We all have a bucket list of things to do, and right up there on mine was to take a hot air balloon ride. Now, I am kinda cheating here as I actually already did this a long time ago over the Yarra Valley in Australia, however the backdrop was somewhat different to my second time around so I’m going to pretend it doesn’t count.
Let me set the scene. We are in Burma, in the small town of Bagan that is most famous for it’s abundance of pagoda’s and temples. In fact, Bagan contains the highest density of temples and Buddhist architecture in the world. Pretty impressive, right? At over 100 km sq, Bagan once had some 10,000 temples dotted around the city. Sadly, most of those temples have been destroyed or fallen into a state of disrepair over the years. At present, some 2,000 temples can still be seen, and trust me, that’s still a hell of a lot of temples!
Most people will explore the temples either by bicycle or e-bicycle. It’s great to discover all those smaller temples that stand alone away from all the crowds and off the tourist map, however what you really want to be doing, is getting that’s birds eye view. Without a doubt, the most spectacular way to see Bagan is from above, and the best way to do that, is by a hot air balloon!
If you are going to take a hot air balloon ride, then you want to be taking this trip with the guys at Balloons Over Bagan. Owned by a Burmese and Australian couple who together established South East Asia’s first commercial hot air balloon journey, they have been operating for over 17 years. You’ll be in safe hands here! The company actually operate two additional flight routes in Burma – one over Inle Lake, and another two-day Safari flight over Inle and Pindaya.
You really want to be booking your balloon ride in advance, as these ever-popular trips get super busy in peak season, especially during the preferred early morning sunrise flights. We made our booking online via the website, which took a matter of minutes to complete. Full payment will be required at the time of booking.
I know how your minds work. You want to know how much this is going to cost right? Well, Claudia and I visited Burma a few years ago, but at the time of our balloon ride, it cost us an eye watering $320 per person. Looking at the company’s website now, I can see their prices have crept up to $360 per person now – eek! This is a lot of money yes, but just think of it as a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one more item on that bucket list to be ticked off!
We chose to take a sunrise flight, which meant we had an extremely early start to the day. We were collected from our hotel in one of the battered Balloons Over Bagan buses at 05:30. We made a few stops along the way to collect a number of other sleepy passengers en-route to our starting point, which was located just on the outskirts of the city.
Once we arrived at our out of town location, I was actually quite surprised by just how many people there were there – perhaps over 100! Despite this, we were split into smaller groups of around 8 – 10 people per basket so there were no concerns with crowding at all. Each group were taken over to their separate balloon pod, where we were able to watch our balloons being fired up, which was pretty cool. After a safety briefing and an overview of what to expect, it was time to get going!
We all clambered in to our basket, some of us struggling more than others (aherm, that’s us five-foot-tall girls!) and off we went. There is no set route for the balloons to travel, as the route is hugely dependant on which way the winds are blowing. Within no time at all, we were up amongst the birds, floating away in a convoy of balloons.
The view over the hazy sunrise was spectacular and it was easy to spot the larger of the temples amongst the distant rivers and mountains that surround Bagan. It soon became a game to see if we could work out which temple was which! Flights last anywhere from 45 minutes up to 90 minutes, but you’ll be amazed just how quickly that flies by.
Before we knew it, we were making our way back down to land, however the winds had picked up slightly and we somehow missed our landing spot. We drifted on a little further out than we were meant to go, and with a bumpy landing, we made it back down in one piece.
The team on the ground helped us out of the basket, and greeted us with a glass of bubbles, a light breakfast, and a flight certificate for each passenger. For an additional cost you can also purchase in-flight photos taken by the pilot. They have a nifty camera up in the balloon that takes some cool photos of the balloons, the surrounding sites, and of course you. Alternatively, you can opt for the long arm shot like we did. For free 😊
It was safe to say that all of us were slightly mesmerised by our incredible surroundings – truly an unforgettable experience. So whilst this does cost an arm and a leg, it’s most definitely worth saving up for should you have the opportunity to join a flight of your own.