Have you ever wondered how much you would pay for a once in a lifetime experience? What if that experience lasted about 45-60 minutes? Is it even really that unique? On a cold clear morning in Bagan, we were able to answer this question; our hot air balloon ride with Balloons over Bagan really was the unique and amazing experience we were hoping and expecting it would be. There really is no better way to fully take in the full extent of how many pagodas were built on the Bagan plain 800 years ago, then to fly 3000 feet above them all. If you can manage to fit this activity into your budget, we strongly suggest that you do!
Leading up to booking our flight, Anna-Lisa and I had the following back and forth a few times:
Anna-Lisa: Are you sure we want to spend $800 for 1 hour? That’s a third of our entire budget in Myanmar!
Aurelien: I know it’s kinda crazy, but on the other hand, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Plus, its “only” $760.
Anna-Lisa: Fine, but don’t say we are over budget if I order an extra dish tonight.
Clearly, I was the more excited partner in our decision to book this flight. Personally, I had been wanting to fly in a hot air balloon since I was young and saw one flying over the reservoir in Fairfield many afternoons. The balloons always looked so peaceful and the view is killer! So when I started researching what to do in Bagan and saw that Balloons over Bagan took people up to see the view every morning, I got excited, especially when I saw some of the pictures people had taken up there.
Taking the tour seemed like a no-brainer; however, the price gave me pause. The cheaper option was $320/person for the 45-60 minute ride, and the more expensive premium option $380. If I needed to look up the definition of a splurge, this would fit in well, considering that it ended up costing us more than all the rest of our travel around Myanmar combined. Still, it was something I really wanted to do, and I managed to convince Anna-Lisa she would love it too.
At this point, I’m sure that any math inclined readers will have figured out that we choose to pay the extra $60/person for the Premium Package. Why, you ask? I decided very quickly that if we were going to do this trip, it made sense to really get the most out of it. There are a few differences between the two options, but the two that really made it worth it to me were as follows:
- The regular baskets carry 16 passengers, so each compartment is shared by 4 passengers. In comparison, the premium option basket is a bit smaller and only holds 8 passengers, so you only share your compartment with one other person. As Anna-Lisa knows well, I tend to be constantly on the move when there is something to see, turning from one side to the other in order to take in as much as possible. Having 2 other people in our compartment would impede me and bother them.
- With the premium package, you also receive a tour and explanation of the whole operation from the pilot of the balloon. Our pilot, Barry, explained how the balloon works while we watched it get set up and inflated. He was also more than happy to answer all of our questions during the flight and pointed out many interesting things. It was also fun to see how seriously they take the experience, yet how much fun they have flying when they are sure everything is working smoothly.
So what is the flight like? If I was to use one word to describe it, it would be “effortless.” With a flick of the switch, Barry releases a huge flame up into the balloon, heating the air inside and causing the balloon to rise gently. The ground slowly gets further away and your view increases. Combined with the sun coming up over the horizon, the experience is absolutely sublime! I think the pictures will do more justice than words.
As the flight came to an end, Barry looked for a good field to land in. He found one he liked and slowly lowered us toward it. We were warned that the landing could be a bit of a bump, but it was a calm day and we basically felt nothing when the balloon touched down. After we landed, we were served with the traditional champagne toast, along with some light breakfast fare including some delicious banana bread.
Once again, I highly recommend this experience, even with the high cost involved. One note is that we did notice another company with two balloons up in the sky that morning, Oriental Ballooning. When asked, Barry confirmed that they were finally getting some competition, although the new company was still only in the test phase and wasn’t yet approved to fly with passengers. I for one hope that the increased competition means somewhat lower prices for customers, allowing more people to enjoy this experience!