Hot air balloons are an iconic part of the image of Bagan, with dozens flying every morning at sunrise across the archaeological zone, scenic from the ground, and even better from the balloons themselves. It’s an expensive (~USD300) but unforgettable experience.
It starts at dawn in a field full of balloons being inflated.
This was my first hot air balloon ride, and I found it a little surreal standing next to the pilot who had four giant gas tanks around him, and four burners above. Flying in a balloon is a blissfully quiet experience, other than when the burners are on.
We rose up to about 1,000m above the ground, above another balloon below.
Since 2015 balloons are not allowed to fly lower than 300m above the archaeological zone but we were still close enough for some pretty good views.
The views improved as the sun rose, bathing the landscape in light.
We landed on the banks of the river, a surprisingly soft and smooth landing on sand.
A bonus treat was these perfectly reflected boats on the still river.
Later the same day I headed out to Mt Popa, an ok half day excursion from Bagan. It’s a moderately interesting temple on top of an extinct volcano, with panoramic if hazy views of the surrounding area.
The downside is the monkeys who inhabit the temple, making walking bare foot a messy experience despite the many cleaners seeking donations. Keep an eye on your belongings as monkeys have been trained to take hats, glasses and water bottles off unsuspecting tourists. They are exchanged with a local for sugar, which then costs the tourist 1,000K (USD65c) to get back. I stayed safe but overheard a guy behind who just had it happen to him, and saw a monkey take off with a ladies water bottle.
A popular stop on the way is a small temple with views of the temple on the summit of Mt Popa.