, the bird's view might suit better those, who'd like to avoid the crowds.
Provided you are not afraid of heights, the only hot-air balloon company based in Siem Reap has the exclusive permission from Siem Reap Aviation Administration to flight in the area. However, the entire expanse, including Angkor Wat, the masterpiece of Angkorian architecture and the largest religious monument in the world built in the 12th-century, is collectively protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and therefore the flights cannot be conducted over any of the temples. Still, you get as close as possible.
Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century.
The ride is scheduled twice a day during sunrise and sunset just outside of Siem Reap and you can arrange your ride for either of those. The sunrise trip takes off between 6.00am - 6.10am and the sunset one between 16.50 pm - 17.00 pm. The average duration of flight is about 40 minutes and you will be even picked up by the English speaking staff from and transported back to your stay.
Whether you choose sunset or sunrise ride, you will be not disappointed. Most of the tourists visiting the area go to Phnom Bahkeng for sunset watching. Bakheng was the first temple mountain constructed in the area of Angkor proper north of Siem Reap. It is its hilltop location that makes it the most popular sunset location in the area, offering a view of the Tonle Sap Lake and a distant Angkor Wat in the distance. Again, the temple is often overcrowded at this time (sunset) so the balloon ride is a more pleasant way to soak up the atmosphere of this architectural gem (the temple is an architectural representation of Mount Meru lying in the Himalayas; editor's note).
Angkor Balloon's pilots all have more than 10 years experience of flying hot-air balloons and all hot-air balloons have allocated whole set of professional flight equipment and safety equipment. Since safety come first, flights will be canceled and fees will be refunded in weathers not suitable for flight, such as rainy, windy and greasy days. For more information visit Angkor Balloon's website.
Photos: © angkorballooning