Raise the Angkor
It’s also my first time back in a cockpit after a four-year hiatus. Since leaving a life of weekend aviation adventures, the only thing I have truly been pilot-in-command of is my laptop. I am playing passenger today, but sightseeing in a microlight on the outskirts of Siem Reap is enough to scratch my flying itch.
American pilot Eddie Smith breaks my reverie and tells me to hop in. Strapped securely in the back seat, I feel like a novice facing the complexities of an aircraft for the first time. There’s no yoke; the simple cockpit is crude and communication with air traffic control is via a handheld radio. It’s a bare-bones plane, somewhat reminiscent of early flying machines and quite fitting for an adventure around Cambodia’s ancient edifices.
With more than 3500 hours on the trike, Eddie accelerates effortlessly down the dirt airstrip, and with slight forward pressure on the microlight’s control bar we break from the ground. After a brief climb to 180 metres, Eddie banks the flexwing east, passing the remnants of an ancient prasat (temple) shrouded by a thick grove of trees.
We press on, cruising low and slow over countryside where the rice paddies form a patchwork of emerald green. As we near Bakong, an imposing pyramid-shaped temple, Eddie launches into a history lesson about the Roluos Group, a set of three Hindu monuments dating from the late ninth century AD. While air law prevents us from flying directly over, we’re close enough to have a spectacular view of what remains of Hariharalaya, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire.
We soon head north towards the splendour of Angkor Wat. Outfitted with only a Plexiglas windscreen between pilot and rushing wind, the microlight offers a gripping perspective of the immense scale and complexity of ancient Khmer civilisation. My scenic tour has effectively become a trip back in time, when kings once ruled, warred and constructed vast waterways and temples.
My head is still in the clouds when the trike’s wheels touch down on terra firma. Eddie shuts down the little beast and asks how my flight was. My response? “We’re definitely doing this again.”
The half-hour Temple Route tour with Microlight Cambodia flies you to see historic Angkor Wat and the Roluos Group, as well as a handful of other Khmer monuments for AU$175 per person.