One of the most memorable experiences during an already fascinating 14-day river cruise along the Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady) River was our early-morning hot-air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan. This ancient city in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar, formerly Burma, is full of opportunities for post-card worthy shots to send back home. Sure, you can climb to the upper terraces of several of the area’s holy sites, but the best views are found soaring over the 2,200 ancient temples and pagodas.
What It's Really Like: Our balloon adventure began before dawn when a vintage, World War II-era bus picked us up from our ship and drove us to the departure point. After some coffee and a quick safety briefing by our pilot, we climbed into the eight-person basket and got ready to take to the skies. Having walked among the archeological zone’s sites the previous afternoon, the tranquil six-mile ride gave us a completely different experience and a new appreciation for the dramatic architecture. The old fashioned mode of transportation fits in nicely with the scenery of the ancient city.
The Basics: Companies started hot-air balloon flights here in 1999, and the industry has grown steadily since. Now, three companies (Oriental Ballooning, Golden Eagle Ballooning, and Balloons over Bagan) release as many as 20 balloons each morning during the season, which typically runs from the beginning of October through the end of April. The trip lasts 45 minute to one hour, and each balloon ascends up to 1,000 feet at wind speeds of up to 8 knots. These trips aren't cheap — flights start at $320 per person, including hotel or ship pickup and drop-off. Book early since space is limited.