Tim Foolery

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Balloons Over Bagan

When one thinks of Bagan, they often think of the sunrise over the pagodas and temples, with a slight smokiness in the air – observed from a silent hot air balloon.  We decided to experience this very touristy aspect of Bagan – and we loved it.  Our guides suggested we use Balloons Over Bagan (BOB) as our balloon operator.  They came highly recommended for their equipment, safety, native English speaking tour guides and quality tour product in general.  BOB was not inexpensive – it cost us $300 per person. I don’t know if others were less expensive, but in this case, I’m not sure I’d like to go with a local operator to save some money where you could get stuck with a less safe experience.

Our trip started at 04h50 when BOB’s bus pulled up to our hotel.  Other guests at the hotel were waiting for other operators, but we were the first picked up.  We take the old rickety bus to a couple other hotels and then finally to the launching point.  We arrive at around 05h30 and were greeted with some tea and biscuits to accompany our safety briefing.

Our chariot arrived before 05h00. It was as comfortable as it looks.

Our safety briefing was held in the round with tea, coffee and cookies.

The guides with BOB were highly trained balloonists who work year round flying these balloons all over the world.  Our guide was from the UK and he was knowledgeable and personable.  We were assigned a balloon and waited for the canopy to expand.

Our balloon was the first to lift off that morning.  We were also the last one to arrive at the launch point, so our team was by far the most efficient.  We were airborne 15 minutes before some of the other balloons too.  The view of us slowly floating away from the launch site was beautiful.

We were the first to take off – we quietly lifted away from our fellow Balloons Over Bagan guests.

We were airborne for about 90 minutes and flew up to about 1,200 feet which allowed us to most breathtaking views of the temple areas.  When you think of Bagan and the view from the balloons, you probably think of the fog surrounding the trees and the temples.  That’s not actual fog, it’s smoke from the various fires the locals are burning. Some of it is from fires in the fields – burning the field to improve the health of their fields.  Other fires, and according to our guide, many of these fires, are actually the locals burning their trash.  These trash fires caused a bitter smell in the air.  It did make for a pretty view though.

Three balloon operators were flying our morning. Despite the sheer number of balloons it was still whisper quiet.

Our hotel – the Bagan Lodge, from the air.

Towards the end of our flight, the balloon leaves a heart shaped shadow on the ground.

We hadn’t decided to take the balloon ride until the day before we arrived in Bagan and we were fortunate enough to get space on a balloon.  If you plan on going to Bagan, you must take a hot air balloon ride, don’t stop to think about it for a second, just do it.  Book your reservation early to ensure you don’t miss out.  Our guide was Stephen Kinsey – if you can get with him, do it.

Have you taken a hot air balloon ride before?  Where did you visit?  Were you freaked out a little bit before you took off?  Would you take one of these trips again?

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