The one thing I knew I wanted to do was to have a hot air balloon experience over the Bagan temples. There are a number of options, which can made the entire process of selecting which company to go with quite tricky, especially when I’m about to put a large amount of money down.
There are options as cheap as $280 for standard services, and as expensive as $480 for premium services. If you want the entire balloon to be a completely private experience, I’m not quite sure how much that would fare, but if I were to take a wild guess, roughly $3500.
Note: All prices quoted are in USD as were as of February 1, 2016. Prices may fluctuate according to season.
After doing some research, I narrowed it down to contacting three companies for standard service ballooning rates, and here’s what I found out:
- Oriental Ballooning: $280 per person
- Golden Eagle Ballooning: $300 per person
- Balloons Over Bagan: $320 per person
Tip: Try and book directly with the companies rather than through travel agents, as their prices quoted were usually in the range of $340 or higher.
Choosing Balloons Over Bagan
Although Balloons Over Bagan was the more expensive option of the three, I still chose to go with them, and these are the reasons why:
- For safety reasons, and that their high quality ballooning gear was brought in from England
- Internationally operating balloon services across the globe under the company name of Eastern Safaris.
- The certified balloon pilots (?) are all foreigners who speak perfect English
- A user-friendly and reliable website that allows you to make secured online payments
- Pre-and post- balloon activities and services seemed comparably better
Recommended Months for Ballooning
The best time to go ballooning over Bagan is actually in November. Although peak season is from October to March, November is recommended by all balloon companies and flight instructors, due to the clarify of the skyline. March is apparently the worst time to go ballooning, as the mornings are extremely foggy.
My Ballooning Experience
The company picked us up in some funky vintage style vans from the hotel at 5:45am. We were offered tea, coffee, and some snacks upon arriving at the ballooning location. The best part about the entire waiting process was actually to watch the balloon staff prepare our balloons. There were rows and rows of balloons being prepped for takeoff at the same time, so we got quite an exciting view of all the balloons puffing up around each other.
There were a total of 16 people per balloon, and a total of 4 sections of baskets in each balloon. We were separated in groups of four and assigned to each of the baskets. For premium services, you would be separated to groups of 2 people, and placed in these baskets, so instead of riding with 16 people, you would be riding with 8 people, Chris, our balloon instructor explained.
Once we took off, the views were out of this world. Not only did we get to see the temples ahead and beneath us, we were also treated to a view of all the other balloons taking off ahead of us and trailing along behind us. Here’s an entire clip of my balloon experience from above!
You never know where the wind blows on that day, so each balloon ride is a different journey with a different landing spot. Each ride can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how windy it is. The starting points for these balloons also vary from day to day, as the staff try to choose the best locations according to the wind patterns.
We landed across the riverbanks on the outskirts of Bagan. This was a true blessing in disguise, as we got to witness the local farmer lifestyle, enjoy the surroundings with a glass of champagne in hand, interact with the children, and take a boat across the river to get back to the mainland where the buses were waiting for us! All-in-all, a great experience. I don’t think I would have seen this side of Bagan, if it wasn’t for us landing here, and for that, I’m truly grateful.
The Ride Back
On our ride back to the hotel, I got a chance to speak with Chris, our British instructor throughout the journey. I found out that he once travelled 4 hours on a hot air balloon on his own, starting from Germany, going across the Alps, to Austria, through Slovenia and finally arriving in Italy. This is exceptionally fast and he explained that he was going at the speed of 48 nautical miles per hour (if I remember correctly), which was four times faster than we were flying over Bagan. The passion and dedication he has for his work is impressive. He even owns his own balloon! Every year, from October to March, he makes his way to Bagan for the seasonal balloon flights, and for the reminder of the year, he gets deployed to other locations with the Eastern Safari team. What an adventurous life it must be, to have your own wings and live above the world all year round.
Balloons Over Bagan will forever be one of the main highlights of my life.