The experience that we were most looking forward to on our trip to Myanmar was a hot air balloon ride over Bagan. But sadly our flight was cancelled at the last minute, due to poor weather conditions on the day. We tried to find a spot on the next morning’s flight, but because it’s the most popular experience to do in Bagan, it was fully booked for the length of our stay.
We were really disappointed, to say the least. Our remaining options were to get a full refund or to fly over Inle Lake instead since we had three days there later in our trip. We went with the latter option. While there wouldn’t be thousands of temples to fly over, we hoped that it would still be a fun experience. However, this time we did not get too excited about it, in case it was cancelled again.
An early wake-up call for our hot air balloon flight
On the morning of our flight, we had a pickup time of 5.30am. That’s a really early start, and as the alarm came on, we struggled to get out of bed. Waking up before the sun rises always makes me a little bit grumpy, but I knew it was for a good cause. We had an exciting day ahead of us, our first full day in Inle Lake, beginning with a hot air balloon ride.
We had arrived in Inle Lake the night before, just after sunset. After checking in at the Myanmar Treasure Resort, we went straight out for dinner. We hadn’t been able to explore the lake yet, so our shuttle service to the balloon launch site provided our first boat ride on the lake.
As we made our way down to the jetty, it was pitch black outside and quite cold. We hopped on the boat, greeting the two other couples who would join us on the flight. Then off we went, crossing the lake in darkness, with only the glow of the full moon in the sky, and the driver’s torch shining on the surface of the lake to guide us. It was a truly magical and somewhat surreal experience.
My thought at the time was that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now. It was the perfect moment and I didn’t want it to end. I’d felt sleepy prior to hopping on the boat, but the cold air on the lake certainly woke me up! Fortunately, blankets were provided to keep us warm!
After about twenty minutes we neared the other side of the lake, just as the first rays of daylight appeared. We entered a canal and cruised through a village full of houses on stilts, their images reflecting off the surface of the lake. It was our first glimpse of the floating villages of Inle, and from then on we knew that this place was very special.
As we docked at a pier next door to a school, our pilot Donna, was there to greet us. We were treated to coffee (which was very much appreciated!), pastries and cereals for breakfast. As we ate, Donna gave us a short but important pre-flight briefing, while the crew set up the balloons and started up the powerful fans to inflate them. Once they began to fire up the burners, we knew that we could relax. Our hot air balloon flight would not be cancelled this time; it was such an exciting moment!
Once the balloons were standing upright, we were ready to take off. We all hopped into the basket and listened to Donna’s last safety instructions. Once everything was in place, she opened up the burner and off we went.
Take-off was very smooth, and it only took a few seconds before we were up in the air. The view in front of us left everyone in the basket speechless. The wind dictated the path we would take, and it initially took us over the top of the floating villages. The sight of the many colourful houses built on stilts over the lake was incredible. Next, we passed above the floating hydroponic gardens that the lake is famous for, and still we all kept silent, mesmerised by the scenery. The only sound was the clicking of cameras, they definitely had a good workout! It was simply breathtaking, particularly as the sun began to peak out above the nearby mountains, casting a beautiful light over everything beneath us.
After cruising down low for a while to admire the villages and gardens, Donna took the balloon up to a higher altitude, almost 8000 feet. It was amazing to see just how vast the area of floating gardens is. We also got an amazing view of the lake itself. Since it’s hard to describe just how amazing the flight was, I’ll instead add lots of photos!
After an incredible hour in the air, we began a gradual descent to our landing spot, an empty field near a village. Donna landed the balloon expertly, and we stayed in the balloon until the ground crew arrived. Some children from the nearby village came running into the field with their parents. They were really intrigued by the sight of the balloon and the foreigners in it! Some were smiling and waving but others looked a little frightened. Hot air ballooning is still quite new to Inle Lake, and because the balloons land in different spots each time, many locals have not yet seen them up close. Once the ground crew arrived, we hopped down from the balloon, feeling sad that it was over but totally satisfied with such a magical start to our day!
While the crew was busy deflating and packing up the balloon (which only took minutes), we were served Champagne and fresh fruit. We were told that drinking champagne after a hot air balloon flight is the tradition, so who were we to argue? Although it was only 7.30 am, it went down rather nicely! As we sat there sipping champagne, more and more of the local kids approached to see what was going on. We tried to share some of our fruit with them, but they were extremely shy and ran away as we approached them. They were so cute.
That was the end of our hot air balloon experience. We were driven back to a jetty, returning to our hotel by traditional boat. All in all, it was an amazing experience and one that we are unlikely to forget. In fact, it turned out to be the highlight of our trip to Myanmar. It wasn’t Bagan, but this was absolutely money well spent. And Bagan will still be there in a few years time, we’ll just have to try our luck again then.
Which company did we use?
We used Oriental Ballooning and they were fantastic. All of their pilots have UK commercial licenses, and they put our safety first at all times, even if it meant cancelling and losing money like they did in Bagan. All of the pilots and the support crew were super friendly and made sure that we had the most amazing time.
Their balloons were all top notch and well maintained. The balloons in Inle Lake hold six passengers, as opposed to twelve passengers for their balloons in Bagan. There were only two balloons flying in Inle Lake, as ballooning there is newer and less popular than in Bagan. However, I believe that shortly the word will get out and that this will quickly change.
The hot air balloon ride cost US$399 per person. Although it’s certainly not cheap, it was such an incredible experience that we thought it was worth every penny. We would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Inle Lake.
Oriental Ballooning operates flights over Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach.
Accommodation in Inle Lake
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Check out our video
To get a feel for how it felt to glide through the air above the lake, check out our full video of our morning below: