Flight of the Gibbon

Awesome.  Just Awesome.  How did I not previously know that what I really, really wanted to do in Cambodia, was to fly along a zip wire up high in the jungles round Angkor Wat?  Fortunately, fear of missing out, meant I put my hand up for this offered optional extra trip, and so filled what would have been an unknown gap in my experiential ambitions.  So it was, that whilst this was not something I was particularly planning on doing, I was very pleased I did.

What am I talking about?  Well, the zip wire experience that is the Flight of the Gibbon.  The website blah de blah explains:

Flight of the Gibbon is the only Zipline in Cambodia and to top it off we have the absolutely amazing privilege of being located within the UNESCO World Heritage site of The Angkor Archaeological Park. A distinction mode possible by our commitment to the environment through wildlife rehabilitation, various conservation efforts and work within the local community.

During your visit to our Angkor Course you will:

  • Spend 45 minutes on the course viewing the jungle from 10 stations
  • Crisscross over the jungle canopy on 3 single Ziplines and 1 double Zipline
  • Explore the jungle across 2 hanging bridges
  • Learn about the flora and fauna in the Angkor jungle
  • Learn about the flora and fauna in the Angkor jungle.
  • Be outfitted with state of the art safety equipment by our Sky Rangers.
  • Enjoy a traditional Cambodian meal with refreshments.
  • Receive round trip shuttle service from anywhere in Siem Reap or the surrounding area.
  • Have a chance to see gibbons in a natural jungle eco-system.

$59 USD/person 

Five of us duly rendezvoused in the hotel lobby at 12.30 and were whisked off in a van which also scooped up an amercian copule and their nine-year old boys en route to the jungle.  During the drive torrential rain beat down on the windscreen, and what with that and the air conditioning the vehicle interior felt pretty  much like a rainy holiday in northumberland, not at all condusive to venturing out.  Oh well…

Eventually, we came to the border of the park complex, and showed our passes (they are really strict about this) before passing into the jungle.  There was a quick pause for loos, then on to Flight of the Gibbon place for the full zip wire experience.

dscf2499

I didn’t know what to expect, but it was sooooooooooper fun.  It was fun from the off.  First we had to sign our lives away, which we all did lightly.  Then we were each issued with a fetching bandana, which was a nice touch. Essentially, it isn’t only to make you look stupid, though clearly that is a delightful bonus.  It was also to stop us sweating into the actual helmets too much, as they would otherwise become rank exceedingly fast.

The helmets and harnesses issued and safety briefing given.  The helmets are made of flimsy plastic and offered little reassurance in the event of a fall.  However, they did stop you hurting yourself when banging your head on overhanging tree branches or bits of cabling.  Which I did a great deal, justifying the indignity of the headwear!  We were also advised not to tan too much, not because of skin cancer as we thought ‘that’s nothing’ but because if you get too dark, your friends won’t be able to see you at night.   ‘I always have to wear a white T-shirt or my friends can’t find me‘ explained our Cambodian guide.  I got the impression he was only half joking…

I was open with the others about being apprehensive about what lay ahead.  I’m not brilliant with heights.  I must be particularly stupid, because I have a habit of remembering this once already committed.  Same thing happened going up the ladder to view the Buddha head at the bat cave – but we were mutually supportive. Anyway, three of us were sporting our little woolen friendship bands from the monk’s blessing earlier on, so surely that would keep us safe?  The signs were good though, it had stopped raining, and being in steamy jungle was appropriate and atmospheric.

Our two guides were brilliant, funny but very safety conscious and skilled.  One was impressed by my enfeebled utterings of ‘Suas Dei’ and ‘Ah Kohm ‘you speak Cambodian?‘ He exclaimed.  ‘Three words only‘, I explained, trotting them out, but he was clearly chuffed.  It is extraordinary how little effort is repaid with open smiles.

Unfortunately, no sooner was I strapped in to my harness which had a corset like clutch, than I then found I’d got my camera stuck in my pocket due to the over-tight harness round legs.  Genital rearrangement seems the order of the day for group excursions, first the bike ride, now this!  I was helped to retrieve it by several group members and finally the guide, who dislodged it with an unceremonious but effective yank, and then I looped it onto my harness instead.

All kitted out, we were led to an area a few metres away, where they had set up a mini zip wire so they could give a demo of equipment on the micro zip wire.  It was very thoroug, I felt completely safe.  There were I think five rules – the most important of which was don’t touch the claspy things and don’t kick the guides.  Oh and we got to see some pineapples growing.  I thought they grew on trees.  I didn’t know they were ground plants.  Felt a bit stupid, but then again, at least I know now eh?  Here’s hoping that comes up as a pub quiz question sometime soon.  Not that I’ll be there if it does. I find pub quizzes way too stressful to go along voluntarily, even though the last one I went too with my Smiley Paces Running Club compatriots turned out to be really good.  That’s me I guess, fickle.

We went into jungle ‘proper’ via a short van drive.   It was really exciting.  Amazingly, the rain had by now completely cleared and it was steamy and tropical and really appropriate.  Found out this is genuinely gibbon habitat, it isn’t just a marketing ploy, albeit they have only recently re-introduced a pair as part of a conservation project.

First thing was an ascent, lots of steps winding round a tree up and up.  Crap this is high.  I was pretty scared.  It dawned on me that maybe I should have thought this through a bit more before signing up to it.  On the other hand, thinking things through can often mean backing out.  Sometimes ignorane is bliss.  Plus, I had supportive travel buddies, and the example of the two nine year olds treating it like a walk in the park also instilled confidence.

However, after the first zip – i went last, it was loads better, The guides gave confidence and had good technique of sitting you down on harness and shoving you off.  Once you go flying through the jungle it is just really fun.  There is a childlike joy in flying through, and although standing on the platform was for me scary, once you’ve sat down in your harness it feels strangely secure.  Plus, you are committed anyway, once you are on the move, it’s not like you can back out and go into reverse.

landing-at-tree-base

The actual sequence of funs is a bit of a blur but there was a short starter zip, then a really really long loopy one – which one of our number nearly didn’t make due to being too light I think, ended up whizzing back the other way again!  There was also a strutted wooden bridge that scared the bejeezus out of me I don’t mind admitting.  You couldn’t avoid looking down to see where to put your feet to avoid falling through the slats.  It was really bouncy and wobbly too.  I know it’s in my head, but that was properly scary.  There were also some sky board walks that were fine.  It’s funny which bits bothered each of us.  Though some claimed to find it all no bother at all!   The grand finale was an The abseil down, slow super fast slow into arms of waiting guide below.

The highest wire was up at over 31 metres, these are impressive trees.  It felt high, the views are great, but I felt safest when touching a tree, even though I know that’s irrational.  We all did really well, i was probably the most chicken, but hey I still did it.  Our Swiss friend admitted to being afraid of heights but seemed to make it look a breeze. The others were all noticeably more photogenic than me.  Oh well, it’s not the first time that I’ve been in that situation.

Adrenalin and fear made me pour more sweat than you would think was humanly possible.  It was unreal.  However, the whizz of flying that zip was extraordinary, I even managed the full arm flapping flight thing at one point, only briefly, before sending my harness into a spin and crashing into the catcher guide at the far  end, but he was good natured about it.  Not the first – or last time he’s been got by a wayward flier I’m sure.

One Zip was referred to as the honeymoon zip, you could fly it together.  i ended up with going wtih wife of American military guy, he opted to go last, so he could race our guide.  It was a classic alpha male thing and very funny to observe.  They were both so competitive, the American was heavier and I thought he’d therefore win by a mile, but the Cambodian guy, though slight had a ferocious technique.  Technically the American one, but the Cambodian guide put on a braver ad more impressive performance given his physique.  Anyway, a kind fellow traveler got me in action here look:

honey-moon-flight

There was bridge bouncing, view pohtographing, platform hogging.  Look, it was essentially marvelous.  You really do feel like you are at the top of the jungle, as indeed you are!

Here we are the intrepid sub group, on completion of our adventure!

On the way back, we were told there are actually a breeding pair of gibbons in the area.  It is part of a release conservation programme. A pair were released and now have a baby.  They can be seen from time to time, the male black gibbon occassionally makes his presence known to visitors by peeing on tourists doing the zip wire.  Speaking as someone who has had a serval spray in their face (true story for another day) I’d take it as a great personal honour were a gibbon to choose to pee on me!  Imagine getting that close to an animal in the wild.

Oh, so belatedly we get some action shots of ME.  I’d like to say they are deeply unflattering, but they may just be an accurate reflection of how I look.  Sad but true.  At least they are action shots.

I am unclear as to whether the offspring will be able to breed.  I did ask, but the guide was vague, he said yes, but I dont quite see how.  Maybe as this is a designated area other gibbons will be released further down the line.  By the way, the jungle zip wire is within the temple complex, you need to show your passes to get in.

We paid $59 per person, which seemed steep at first, but was worth every penny. It included transport from hotel, the zip wires, hilarious guides, drinking water, and a three course meal at a roadside (but upmarket) restaurant.  Sort of vegetable curry wtih rice, a banana leaf salad, with fruit to follow.  Also a vegetable soup (I wasn’t entirely convinced by that) and weird green tea that tasted of vanilla.

Usually it is a lot more expensive but we got both a group discount, and a reduction because many of the wires are not in use at present.  Whether that is because people have died on them, or they are being redeveloped I could not say.  I felt what we did was enough for a great few hours out anyway.  I was enough out of my comfort zone.  Having said that, it was only really standing on the tree top platforms waiting to go and the slatted bridge that were genuinely scary, the actual zip is just fantastic, and the abseil finale genius.  Would recommend!

Going back to hotel we were introduced to the boys polar bear they are having to carry round with them as they keep a diary of their travels to take back to school.  What a pain that must be.  It’s hard enough packing for travel as it is, without having to carry round a large cuddly toy.  Having said that, it was a rather fine bear, and if i had a polar bear like that I’d be tempted to have it as a traveling companion especially now I have eaten my pet crocodile!

We did number of people on a motorbike spotting on way back.  People picking up children from school run meant five was quite common.

And that was that.  Delivered home again.  It is great this being picked up and deposited malarky, definitely a stress free way to travel.  We did get back rather later than expected, about 5.30 I think, so no chance of a nap before heading out again.  So worth it though

Digested read.  Would recommend.

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