How did you celebrate your birthday this year? I was in the sky, breathing in the burmese air while watching the sun rise behind the horizon, leaving the temples of Bagan in a bright glow (not to brag but I needed something beautiful to get over the fact that I am a quarter of a century old now)
However, I didn´t stray too far from my usual boozy birthday´s since we were given a glass of champagne when we landed ( I got two glasses as a birthday favour from our pilot Piers). And my birthday gift? A flight certificate and balloon shaped champagne cork with Pier´s autograph.
Now lets get back to basics – what do you need to know about booking your hot air balloon ride?
There are 3 different ride providers, Balloons over Bagan, Oriental Balloons, Golden Eagle and only 21 balloons are allowed to fly through the Bagan skies at one time.
We flew with Oriental Balloons, why? It had great reviews and was also one of the cheaper options.
Tip: Book your hot air balloon through an agent as it will be cheaper than booking it directly with the balloon company.Here is a reliable travel agent that we used for our buses and hot air balloons:
Golden Eagle is a good choice if you would prefer a more personal experience as they offer 4 and 6 person balloons(roughly 330-350US) while Oriental Balloons has 8 or 12 person balloons for the same price (300 US if you book through an agent).
Balloons over Bagan has a 12 or 16 seater for 320 US (300US through an agent) or an 8 seater premium.
In Myanmar, Western Union is a very popular form of transferring money as card transfers take an extra long time to process. Our agent asked us to wire the 600 US for the two of us via Western Union as we made the booking a week before our departure date. Everyone told us not to do it – its a scam, why can´t you pay by card, there is so much fraud in Myanmar. We were in two minds, but our agent sent us their official agency license, Oriental Balloons confirmed that they work closely with them too, so we decided to go ahead with the wire. And it all went well!! Phew – so if your in the same boat, I recommend the YTT travel agency or just call up the balloon provider to confirm that they work with the agent you found
Now that I´ve gotten the logistics out the way, lets get back to the magical flight.We got picked up from our hotel at 5:45 and arrived at the take off site in 5 minutes. We were then all sat down and given coffee/tea and pastries while introduced to our 7 English pilots. I really hoped we would be placed in a 8 seater instead of 12 however, as luck is never on my side, we got the 12 seater. They base their calculations on weight and groups that want to stick together.
The balloons are all split into compartments for either 2 or 3 people, so to be perfectly honest, I don´t think there is a huge difference between the 12 and the 8 seater balloon. We saw everything we wanted to, and it was breath-taking. My bank account might not agree, but it was so worth it.
The balloon pilot can only take the balloon up or down and rotate it, but he cannot steer it – that´s the wind´s job. So every morning, the winds are tested, to decide where take off takes place, whether its safe and how long we have. And where you land is always a surprise.
Launching the balloon is quite a spectacular sight and requires a whole team of men, some fire and a powerful fan.
Then you climb in, its possible in a maxi dress FYI. Take off is smooth and effortless, maybe because your too busy concentrating on the fact that you are floating above ground level. The whole ride lasted about an hour, watching the sun rise, and having a birds eye view of mystical Bagan.
The balloons are restricted at 200 ft. in Bagan since the airport is in close proximity, that just means your floating but still in reach of close up views of the pagodas.
If there is anything that I can promise you, it is that you will never forget the feeling you had when you looked to the ground beneath you while the sun kissed your face. Like they say, life is all about the moments that take your breath away – this was one of them.
If you are planning your visit to Bagan, and you can save the extra 300 US, then do it. Because in a few months, after a few pay cheques, you will forget about how your bank account looked like, but you will not forget what it felt like to float over Bagan.