It took me years to finally bite the bullet and dump $300 on what I thought would be a 5-minute skydive. Years later, I can still remember my heart pounding. The thrill, the exhilaration, the force of the wind pushing my breath back into my throat. Skydiving was definitely more than a 5-minute experience.
It was the enduring effect that made me realize that spending money on making memories is infinitely more valuable than the outfit du jour. Science has proven it repeatedly.
So when I found out that hot air ballooning over the abandoned ruins of Bagan’s temples was actually a thing, I knew they were going to take my money.
There’s something magical about the idea of riding in a hot air balloon. Maybe because it’s been romanticized so much in our pop culture. Maybe because it seems like something only fictional characters do in children’s books. It seems old timey and fantastical and dammit, I’ve wanted a piece of that since I was a kid.
And so at 5:30 in the morning in Bagan, a rickety bus pulled up to our hotel to take us to the balloon launch site. Despite the early hour, there were no bleary eyes . The excitement and anticipation was palpable as we creaked and groaned our way to the balloons through clouds of dust.
They looked like deflated hams lined up in a row. Sad. Limp. Flat. Ready to be filled with the fire of my extreme anticipation. Honestly, watching them get filled up was half of the excitement. They were HUGE.
There is no graceful way to climb into a hot air balloon. They give you some footholds in the basket, but it’s similar to trying to climb over a fence. If you aren’t used to hurdling things cool-guy style, you just kind of awkwardly straddle the basket for a few minutes while you fumble with your footing and finally land in a red-faced heap on the other side.
Then we were airborne. It didn’t go up very fast, but it was enough for my ears to pop a few times. I’ve never been in the air without the sound of jet engines or roaring wind, so it was almost uncomfortably quiet.
Our pilot would adjust the blast of fire to get the balloon higher or lower at times, but horizontally, we were at the mercy of the wind. It took us AWAY from the most concentrated temple area!
Still, there is indeed something almost fantasy-like as you see this amazing land speckled with ancient temples with other colourful balloons dotting the sky around you.
We floated lazily over the Bagan landscape as dawn turned into day before touching down in a farmer’s field.
Most people don’t really think about what the landing experience is like with a balloon. It’s not gentle. You sit in the basket as momentum pulls it first one way. To counter it, the ground crew pulls it the other way and it starts to overcompensate, so you sway the other way. It’s a game of pulling back and forth until you finally balance out and then unceremoniously haul yourself out of the basket.
Some people will think it’s nutty to spend $300 on something as silly as a hot air balloon. But I’ve never purchased a single item that has retained its lustre – even my favourite things. Three hundred dollars for something that you’ll be able to reflect on for the rest of your life? You tell me if it’s worth it.