Myanmar, aka Burma is a country that just opened its doors to travelers ~5 years ago and as such felt like the wild wild West. For me, the highlight was the hot air balloon ride over Bagan, the ancient city with thousands of temples!
Ballooning ain't cheap. ~$350 to $375 USD for a ~1 hour flight. It’s the 2nd highest sightseeing thing I did this year, behind the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu ($675 USD). Some friends of mine opted out of ballooning because of the costly price tag.
But we all said, “Well it’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
Guess what? I know it won’t be JUST once in my lifetime. I want to fly again! Maybe in a different place with different landscape.
It was worth every penny!
And, I realized why it’s so costly. Of course, there is high demand for it. But also, it’s not easy getting that aircraft in the sky and landing it back down safely with anywhere from 9 to 13 people in it. I think it took a crew of ~8 to launch our balloon, plus our pilot.
We lucked out with the pilot. Donna, from Australia has been flying for 11 years, and works seasonally in Australia, New Zealand and Myanmar. She seemed to be the manager of the other pilots---or, maybe just the one who does the public speaking. Either way, she was really fun and charming and we couldn’t have asked for a better leader!
We lucked out with the weather too! Another gorgeous sunrise in Myanmar.
We even got to fly with some birds along the way.
Bagan was the capital city of the Pagan Empire that thrived during the 11th to 13th centuries. ~10,000 Buddhist temples were built and today there are still ~2200 temples remaining. This makes Bagan perfect for a bird's eye view!
The skyline is peppered with pagodas popping up out of the dry desert plains.
We flew fairly close to the ground, especially toward the end of the flight. So close we could say hello to the folks down below:
One potential drawback of flying in Bagan is that the Bagan Airport is nearby and they restrict the top altitude that balloons can fly at. We got about 600 meters up, which was a gorgeous height. But, according to Donna, in areas like Inle Lake the flights get up to 4,000 meters! That would be very nice!
That being said, no complaints! What a magical experience seeing Myanmar from above. The flight was super smooth and peaceful. An adrenaline rush, but it felt really safe too.
I've got some videos that I'll compile at some point.
After the flight, we sat around eagerly chatting and enjoying fresh fruit, orange juice, and champagne for those who partake. We were told that the French invented hot air balloons and used to carry bottles of Champagne with them to give to the land owners when they accidentally landed on their property! And so the tradition continues.