As some of you might have noticed last month I was a bit absent from the blog and those of you who also follow me on Instagram saw that I was traveling through South-East-Asia in February. I normally don’t really share much of my traveling outside of Berlin here because I figure this is not something you are really looking for here on iHeart. But this one story and photo series that I made in Bagan, Myanmar is just too special not to share it…
We arrived in Bagan at the ongodly hour of 4:30 a.m. in the morning. After a quite bumpy bus ride from Yangon, former capital of Myanmar, we were quite tired, but still excited to finally be here. Bagan is supposed to be the main highlight of Myanmar, a plain in the knee of a river that is covered with over 2000 ancient temples and pagodas. It’s hard to imagine when you hear this number, so many in just one small area. But imagine that: 1000 years ago there were more than 20.000 of them, over the centuries many of them were just destroyed by Earthquakes leaving only these few thousands that survived.
It was too early to check into our hotel, or to go have breakfast, so the taxi driver offered to bring us to one pagoda that you can climb on and see the sunrise. Sounded like the best thing to do on our first morning in Bagan. When we arrived there the top levels of the pagoda were already quite busy with people despite the early hour. It turned out to be one of the most popular spots to see the sunrise in the area. The view was spectacular, seeing the sun slowly rise behind the silhouettes of the temples near and far, tinting the panorama around us into a hazy orange and turquoise hue. Smoke from burning leaves was rising between the trees and temples creating an unworldly scenario.
When the hot air balloon fleet of Bagan rose in the distance the picture became even more breath-taking. I had found out about the balloons through our friend Berlinstagram who traveled a similar route through SE Asia a few weeks before us. I was so stunned by his photos that our whole trip kind of became only about getting to this place and doing this balloon ride. It happens there every day and they have 21 balloons, but it’s so popular that you have to book weeks in advance to get a chance. I knew this, so I had made a booking. When I saw the balloons passing by us on the first morning over the tips of the pagodas I knew I made the right choice to book. I was beyond excited. Our own ride was scheduled for the next morning.
We were picked up the next morning at 20:30 a.m. I was actually so excited about the balloon ride that I had trouble sleeping and I wasn’t feeling too well because of that. It was a bit of a ride driving through the area back and forth picking up various other guests that would later fly with us. When we arrived at the field the balloons were still lying flat on the floor, but everything seemed prepared for take-off. While dawn already gave us some early daylight we had a little breakfast on the field and received some instructions. They pilots already cautioned us, that the weather was not ideal and that the flight was uncertain. I kind of didn’t take that serious because the weather seemed super lovely and everything just seemed so ready to go. But then the mood became a bit tense when one of our fellow passengers received notice that the green balloon fleet had canceled. Fuck. Is this really just happening? It dawned on me that our flight was not so certain anymore. To understand the gravity of it: When they cancel your flight, it’s not like they just postpone it and you fly another day. There is only one flight per day, and the following days are of course already fully booked since weeks. There is no back-up, you’re just out of luck.
When they announced that also the red and the yellow fleet – which was ours – were canceled, too, I was pretty gutted. I think I didn’t speak for a few hours while the other people kind of tried to make the best of the situation making funny disappointed selfies. On the drive back to our hotel I really had to struggle with tears a bit, because it was really like a big soap bubble of a dream that just popped. I felt so unprepared for the possibility of a flight cancellation because I was in such a state of excitement and anticipation about the whole experience. It was like the entire trip was only about this balloon ride and taking that away was like taking the “now you may kiss the bride” moment from a wedding. One lady in the van was so forced joyful and annoyingly optimistic that I was really ready to punch to shut up.
I went back to our hotel room to mope with the curtains closed for the next few hours. Of course I tried to get another flight in the next days, but the company responded everything was booked up. Well, how to ruin a vacation… I had quite a bit of time to think about why this was so important to me and why I was so deeply disappointed it didn’t work out. Flying in a hot air balloon was in a way a dream that I had, only I was not really aware of it for a long time, mostly due to the fact that I never came across any places where this was even a possibility. I think seeing that photo from Berlinstagram made me realize this is something that I always had a fascination for, but in the same way you are fascinated with dinosaurs. You’re not really expecting to meet them. Traveling all the way to Bagan for the hot air balloons was my way of time traveling back to the Jurassic to see the dinosaurs.
Seeing the photos above and below you might wonder: so what happened that he did fly after all? It’s simply: I was lucky. We were offered another flight a few days later because someone else canceled their booking. We would have already been at another city on that day, but it was easy enough to extend our stay in Bagan to get another shot at the balloon ride.
What followed was a beautiful couple of days where we had more time at our hands to explore all the area and the temples than we initially thought. We tried out the electric scooters to drive from one place to the next which was great fun. We got up quite early on another morning to get another shot of seeing the sunrise from another angle and chasing after the balloons on our scooters (which we failed at).
On our last morning we were picked up for our second balloon ride attempt. Everything seemed to go quicker this time. Luckily I was feeling much better on that morning, and even though I was still nervous they would cancel again (they had once in the days in between) I didn’t have a lot of time to worry because all of a sudden we were inside the basket and lifting off the ground.
The feeling was incredible. There is no push, no wind, no shaking, no feeling of acceleration. You just float like a feather that weighs nothing. I think this way of flying even tricks your body into not having any kind of vertigo when you look down, no matter how far you are up. It feels absolutely safe and like the most natural thing to do. We were all so excited to be up there, to see the other 20 balloons in green, red and yellow rise up before and behind us creating just the most picturesque image over the orange plain. Seeing the sun rise behind one of the balloons near to us was amazing, flying right over the tips of the temples, some people waving up to you that were already awake at that hour.
It took us maybe 20 minutes before we even reached the area with the temples. Flying over them was such a thrill, obviously we took photos like crazy. The light was so incredibly unreal. The big surprise turned out to be the final stretch of the flight. We had no idea that we would be landing on the river. Not in the water, but on the parts that are dry outside of rainy season. It’s kind of like a beach inside the middle of the river, surrounded by water. It looked so beautiful. It’s a view that I had never seen before in any of the photos of Bagan.
The landing was super smooth. We were in such a mind-blown state. It was more amazing than I would have expected and I am so glad we got this second chance to fly. It seemed like all the suspense about the first flight kind of made this even more intense. Looking up into the balloon with the flame rising up made me realize how gigantic the balloons are.
Once all the balloons had landed the pilot deflated ours and we could get off board. They gave us a little champagne reception and fresh fruit as a reward after the flight. Then we headed back to the mainland by boat and were brought back to the hotel, this time of course with a big smile on our faces. I was so happy about this experience, words cannot describe it. I love when there is this one particular unique highlight that you will forever associate with the entire trip. You should definitely put this one on your bucket list as well if you have one 😉