Flying High Temples in the Sky

Naomi Collett Ritz / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
A Helistar Cambodia helicopter flies near Angkor Wat. Photo: Facebook

SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – Flying 1,400 meters above the Tonle Sap, at 200 kilometers per hour, the stunning view of the river’s bursting banks is almost enough to distract from the motion sickness that sets in after about 10 minutes in the air.  

Most people who charter one of Helistar Cambodia’s two single-engine Eurocopters have just 14 minutes to contest with airsickness. Helistar’s Siem Reap-based pilot, Aussie Tristan Zeuschner, says nauseous passengers are not common on the surprisingly smooth aerial tours of the Angkor Archaeological complex. 

One of two commercial helicopter companies in Cambodia, Helistar’s hangar is located just next to Phnom Penh International Airport. Mr. Zeuschner must occasionally make the 75-minute trip to the capital for regularly scheduled maintenance. By land, the trip takes five hours – on a good day.

The helicopter follows the Tonle Sap River from Phnom Penh all the way to the Tonle Sap Lake and then Siem Reap. From the sky it is possible to identify fishing traps laid out in tributaries that, from high enough up, look like enormous arrows pointing downstream.

Flying against the edge of the river the entire time, Mr. Zeuschner explains through the microphone that single-engine aircrafts are not allowed to fly over bodies of water without inflatable pontoons. He also says the airspace directly above the temple complex is off limits. The helicopter still manages to fly close enough to give up to five passengers a breathtaking bird’s eye view of Angkor Wat, the West Baray and other temples. 

Mr. Zeuschner flies up to 17 trips per day out of Siem Reap. With the shortest flight costing $90 per person for 14 minutes in the air, hiring the helicopter for longer excursions may be the most convenient way to cross the Kingdom, but it comes at a cost.

For an increasing number of travelers for whom cost is a non-issue, hiring Helistar to pick you up and drop you off on the roof of your hotel is a unique and luxurious opportunity. A few weeks ago, Mr. Zeuschner flew one of the most famous women in the world – Angelina Jolie, according to reports in Siem Reap. If he did, however, he’s tight lipped about it.

Helicopters can take off and land almost anywhere, providing exclusive access to many remote areas in Cambodia. In addition to offering fast and easy trips to remote temples like Beng Mealea and Preah Vihear, Helistar is also used for commercial filming, medical evacuations and remote archaeological projects. 

For a week in April 2012, a laser-scanner (LiDAR) instrument was attached to the underside of a Helistar Cambodia helicopter, ultimately leading to the discovery of the 1,200 year-old lost city of Mahendraparvata. which predates Angkor Wat by about 350 years. 

The scanning phase involved seven days of helicopter operations, with the LiDAR results confirming field research conducted by archaeologists. 

Located about 40 kilometers north of Angkor Wat, Mahendraparvata is on the slopes of Phnom Kulen. Although its existence had been known by archaeologists before 2012, its size and significance had not been fully mapped out. Archaeologists described the LiDAR scanning as the tool that “connected the dots.”

Helistar Cambodia also conducts flights for mineral exploration and mining support, aerial filming and photography, as well as surveys of agricultural concessions. It has a Eurocopter AS350 B2 and Eurocopter AS350 B3+.

Its pilots are full-time expatriates with extensive experience of Cambodian flight operations, terrain, flight paths and safe-landing locations.

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