Seeing Myanmar from A Different Angle: Hot Air Ballooning

By Andrew P. Johnson

The morning air was brisk and smelled fresh as our group huddled around a small table with offerings of coffee, tea, and biscuits. The sky was still dim as the sun hadn’t fully awakened yet, with just enough light to watch as the ground crew prepared the massive envelope for inflation. We didn’t wait long before the captain fired up the burners, lighting up the area with mesmerizing flames. As the balloon slowly took shape and stood upright, we were in awe of its size.

After receiving appropriate instructions from Captain Mike, we climbed into the gondola (wicker basket holding the passengers). None of us had ever flown in a hot air balloon before, so we were naturally a little nervous. Nevertheless, we eagerly waited for liftoff. The very moment we left the ground, all our fears immediately vanished — into thin air you could say.

Click here to see the photo gallery from the balloon experience.

The balloon lifted off with unexpected grace, and I was taken by surprise at how smooth, calming, and quiet the ride was.

You might think we were in Bagan, an area famous for ancient pagodas and hot air balloons, but you would be mistaken. Instead, we traveled 12 hours north of Yangon — 140 miles east of Bagan — to a lake famous for its fishermen that paddle with one leg while balancing on the end of their canoe. There we meet up with our flight crew on Inle Lake in Shan State.

The balloon didn’t need to get very high before you get a birds-eye view of the beautiful floating tomato fields, houses on stilts, and fishermen practicing their trade, all nestled in Nyaung Shwe Valley with mountains flanking both sides. The views were so beautiful, no one spoke, we simply tried to absorb every detail our eyes could see.

There have been many forms of transportation invented — airplanes (1903), automobile (1886), bicycle (1817), and steam-powered locomotive (1804) — but the hot air balloon (1783) predates them all. Each of these modes of transportation is satisfying in its own way, but ballooning allows you to experience Myanmar like you’ve never seen before. If you’re planning a trip to Myanmar to see its ancient culture, and traditional way of life, why not do so in one of the oldest forms of transportation?

We took the 6-hour boat tour of Inle Lake the day before — and of course, we recommend that — however, seeing the lake, the valley, and everything else from the balloon’s perspective was spectacular! Even at very low altitudes, you immediately get a different view of Myanmar that just isn’t possible any other way.

After returning to Yangon and talking to a few people about hot air balloons, it became apparent that there were two common statements that hold people back from taking a balloon ride. The first is fear of heights. I also wondered how I would feel during the trip, but no one from our group had an issue. In fact, it’s said that ballooning doesn’t usually affect people with fear of heights, because it travels with the wind, making the basket very stable in flight, and I would agree with that. As I mentioned above, it was a very smooth ride.

Cost was the other issue people cited. Ballooning is highly regulated in Myanmar with strict guidelines. We flew with Balloons over Inle, the same company that operates Balloons over Bagan. Their balloons are built to British aerospace standards and imported from the UK. Everyone working with their team — from the ground crew to inspectors, and pilots — are professional. Captain Mike was no exception and provided a highly enjoyable experience. Knowing you are getting the best from an experienced company, is worth the peace of mind.

To find out more about Balloons over Inle, or to book a flight, visit their website here: