They’ve been flying high for nearly 20 years now and, even for those who have explored every nook and cranny of the temples powered only by their feet, still have the power to offer a completely different perspective of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bakheng and a panorama that tracks from Phnom Kulen to Phnom Krom. Angkor Balloon was founded in 2003, and two years ago was taken over by the French company Aerophile.
Their balloon will not set you floating off into the distance however as it is tethered to the ground just 800 metres away from Angkor Wat. This neatly avoids the potential for pratfalls that have marred attempts to get untethered balloons off the ground (one managed to crash land onto a busy road during rush hour, with a journalist on board), while also helping to ensure that this kind of view is not just for those with $100 or more to spend on the experience.
A 10-minute trip on Angkor Balloon is $15 for Cambodian national adults, $25 for foreigners, and $7 Cambodian children, $15 for foreigners, and no temple pass is required. For comparison, a hot air balloon ride at Bagan seem to start at $350 per person.
Travelling (or ascending) by balloon has long fascinated humans, and holds a special place in French hearts thanks to the writings of Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne, so it is no surprise that the first hot-air balloon took flight covering almost 2 kilometres over Annonay in the Ardeche, all the way back in 1783. That first flight was unmanned and so, not being sure what impact such altitudes would have on a human, the contraption’s inventors decided to send up a sheep, a duck and a rooster instead. By all accounts, they were unharmed.
Tethered balloons soon became important for military purposes, and so-called “barrage balloons” were used to string steel cables with many more steel cables hanging off them were used to defend key locations. Almost 3,000 such balloons were dotted around London by 1944, a deadly, near-invisible threat to German bombers.
Today, their interest is far more peaceful, in all senses of the word.