The BEST Travel Experience of My Life - My Ultimate Anti-Adventure with Balloons Over Bagan.
There's nothing like seeing the sunrise over the ancient temples of Bagan in a hot air balloon.
I try to never lose track of how fortunate I am to travel and I always remind myself how lucky I am that my work as a travel writer introduces me to extraordinary locations, experiences, and people. Never has this been more in focus than during my hot air balloon ride over the spectacular ancient temples of Bagan, Myanmar. Without a doubt it stands alone as the most incredible, breathtaking travel experience of my life and I'm so happy to share my memories with you here.
There are over 2200 temples and pagodas on the plains of Bagan, most constructed between the 11th and 13th century, the final markers of what was once a thriving kingdom. The plains of Bagan are home to the largest concentration of religious buildings in the world and, in addition to the religious and spiritual significance, the region holds special meaning for archaeologists, historians, seismologists, architects, linguists, and artists. To say that there is truly nothing like it in the world would be an understatement. Bagan is the place where travel dreams come true.
Your sunrise hot air balloon ride actually begins several weeks, if not months, in advance. This is not an activity you want to leave to chance! Space books up very quickly, but last minute travelers need not despair. Standby tickets are often available at a slightly reduced rate 48 hours before departure. TheBalloons Over Bagan staff did a great job of responding to emails (a rarity in Myanmar) and they were very helpful.
We were given strict instructions to be ready for pick up at our hotel at 5:10 am and, true to their word, our bus arrived right on time - no small feat considering the state of some roads and the tardy habits of travelers. (In Bagan, we stayed at the Amazing Bagan Resort, which really WAS amazing! But don't take our word for it - you can see what everyone else thought about it on Trip Advisor and Expedia)The morning started off on an exciting note -it was no ordinary bus that picked us up, but rather something quite special!
Our Canadian built wooden bus was brought over in World War II for the purposes of transporting troops. At the end of the war, the cost of shipping all the buses back to Canada was prohibitive and so they were left behind. Today the fleet has been lovingly restored and they must be some of the most unique buses in the world!
After picking up some additional guests, we made our way to the launch field. While it was still dark out, there was no mistaking that smell - coffee!!! REAL coffee! Made in a French press! After drinking nothing but instant coffee for a long time, the steaming cups of French pressed coffee were wonderful. Tea and small shortbread biscuits were also on offer and we enjoyed taking the time to socialize with our fellow ballooners.
As we savored our coffee the pilots came over to introduce themselves and explain the basics of ballooning. They were warm, friendly, and funny and walked us through the process in an easy to understand, comprehensive way. They set my anti-adventurist nerves at ease!
The pilots divided us into different groups to balance out the baskets and gave us complimentary baseball hats. These were souvenirs with a practical purpose, as dust can enter the balloon while it is filling and later drop down on the passengers. (We never noticed any falling dust, but we were thrilled to have the souvenirs!) We had about 15 minutes of free time to watch the balloons being prepared. It was a fascinating site to see! From the yards upon yards of rippling silk to the roar of the fire, it was an incredibly intricate process to observe.
A few pointers for all the other anti-adventurist folks out there: There is no graceful way to get into a hot air balloon basket. There are little grooves for your toes in as you climb up the side but essentially you just tip in. Happily, there's no chance of tipping out! The basket went up to my chest and the walls of the basket had very sturdy grips for those who wanted extra support.
There is no chance of the basket swaying or shaking in the sky. The basket is huge, weighs nearly 1,000 lbs, and is divided into different compartments to distribute the weight. Even if there was a fool trying to jump up and down to move the basket they would be very unsuccessful! The basket is also very comfortable - inside each little compartment is a padded bench in case you wanted to sit down and the sides and edges are also padded.
Balloons Over Bagan has an outstanding safety record and we were able to witness this commitment first hand. Just before our launch, as pilot Graeme was doing his final checks and instructions, he noticed that a passenger was not well and seemed to be suffering from a panic attack. The decision was made that the man should not fly and the situation was handled with discretion and without any pressure - Graeme was a real pro.
Then, before I even realized what had happened, we were off the ground.
The earth just seemed to drop away from the hot air balloon. I honestly felt nothing when the ropes were released and we started to fly into the sky. Graeme reminded us to relax and release our iron grips (but not me! I was already in my element!) He then proceeded to point out some of the best sights and photo opportunities, starting with the sunrise.
Once the sun was up, the temples and pagodas were even more beautiful. Ranging from magnificent large complexes to tiny, crumbling structures, Graeme was keen to point out some of his personal favourites, as well as those buildings experiencing restoration work. Who knew that bamboo scaffolding could be so beautiful?
One of our most unique experiences was flying over a small pond so we could see our reflection in the water and take some special photos.
Graeme is one of the few pilots who will do a 360 degree spin for a full panoramic view. I was amazed by how deftly he maneuvered the balloon and the full spin provided absolutely spectacular views.
With the end of our flight approaching, Graeme pointed out some final sites to us, including a small village and farm area. He then reminded us of landing procedures and asked us to hold additional sightseeing questions while he concentrated on the landing. I really appreciated that he was so clear and focused on safety!
Our gentle landing went off without a hitch and we were soon back on solid land. A small group of souvenir sellers were on hand to greet us, but none were pushy. Clean, wet facecloths were handed around so we could refresh and remove dust. A circle of chairs was set up for us to enjoy a light breakfast, consisting of sparkling wine (or lemonade), delicious croissants, banana bread, and sliced fruit (banana and papaya).
As we enjoyed our breakfast we were offered complimentary Balloons Over Bagan postcards and certificates for completing the flight. USB keys containing photos from our flight (taken by a GoPro camera system attached to the balloon) were on sale for $20 US (including delivery of the key to your hotel later that afternoon).
As we watched the balloons being packed up and saw the crew work together to hoist the massive basket on the back of the truck, Graeme told us that the pilots didn't accept tips but anyone wishing to acknowledge the hard work of the local crew could leave a tip in the box on the bus. He said they were one of the best crews he ever worked with and, given their harmonized movements when packing up the balloon, I can certainly see them worthy of such high praise.
Before long, it was time to board the vintage buses and return to the hotel. It wasn't yet 9:30 am but I felt like I had already had a full day. Hot air balloon rides are an incredible travel experience and I cannot think of a more exhilarating location to enjoy them than in Bagan.
Hot air balloon rides definitely fall into the "splurge" category and those in Bagan are no exception. Prices start at $320 US per person, which is an average price for most markets. Without a doubt, this is the most worthy splurge I've ever come across. It would be well worth swapping a few nights in a hotel for a guesthouse or hostel in order to pay for a Balloons Over Bagan experience. It was the the most stunning travel experience of my life and has set the bar for all future travel experience.
We'd love to hear from you!
This is one of the most popular articles on the blog and we're SO excited that so many of you are traveling to Myanmar! We'd love to hear about your trip and, in particular, hear about your experience in Bagan.
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Where to Stay in Bagan
Where To Eat In Bagan
Sailing The Irrawaddy - Traveling from Mandalay to Bagan by Boat.
Welcome to Mandalay - Day 9 of Our Round The World Trip.
Everything You Need to Know About the Mandalay Airport.
Besotted with Bagan: Day 10 &11 of Our Round The World Trip
At Long Last: Yangon. Day 12 &13 of Our Round The World Trip
Guest House Review:Yangon's Motherland Inn 2
The WORST Travel Experience of my Life: The Overnight Train from Bagan to Yangon
Balloons Over Bagan provided us with a media rate in exchange for a review. This compensation did not affect our experience and all opinions remain my own.
19/1/2014 01:27:18 am
I'm so glad you enjoyed the instagram pics! Myanmar can be a challenging place to travel at times, but it's also so rewarding!
19/1/2014 05:34:03 am
I'm scared at the idea of riding in a hot air balloon, but I would push that aside for this. Absolutely beautiful. That is definitely and experience of a lifetime.
19/1/2014 06:46:14 am
I was scared too! Adventures are not my thing! But the staff were so good they really put me at ease and the balloon was so gentle and so stable that I was utterly relaxed. Much less scary than a roller coaster or a zipline (both of which I chickened out on in the past)!
19/1/2014 11:37:12 am
These photos are incredible! I've always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon, but I'm scared of heights and get motion sickness. I'm not sure if it's right for me. I've heard it's more like floating and isn't so bad so it's probably just getting past the fear that's the hard part.
19/1/2014 12:34:04 pm
I can't say much about the fear of heights except to reassure you that you are always looking out, not down, and that the basket goes up very high on your body, so there is no sensation of falling out - you can't even lean out! But in terms of motion sickness it is a dream. I get horrible motion sickness and I felt not even a flutter in the balloon. The fresh air, the unobstructed view, and the steady float of the balloon were all great. I honestly did not feel the balloon shake or vibrate once.
19/1/2014 07:56:24 pm
Gorgeous photos!! Would love to see some videos if you took any! I did a balloon ride in Egypt, but we passed on the Bagan ones just because of the price. Sounds like you certainly got your money's worth!! :)
20/1/2014 02:23:19 am
Video will be coming soon!
20/1/2014 02:24:36 am
So glad you enjoyed it!
21/1/2014 01:50:26 pm
Your pictures are just incredible and I can certainly understand why this is an ultimate adventure for you. What an unforgettable experience! Truly worthy of a splurge. I've always wanted to go on hot air balloon rides that have this much great scenery. I can't get over how many temples and pagodas there are in this area.
22/1/2014 12:43:29 am
I know - there are literally endless temples no matter which direction you look in! I would do it again in a heart beat!
22/1/2014 06:39:20 am
This is beautiful. And all those temples below, it reminds me of watching an Indiana Jones movie.
22/1/2014 09:28:28 am
You're right - it does look like something straight out of the movies!
22/1/2014 09:29:02 am
Agreed! It's the best place I can imagine!
23/1/2014 06:48:10 pm
I actually have no words to tell you how jealous I am and how much I would love to do this!! It's only this and one other post that I read about this that even led to me to find out about the balloon experience here - this is why travel blogs are so great! Hope I make it there one day!
24/1/2014 01:51:40 am
Thank you so, so much! I too hope you can make to Myanmar (and Bagan) one day. Happily, travel to this region is much more accessible and user-friendly now than it was even a year ago.
25/1/2014 02:51:55 am
I can't wait to hear about your Myanmar plans - I hope you get there soon!! The balloons are well worth scrimping and saving to make it happen - an amazing splurge. And yes, avoid the train at all cost!
26/1/2014 05:25:46 am
How exciting! I had the opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride at the Balloon Festival in New Mexico and didn't take it. Now I'm kind of glad I didn't so that this can be my first experience!
27/1/2014 07:59:45 am
Oh, I hope you get to go to Myanmar soon! I wold love to hear about your experiences - Balloons Over Bagan is absolutely worth waiting for.
30/3/2014 02:04:48 am
Thank you so much - I'm so glad you like the post so much! It was truly the experience of a life time - hope you get to go soon!
22/11/2014 01:24:58 pm
I can't wait to do one again - you get an entirely new appreciation for the beauty of the landscape!
26/9/2015 04:48:01 pm
Looks amazing, going in December. Is there an opportunity to visit and walk around the temples or just fly over them?
26/9/2015 05:14:50 pm
I'm so excited for your upcoming trip! Unfortunately no, there is no ground component to the trip. Once you land, there is the sparkling wine, pastries, and fruits and some relaxation time but you're not within walking distance of a temple during that period. And then the bus comes to drop you off to your hotel. I think you could probably arrange to be dropped off to another central location other than your hotel if you make plans to meet up with a ground based tour later in the morning.
16/10/2015 11:14:06 pm
17/10/2015 11:57:12 am
Thanks for letting me know Alexa! If you could let us know what page you were on that had the 'wrong' link, that would be great. I can correct it for future readers. Happy travels!
31/1/2016 12:17:30 am
Thank for this and your other Myanmar posts :) like you said, its such a splurge that its got me hesitant to add to my trip even though EVERYONE says its a must lol Just a quick question: did you buy the USB pictures? if so, how did they come out or were you able to view a few before making your decision?
4/2/2016 01:51:42 pm
I feel you on the splurge concerns. I'm a gal who usually obsesses over a dollar or two so this definitely rang in as a massive treat. My justification was in part that if I was ever going to do a hot air balloon ride, this would be the location to do it. We've never regretted it, and while we have been massively tempted to repeat a balloon ride in other destinations, we've always felt happy to tell ourselves it's okay to turn it down because nothing could compare to Bagan.
We did not take the balloon ride, but enjoyed Bagan very much, a truly magic place! And we have been recommending your blog post to several people asking us about the balloons... :-)
24/2/2016 09:44:47 am
Hi Maria - Thank you so much for sharing this! We truly appreciate your recommendations and we're so glad you enjoyed your time in Myanmar and that our posts could help. It's such a remarkable country and we are always so thrilled to hear that people enjoyed their trip there. Thanks for sharing your blog pics too!
12/8/2021 02:52:10 am
The team seemed very organized and I know the plan was to have the USBs dropped off to each participants' hotel that afternoon. Given our experience with them, I'd feel confident saying that I think they'd adhere to this timeline. But if you were departing right away after your balloon ride, it might make things difficult.
15/8/2021 02:10:33 pm
That's good to know - thanks Anna!
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