It was around 4.00 AM when I received the wake-up call from the hotel. Rise and shine, it’s time for the iconic Bagan Balloon Ride. Yay!
And oh, what an adventure it was! I highly recommend the balloon ride to everyone visiting Bagan (details such as prices will be covered below). I have penned down all my research and parts of my experience here for anyone looking forward to enjoying this surreal experience.
Best time to ride a balloon
One can explore the temple town in hot air balloons only from the end of October to the beginning of April. The best time to take the ride is during sunrise when the temperature is cooler and the scene is mesmerising. The cool temperature also allows the balloons to float closer to the stupas so that you can get a better glimpse. Plus, this is the best time for photography as the light is just right.
What to expect on a balloon ride
There are several companies that operate hot-air balloons in Bagan. As sunrise is the best time to take this ride, prepare to wake up in the wee hours of the morning.
On the way, we met several fellow travellers and had a chance to bond with them. Once you assemble, you will meet a captain who will head your adventure and share with you some Do’s and Don’ts. Pay attention, the instructions are important!
Each balloon consists of four compartments and a space for the pilot. I was sharing the balloon with a professional photographer and a lovely couple from Australia.
As the balloon slowly took off from the ground, my anticipation sped up and I couldn’t wait to get as high as possible. In the beginning, it was quite dark, but as dawn slowly broke in the horizon, our surroundings lit up. I have seen a lot of sunrises in my life, but this one had earned its place in the Top 5. The combination of green canopy of trees, brown temples, and clear blue water of the Irrawaddy River against the orange sunlight created a strikingly picture-perfect scene, mesmerised in my mind forever. No words can express what I felt on the journey. I thought that the flight will take me around the temples, but no! After passing several temples, the balloon took us to float around the countryside. We saw rustic rural villages and acres of lush green farmlands reaching past the skyline. Locals waved at us from the ground and cheered as we went past them. I waved back enthusiastically, overjoyed that the people there were so pleased to welcome us to their country.
As the sky brightened with the daylight, birds started waking up and we could hear their chirping from the trees. A flock of birds took off into the sky, their wings spread to add to the magnificence of the surrounding scenery. It was a clear day and we could see as far as Mt. Popa and Mt. Victoria. It was a truly magical moment as I stood high, passing the trees, temples, and even mountains, witnessing the glory of all of Myanmar. Even if you are not a photographer, you will not be able to stop yourself from capturing this surreal moment. A professional photographer was on-board the ride and was more than happy to take a few pictures of me.
As we landed, we were served croissants, banana bread and champagne. I was quite hungry and the food served a satisfying breakfast. We were also given a certificate and a lovely card as a memoire of our trip.
Operators usually run two kinds of packages here—a standard package and a premium one. The premium package includes a guide who will provide historical explanations and cultural insights on the way.
Each balloon has 4 compartments for passengers in addition to a space for the captain to steer the balloon. In the standard package, the balloon’s compartment has a capacity of 2 to 4 passengers, which means about 12-16 people fly together. The premium option is more luxurious where each balloon has 8 passengers maximum. In both packages, you will be flying for 45 minutes to 1 hour. There is no scope to sit during the flight, so you will have to stand throughout.
Premium package passengers are treated with breakfast (coffee/tea, fresh juice, sparkling wine, bread, eggs and cheese) by the side of the Ayeyarwady river upon landing.
Can you get the same experience from the ground?
Taking a balloon ride is expensive. I spent about USD 350 for a 45 minute ride. Some suggested to see the sunrise from the ground, but watching from above is an experience no one should miss. I wanted to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the scenery as the horizon slowly lighted up around me. Yes, watching it from the Bagan viewing tower would have saved me some money, it wouldn’t have been this amazing, for sure!
What to wear during a hot air balloon ride?
Although it might be cold at night, you won’t feel it in the balloon due to the heat emitted by the burner. So you need not carry warm clothing. Instead, carry a cap to protect your head from the hot air and wear cotton clothing since you will be quite near the source of the fire.
Hot air balloon rides are available over Inle Lake too! I didn’t try it, but would love to when I go back to Myanmar.