Myanmar

Floating above time: Airballoon ride in Myanmar

One of the most iconic photos of Myanmar is the image of dozens of hot air balloons drifting across the plains of Bagan with a layer of fog shrouding hundreds of ancient temples. This is a ‘must do’ on many travelers list and for good reason — getting a bird’s eye view of thousands of historic monuments is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Nothing is better than looking down on God’s creation from his point of view, and one of the ways we can do that is to go on a hot air balloon ride! Ever thought about floating above an exotic destination in a hot air balloon? You should. No matter how many adventures you embark upon you’ll never forget a ride in a hot-air balloon. There’s no feeling of speed or ascension. It’s as if you’re your basket is resting on an invisible people mover gliding over the countryside below. Ballooning is a silent affair, there’s no deafening engine to drown out the serenity of your journey. And the view is 360 degrees of spectacular. 

Hot air ballooning started in Myanmar in 1998, when an international balloonist group first visited the country. Undeterred by critical press reports about the military regime, they fell in love with the country and have continued to return, eventually establishing a tourism company. These days there are two licensed companies offering hot air balloon flights in Myanmar and the destinations have expanded beyond Bagan to include Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach.

Myanmar is worthy of a spot on your bucket list of a hot air balloon ride.  If you love the majesty and grandeur of old temples, you’ll find them in Old Bagan. You’ll see over 3000 ancient shrines sprinkled across the countryside on this stunning ride. The ruins vary in age and some are better preserved than others, yet all are magnificent. Sunrise is particularly beautiful because the temples seem as if they’re glowing. Although balloons are relatively high up, the sunrise combined with the endless views of temples, grasslands, and other hot air balloons littering the sky is one of the most incredible sights. The roughly one hour flight will be enjoyed by those who are looking to see a bigger picture of the vastness of the plains of Bagan.

What to expect

(Photo by bckfwd on Unsplash)

Waking up very early in the morning
The weather is usually milder in the early morning making it safer to balloon.  You’ll have to get up when it’s still dark. And though you’ll be groggy, when you see the sunrise from your perch in the sky you’ll be really glad you dragged yourself out of bed.

Your Pilot will go through instructions

You’ll be assigned to a balloon with a pilot who will go over all the safety rules and what you can expect during the flight which will last about an hour. Baskets range in size to hold 12-16 people depending on the number of reservations they’ve booked, and unless you’re part of a large group you’ll probably ride with other travelers.

Watch the balloons slowly inflate will give you extra early morning calmness

When you get to your departure point, you’ll find a lot of activity as workers prepare the balloons for inflation. Once the pilots engage the burners to heat the air it takes about 30 minutes for the balloons to fill and rise above the baskets. Surprisingly, the process is thrilling to watch.

Soak in the 360 degrees of amazement around you

Imagine if you were standing on the top of a huge mountain with a 360-degree view. The world spread out beneath you in every direction. That’s the closest you’ll get to what it’s like in a hot air balloon. During the course of the flight, the pilot will change elevation to catch the winds. The balloons cannot be steered in the way a car can, so the pilot must search for favorable winds to direct the balloon in the desired direction. When dipping low, up-close views of villages and sites appear it is not unusual for locals to come out to wave to the balloon passengers. And when rising high, the birds-eye views get even more expensive. The pilot will also provide commentary about the scenes below, acting as a bit of a guide. They have extensive knowledge of the terrain, the culture, and Myanmar’s history. The pilot will also explain how he or she is able to navigate the balloon.

Read more:7 Best Places to Stay in Myanmar

A casual floating-in-the-air breakfast with champagne

(Photo by Majkell Projku on Unsplash)

Champagne after a flight is a worldwide tradition, but the size and bounty of the spread vary. I’ve enjoyed everything from yummy muffins and pastries to a full sit-down breakfast.

How much will it cost

With two different companies, Oriental Ballooning and Balloons Over Bagan, offering 8 to 16 passenger flights, splurge for one of the 8 passenger flights that cost around $380 USD. With fewer people, you have more room to move around, feel comfortable, and enjoy the best views possible.

Oriental Ballooning

Approx 45 mins / $399 USD

Take to the skies of Myanmar in their small, exclusive balloons and experience the true flavour of this astonishing country from a different perspective! Feel at ease in their traditional wicker basket compartments, which you will share with only one or two other people.

During their bespoke flights, your professional and knowledgeable pilot will open up a new horizon of tales and discoveries before you. Drifting on the gentle breeze, fly low over villages to hear local people greeting you with waving hands and a friendly ‘Mingalabar’. Climbing high, you can take in the 360 degree panoramic view of the entire region. The Oriental Ballooning team will make your visit truly memorable by taking you into the skies on one of their exclusive balloon rides. Enjoy a viewpoint that no other form of transport can offer. Their UK commercially licensed pilots are skilled at giving you the experience of a lifetime.

As you eventually drift back to earth, you will be greeted by their dedicated crew, and can celebrate your flight with a glass of chilled sparkling wine, in true aeronautical tradition. You will also recieve your own Oriental Ballooning cap and personally-signed flight certificate before you return to your hotel or guest house.

Balloons Over Bagan

Approx 45 mins / $350 USD

Your adventure starts with a short journey in one of their romantic converted vintage buses to one of the dedicated launch sites. The growing light reveals their teams busy at work preparing your balloon against a backdrop of ancient temples shrouded in mist. There is time for tea, coffee and refreshments before the all important safety briefing. With the balloons now standing upright, it is time to climb on board and the helpful crew are on hand to assist you into the basket. The balloon is guided by gentle winds not exceeding 15 mph, allowing passengers a serene and peaceful bird’s-eye view of ancient temples drifting by. Using his skill and years of flight experience in Bagan the pilot is able to guide the balloon to a gentle landing where our friendly and experienced crew will be waiting for you with fruits, fresh pastries and a glass or two of sparkling wine to complete the post flight celebration.

(Photo by Ciel Cheng on Unsplash)

Balloon Season

Due to weather conditions, flights in Bagan operate from October until April. In Inle Lake and Ngapali, they are scheduled from November to March. From time to time in cases of bad weather, flights are canceled at the last minute. In this case, ticket prices are fully refunded or guests can move to another date depending on availability. Flights typically operate at sunrise. 

(Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash)

he balloons come in various sizes, with the smallest fitting 8 passengers and the largest being 16 passengers. However, the layout of the balloon ensures that the experience is the same regardless of the size. Each basket is divided into smaller compartments holding just four people. These compartments are placed around a central area where the pilot stands and controls the burners. 

The baskets are constructed of wicker and wood, resulting in a very sturdy, stiff structure. The sides of the basket are just over one meter in height. Although there are no seats, the baskets do have handles that are useful for keeping your balance on landing.

Read more:9 Unique Animals in Myanmar

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