I don’t know why, but there are just some experiences that although they sound fabulous, something in my gut tells me they’re just not right. Like riding an elephant in Thailand. I just couldn’t do that. Although they told us that the money they got from the elephant rides went to save the animals, it seemed, somehow, like the opposite of conservancy. And when I heard that there was a company in Bagan that offered a hot air balloon over the temples, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, it would certainly give you a shot at some awesome photography—not to mention getting a unique aerial view of the some 2,000 temples across the Bagan Plain.
On the other hand, a champagne breakfast and balloon ride over one of the rarer, most sacred archaeological sites in the world? Really?
But I was just ambivalent enough about it to check it out. The major company here offering hot air balloon rides is called Balloons Over Bagan. It’s owned by an Australian, Brett Melzer, and a young woman, Khin Omar Win, who was born in Yangon but raised in the UK. Yes these two are in it to make money (and why shouldn’t they be?) but they also employ about a hundred Bagan locals and take an active role in several community aid projects focusing on health, education, and environmental preservation.
So, good people. And certainly hot air ballooning isn’t doing anything to damage the Bagan Archaeological Zone like, say, zip lining or dune buggy tours. The basic experience costs about $320, which isn’t cheap but what the hell. It would certainly be a one-of-a-kind experience. But, alas for me, it’s also very popular and the ballooning, which only runs from October 1 to March 31, usually sells out way in advance. There is a wait-list I was told but I’m not going to be here long enough for it to do me any good. But when I come back to Bagan—or if you’re going—I would definitely consider doing this.