You know those experiences that are so new, exciting, and adrenaline pumping that you get a childish, giddy feeling? You can’t stop smiling and your heart feels so full it may burst?
That’s how it felt to watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Bagan.
Now, I had never been “ballooning” before my trip to Myanmar, partly because the opportunity had never arisen. I had also felt that there are a few activities that should be saved for the places that make them the most special. For example: zip lining in Costa Rica, cage diving with great whites in South Africa, bungee jumping the highest bungee bridge in the world (in South Africa); these activities are just the best in certain places or circumstances, so why settle for doing them elsewhere just to do them? For ballooning, I consider Bagan and Cappadocia to be thee prime spots for a sunrise ride.
Keep reading to find out why in this…
Complete Recap of Hot Air Ballooning Over Bagan
What sets hot air ballooning in Bagan apart from anywhere else is that all the companies go up together in a fleet. All the balloons get blown up together, fly together, and land [somewhat] together, which totally adds perspective and color to the entire experience. They talk to each other over radio and coordinate so some fly low while others get a high birds eye view.
It’s truly a dance the way the balloons rise and sink through the sky, the sunrise illuminating the hundreds of ancient pagodas and temples below.
Because the balloons use the air and wind, they can’t technically steer and the pilots have only an idea of where they will land. This makes every path a little different and every flight a little more exciting!
Our 45ish minute ride was just enough to catch my breath and wrap my head around such a surreal experience.
As we made our way to land by the bank of the river, the crew met us to see our basket down softly to the sand. From the air, we could see them setting up a table with our champagne and fruit refreshments for where they expected us to land. I could hardly sit still during this decompression time because of all the excitement and the champagne probably added to this a bit.
Choosing the Right Company
We went with Oriental Ballooning and it was an absolutely magical experience. Our pilot Pep was so warm and clearly loves doing his job every day. The whole process was easy, relaxing, and thoroughly enjoyable - so much so that I don't think any other ballooning experience will top it!
All companies offer virtually the same thing and work together, so I’d just make your choice based on which company offers the best price or has space.
There are generally 2 options - Premium and Classic – though they may go by different names. Standard options include roundtrip transfers from hotel, a light breakfast, the 45-minute balloon ride, champagne and fruit at the end, and a little gift bag. Premium options differ with free photos from the flight and less people in the basket (12 instead of 16). Companies like Balloons over Bagan offer options to arrange a private compartment in the basket for couples plus some additional goodies.
Bargaining is not really possible and there’s no such thing as last minute deals because they book up very far in advance. I’ve never heard of someone getting a ride for under $300 online or in person, but let me know if you have! I definitely recommend booking in advance and through an agent (me!) to get the best price.
Tips for the Flight
Charge your camera and be prepared to take a LOT of photos. The journey is long enough that you can spend 15 minutes taking photos and then another 30 just relaxing and soaking in the entire experience.
Clothing : They suggest you dress warmly since you arrive before the sun’s up, but in November and with the flame heating the basket, shorts and a T-shirt were perfect. Since the balloons can potentially land anywhere, they suggest to wear durable shoes in case you have to walk through mud, but I wore sandals and didn’t mind.
Don’t over pack : The baskets are pretty small so you’ll be cramped with too many items
Sunrises aren’t guaranteed : For a sunrise, you need somewhat clear skies for the sunlight to peak through. Even some clouds can make a beautiful sunrise, but too many can completely block it out. This also means that if the weather is really bad, then cancellations can happen, especially in the low and shoulder seasons. Just know that anything can happen with nature!
In conclusion, even if you’re backpacking, I’d save enough moolah to go hot air ballooning over Bagan. I had thought maybe watching the balloons go by from the top of a pagoda would suffice, but there’s absolutely no comparison or substitution for floating through the sky in a hot air balloon.
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Little can compare to the feeling of floating over ancient Burmese temples for sunrise. Hot air ballooning in Bagan is an experience of a lifetime!