Nobody said that completing our list of While We’re Alive experiences was going to be easy, and #9-Ballooning Over Bagan in Myanmar is proving to be one of those wallet draining experiences that will make completing it that much sweeter.
Our first attempt really wasn’t a failure, but still an attempt nonetheless. On our first visit to Myanmar in 2011, we had wanted to see Bagan from above to celebrate Katherine’s 25th birthday. Instead, we had to settle for a temple climb sunrise because July is off season for the balloons in Bagan. No big deal…”next time”, we said.
Fast forward to 2016, and “next time” was upon us for Chinese New Year. February is supposed to be ideal for ballooning in Bagan, with its near perfect weather, and infrequent grounding of the balloons, so we thought we had this bucket list item locked up for sure. We booked our flights super early, paying an arm and two legs (thank-you long weekend) for a trip that should’ve cost at least half the amount. That didn’t matter though…we had our sights set on completing this item, and nothing was going to stop us!
When our alarm went off at 5:00 on the big day, the first thing we did was run outside to look for stars. Nothing but clear skies…great news! The bus came right on schedule to bring us to the launch site, and for 45 minutes we bounced and bumped along the dirt roads while mixing some mud pies in our mouths from all the dust.
Once we arrived, our giddy excitement to finally be flying in a hot air balloon was quickly deflated when one of the pilots boarded the bus and said things weren’t looking good. “Not looking good??” The skies were clear, there was hardly a wind, and the crew was nearly all setup. “What wasn’t looking good??!!” An airport to the right, a river to left, and some gusty winds…that’s what apparently.
So, we went through the routine safety briefing, had some tea and cookies, watched a few test balloons go up, and then watched helplessly as the crews starting packing everything up. To say we were disappointed would be a complete understatement. For many of the guests there that day, a flight in the balloon was simply an add on to a trip they had already planned on making. No big deal. We made the trip back to Bagan purely for the ballooning though, and so this hurt big time. Both our wallets and our hearts.
What stung the most though was that as we were just about to board the bus back to the hotel, the two other ballooning companies made the decision to go up after all! Ouch! Their balloons started inflating and as we pulled away with a rising sun behind us, 8 other balloons rose up with it.
As we sat at the hotel having breakfast, painfully watching 3 yellow balloons soar over our heads, we couldn’t help but think whether we’d book with Balloons Over Bagan again. The pilots predictably told us that safety was the sole factor in their decision to ground the flights. However, we would’ve gladly opted for a shorter flight time if that had been an option, and while Balloons Over Bagan remained incredibly professional throughout the whole ordeal, it really hurt watching those other balloons go up.
We’ll definitely be back in Bagan to complete this one, as the longer it takes and more difficult it is, the more badly we want it!