IN BEAUTIFUL BALLOONS
The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky
For we can fly, we can fly–Jimmy Webb
NISARAT SITASUWAN / CHATON CHOKPATTARA / SWISS-IMAGES.CH
Around the World in Eighty Days, an adventure novel by the French writer Jules Verne, mentioned a hot air balloon only once, but being on a hot air balloon is a timeless and favourite experience, presented in the movie version of the story in both the 1956 and 2004 films.
Hot air balloons originated in France in the late 18th century, initially used in warfare during the American Civil War. Later, they were used for leisure and breaking records. Hot air balloons are something out of a fairytale as they take off from the ground and float into the sky, taking you to see the world beneath your feet. It’s also an adventure of a kind, as it’s not easy to control a hot air balloon’s direction. Hot air balloon flights rely on the wind and weather, and the pilot must be skilled and experienced, especially when landing. Today, hot air balloons are mostly used for short-distance travelling and are considered a sport.
Being on a hot air balloon is many people’s dream. It takes you to see panoramic views, high above the ground, and gives you a feeling of flying. It gives you such an adrenaline rush, and if you ride on a hot air balloon once, you’ll want to come back for more.
Here are the best places for a hot air balloon ride which always make it to the bucket list of many people.
SEA OF PAGODAS IN BAGAN
Bagan, Myanmar is famous for its thousands stupas and long history which dates back to 1,000 years ago. The glorious time for Buddhism was in the reign of King Anawrahta Minsaw (1044-1077) who built many stupas for good fortune. The King’s stupa was the largest, surrounded by smaller ones built by royal family members, state officers and the elite. The Bagan Empire came to an end in 1309. During its most glorious days, it was home to more than 4,000 stupas. Natural disasters and earthquakes, including the one which rocked the city a few years ago, damaged most of the stupas, leaving only 2,000 today.
To explore the temples, stupas and shrines in ancient Bagan, it takes a lot of time. Visitors to some archaeological sites of Bagan have been banned from climbing its famous pagodas. At sunrise and sunset, haze surrounds these places, so it looks as though the stupas emerge from water. Looking at the sea of stupas in Bagan from a hot air balloon has become one of the most popular activities for visitors.
It’s best to ride a hot air balloon at dawn so you can see the sun rise. Your pilot doubles as your guide and can tell you the history of important stupas. The ride takes about an hour. In addition to the stupas, you can also see the way of life of Myanmar people along the Irrawaddy. A hot air balloon ride costs about 350 USD per person and each balloon can fit around 8-16 persons. The best time to ride a hot air balloon in Bagan is from October to March.
Egypt is one of the earliest hot air balloon destinations in the world. The country has always been a favourite among European travellers. The best spot to ride a hot air balloon in Egypt is Luxor, home to the magnificent Karnak Temple Complex, the Nile River, and the Valley of the Kings where pharaohs and powerful nobles were buried. Another popular destination is Hatshepsut’s Temple, a mortuary temple dedicated to the longest ruling female of Ancient Egypt, Queen Hatshepsut.
Luxor covers both sides of the Nile River, so the best way to get a full view of the city is to take a hot air balloon ride in the morning. Take a ferry to the west bank of the Nile and continue to the hot air balloon port. As hot air fills the balloon, embark on it and get ready to fly into the sky as the sun emerges from the horizon.
Hot air balloons in Luxor are big and can welcome 20-24 passengers at a time. In the morning, the balloon takes you through the Valley of Kings (it can be hard to tell which pharoah’s tomb it is) and Hatshepsut’s Temple which stands in its glory amidst a vast desert. The highlight is seeing how the Egyptian locals live, and you can even see their bedrooms as the balloon flies above their roofs.
A hot air balloon ride here takes about an hour to 90 minutes and costs about 100-180 USD per person.
Egypt is one of the earliest hot air balloon destinations in the world
Hot air balloons in Luxor are big and can welcome 20-24 passengers at a time
One of the hottest destinations today is Cappadocia in Turkey, known for its beautiful balloons.
Cappadocia has unique rugged terrain and was home to humans thousands of years before Christ up until the Byzantine era. There are underground tunnel complexes and stone formations known as fairy chimneys. From the sky, it looks like some elf village straight out of a fairytale.
The centre for hot air balloons is Göreme. You should book your ride a day or two in advance, as you have to consider the weather of that particular day. The ride begins early in the morning. Eat something light before riding the hot air balloon and spend an hour or 90 minutes enjoying the ride. After you land, champagne is handed out and you receive a commemorative flight certificate for keepsake.
The best season for hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia is in winter when stone formations are sprinkled with snow. Each balloon can accommodate 8-20 passengers, depending on its size, and the ticket is 180-300 USD per person.
BALLOON SAFARI IN KENYA
Another legendary place for hot air balloons is Kenya, where you can enjoy a balloon safari experience. It’s a must-do activity while in Kenya.
The Masai Mara is largely open plains with several animals living amidst beautiful nature. Game drives are one of the most popular ways to see wildlife on a safari at Masai Mara. Whether you go there in the morning, evening or night, you will see animals in their natural habitat. The best season is the annual Great Wildebeest Masai Mara Migration where you can see thousands of wildebeests running in the same direction, offering a spectacular view.
As with other balloon destinations, you should go to the point of embarkation at dawn. As the sun rises, balloons take off into the sky while the sun makes its way up.
At dawn, many animals start their day and begin their search for food. Some carnivores like lions wait for their prey, while nocturnal carnivores like leopards take their prey on higher branches of trees to keep it safe. Riding on a hot air balloon can give you a view of these natural moments.
Another highlight of hot air balloon rides in Kenya is when they land. In addition to getting a glass of champagne, you also get to enjoy freshly cooked breakfast amidst the vast plains. Therefore, tickets are quite expensive, about 400 USD per person. The ride takes about 60-90 minutes and each balloon can take 4-16 passengers at a time.
The Masai Mara is largely open plains with several animals living
At dawn, many animals start their day and begin their search for food
ROLLING SOUTH MORAVIA
Rolling hills of South Moravia in Czech Republic has always been ranked one of the world’s most beautiful places. In summer, its greenery is due of various agricultural crops, while after the harvest season, it turns various shades of brown, with rolls of hay packed in preparation for the coming winter.
In addition to rolling hills, South Moravia also has small villages, old towns and castles. When you’re on a hot air balloon, you will feel as if you’ve stepped into the medieval era.
Its balloon hub is Brno. Each balloon can welcome around 4-6 persons, or a bigger one can take up to 16. An hour’s ride is priced around 100-150 USD per person.
Its balloon hub is Brno. Each balloon can welcome around 4-6 persons
WINTER IN CHÂTEAU-D’OEX
Château-d’Oex is dubbed the world capital of hot air ballooning. In January and February of each year, the International Hot Air Balloon Festival of Château-d’Oex takes place. Now in its 41st year, it is attended by around 100 pilots who bring together balloons in various shapes to show their skills and offer an exciting hot air ballooning experience to visitors.
Château-d’Oex is a municipality in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland, surrounded by mountains and heights. It has breathtaking views, especially in winter when it’s covered with snow, making its villages look like something out of a fairytale.
During the balloon season, there are two sessions for sightseeing, at 9:30am and 2pm. It takes about an hour or 90 minutes, priced at 390 Swiss francs per person. Make sure you’re in good health as the balloons can go over 3,500 ft high.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR BALLOON FLIGHT
1. Hot air balloons depend on different weather factors, and booking a ride in advance doesn’t guarantee you will get to experience it. However, you can get a refund if the weather doesn’t permit and you can’t wait for the next day.
2. Keep warm and wear something close-fitting. Even in summer, when you’re that high up, it gets quite chilly.
3. Wear shoes that cover your feet and are flat as you might need to walk a bit after getting off the balloon.
4. You are not allowed to bring bags or backpacks on the balloon. Only belt bags or neck pouches are allowed.
5. Cameras and phones should be hung around your neck. If you drop your items, you can’t stop the balloon and retrieve it.
6. Use the restroom before going on the balloon because it won’t make restroom stops for you.