A few days ago I posted about our trip to Myanmar, and hinted about the best morning of our trip, perhaps one of the best mornings ever.
One morning during our stay in Bagan we took a sunrise balloon flight with Balloons Over Bagan.
It was absolutely incredible.
The morning began, as all too many seem to on our trips around Asia, with a 5.30am pick up. We bumped along in the dark to the take off site, not really knowing where we were heading, trying to recognise in the blackness the roads we’d cycled along in the day.
We arrived into a field. In the darkness we could just make out four enormous dusky red balloons, spread out flat on the ground, baskets tipped on their sides beneath them.
After much needed coffee and biscuits, we watched the burners fire up and the balloons inflate. Slowly the began to swell, the fabric becoming domed and rounded. As the balloons filled they began to lift off the ground, pulling the basket upright, straining against the ropes.
One by one the balloons began to gently lift off the ground. We clambered into the basket, and waited nervously, excitedly.
Slowly, softly, we lifted off the ground, then higher and higher into the air. As someone who struggled to climb to the top of the temples without clinging to the side, legs wobbling and heart racing, I was expecting an attack of vertigo to hit any minute. It didn’t happen. The balloons move with the winds, meaning none of the usual bumping and gliding we associate with air travel, and the basket feels so sturdy that I felt perfectly safe.
The sun rose over the plain, casting a bright yellow and deep orange warmth across the sky.
The temples glowed red in its light.
Mists clung to the ground in long thin sheets, the tips of trees and temples just visible above them. Ethereal and other-worldly. Beautiful.
Ian, our pilot, roared the burners into life, warming up cold faces and taking us higher to catch the winds. Every few minutes he slowly turned the basket, giving us panoramic views right across the plains of Bagan.
The sound of early morning Buddhist chanting drifted up through the clear air.
Getting up high is the perfect way to appreciate the scale of Bagan. Temples, temples, temples as far as you can see. The larger ones standing proud and tall against the skyline. The smaller ones, hundreds and hundreds of them, dotted in between.
Bagan really is a sight that needs to be seen to be believed.
The scale of it is just immense. You could wander between temples for days and days and still be left with more to see. It is incredible to think of an age where this kind of construction took place. Perhaps even more incredible to think that most are still being used for their original purpose.
We floated closer to the great Ayeyarwady river. It’s huge, sweeping sandbanks marking a final edge to the panorama of temples.
The dreamy golden glow of sunrise gave into the clear harsh light of the dawn. We began to descend. Our pilot was in constant communication with the ground crew and the other balloon pilots, gauging where we might land, making sure the crew would be there when we did. Looking down we could see the distinctive red vehicles scurrying about through roads, tracks and fields, each one trying to get to the landing site at the same time as their balloon.
We came down towards a field, then went up again a little to get us onto the right track, then down again. We saw our crew rushing over, ready to catch the basket and stop us bumping along the ground. Braced in our landing positions we didn’t see the moment when we actually landed, in fact we barely even felt it. We came back to the ground incredibly softly. Many pairs of hands grabbed the edge of the basket, bracing their weight against it to stop us floating up again.
The fabric at the top of the balloon was pulled in and the balloon began to rapidly deflate. Red canvas folded in on itself and tumbled towards the ground.
We hopped out the basket and were greeted with croissants, fresh fruit and banana bread.
Our pilot cracked open the champagne and we toasted to soft landings.
One of the most incredible experiences, and still back at the hotel before breakfast!
If a balloon ride over Bagan isn’t on your bucket list yet, it should be.