Swingin' through the trees

Intrepid reporter Miranda Glasser (left) and friend Caitlin try out the 'honeymoon' zip line.​​ ARIELE GOLD
Intrepid reporter Miranda Glasser (left) and friend Caitlin try out the 'honeymoon' zip line.​​ ARIELE GOLD

Swingin' through the trees

Miranda Glasser test-drives the zip-wire, Siem Reap’s newest attraction

Standing on the edge of a 100-foot-high platform about to step off into thin air, the phrase “legs turned to jelly” suddenly took on a very real meaning. Luckily I didn’t need my legs as I was to be carried by a harness, ropes and gravity, and about to zip-wire through Angkor Archeological Park at the newly-opened Flight of the Gibbon eco-adventure tour. With thoughts like, “Why am I doing this?” and “Is this really necessary for the article?” going through my head I launched off and instantly realised what all the fuss was about.

Crossing one of the four sky bridges suspended over the jungle canopy.​​ ANDREW EATWELL
Crossing one of the four sky bridges suspended over the jungle canopy.​​ ANDREW EATWELL

Jim Zigarelli, vice president of online communications and press relations at Treetop Asia, says most people are scared on their first zip but after their second or third, they love it.

Speaking as a strict non adrenalin-junkie, I can attest to this. Once I got over my initial, heart-in-mouth fears the experience was incredible. It is hard to describe the concept of speeding along a canopy of trees, wind buffeting your face, a great, green splash of jungle all around you and before you know it – it’s all over. After my third of fourth attempt, I even managed to look down.

The tour opened in June and now that the full course has been completed, thrill-seekers can zip along ten lines, cross four suspended ‘sky’ bridges and enjoy views from a120-foot-high tree house, not to mention the 50-foot abseil down at the end.

“The highest point in the course is about fifty metres, most of the course is between 20 and 35,” says Zigarelli. “The longest zipline is 300 metres and there’s one double called the honeymoon zipline for two people to go together. The whole tour takes about two and half hours depending on how many people – the most people in any group would be nine.”

Hands-free abseiling gives an added thrill.​​ ANDREW EATWELL
Hands-free abseiling gives an added thrill.​​ ANDREW EATWELL

The company places great emphasis on safety and its ecological responsibility. The best quality equipment is used and the ‘sky rangers’ are highly trained and make the ride a reassuring one. There are two rangers per group and unlike some other zipwire tours, following the safety briefing, they do all the clipping and unclipping themselves leaving nothing for you to do but enjoy the ride. One ranger is stationed at each end of the zip, with the second one yelling a greeting of “feet up, feet up” as you come zooming in.

To preserve the environment, each zipline platform has been ingeniously built using a method of wooden blocks cabled to the trees.

“The company’s philosophy is wherever they go into the jungle, they try to protect and replenish what is there, so they’ve already planted 3,000 trees in the jungle here,” says Zigarelli. “Part of the environmental and the Forestry Department’s involvement was we can have no impact on the trees, so the platforms are cabled – there are no bolts. Everything is cabled to the tree using wrenches, large devices that push the cable against these blocks that push against the tree to hold everything in place. The idea is that if we were to go away in ten years you could take it away and you wouldn’t know we were there.”

The 120-feet-high tree-house is the staging point for adventure.​​ ANDREW EATWELL
The 120-feet-high tree-house is the staging point for adventure.​​ ANDREW EATWELL

This is the third Flight of the Gibbon tour. The first one opened in the mountains near Chiang Mai in 2007, and the other is in Chonburi, between Bangkok and Pattaya. Zigarelli says they are all quite different.

“At its core we call it a zipline eco-adventure but the thrill is the zipline,” he says. “With this one you’re above the canopy for most of it, looking down on the canopy. I like that you can see all around you but I also like being immersed in the forest.”

This tour starts in the forest and you slowly climb higher on wooden staircases that blend naturally with the environment. Once the course is completed, the tour ends with a nature walk through the jungle, home to nearly 1,000 flora and fauna species.

The guides, most of them from the local area, are skilled at pointing out various plants, butterflies and spiders. It was fascinating even to this arachnophobe to see the tiny, yellow, horned crab spider, a large banana spider and a tarantula nest.

The other aspect of Flight of the Gibbon is its involvement in reintroducing gibbons to the area, something the company has successfully done at its Chiang Mai base where there are now two adult Lar gibbons which gave birth to two babies in captivity, with another adult pair arriving shortly.

“The idea was when possible to work with professionals who know the gibbons to see if it’s possible to reintroduce them, because they’re pretty much extinct in the forest,” says Zigarelli. “Here we approached the Forestry Department and the Wildlife Alliance and asked them if it was possible. They said they think so and so we now have two gibbons in cages in order to be acclimated to the jungle. Once they’re acclimated – which takes about 4 months – they’ll let them go in a controlled environment and see how they do.”

Flight of the Gibbon is open daily. People of all ages are welcome including children from five years old upwards.


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