Chasing Temples: My Review of Bagan’s Most Exclusive Activity

8th Feb 2016 ⇒ Somewhere on the Irrawaddy River

Well, I have checked off another box on my bucket list. On Sunday I flew over the Bagan Temples with Oriental Ballooning. Out pilot, Ravi, was British trained and had been flying for over 30 years. Definitely received the best service for any activity I’ve done in Asia! We were taken out to the golf course near Nyaung U for the take-off and had coffee & tea with croissants for breakfast. After a quick introduction, we watched them blow up the balloons. I never realised how technical the whole process really is! Once the balloon was inflated, we had a smooth take off, heading towards the Bagan Resort. We got to fly over a few of the main temples- all the time Ravi explaining a brief history of them. It was an amazing experience!

My only expectation (a.k.a. why I shouldn’t make them!) was that the sunrise photos were going to be amazing. I really think the sunrise ones from our temples (which we had to ourselves) were the best! It was incredible to see the temples in all their glory however! The champagne at 8am wasn’t bad either!

Pros:

  • Coolest way to see the temples.
  • Meet a cool Aussie family.
  • Learnt a lot about what air- ballooning is.

Cons:

  • Started too late for sunrise photos
  • Very small breakfast
  • Still 320 USD!

A Must- Do while in Bagan. Soaring softly over ancient temples as the day slowly warms up with the rise of the sun.

For me, it was probably the most expensive Instagram photo that I will ever take. Gorgeous, though.

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I selected Oriental Ballooning mostly because of TripAdvisor. The original, and well-known, Balloons over Bagan (BoB) was relatively similar in cost but tourists seemed to be more impressed with Oriental. At the takeoff sight, I realised how massive the operation is. BoB had significantly more balloons in the sky than Oriental. There was also the newcomer, Golden Eagle Ballooning.

With the benefit of just a short trip, I decided to treat myself a late christmas present, and booked my flight a few months before my visit to Myanmar. I had seen hundreds of beautiful photos with glowing sun, orange skies and golden temples. I needed some of my own!

The booking process was relatively simple, and they dropped off my “ticket” the night before my flight. Although the 5.30 pickup time simples early, after a day in Bagan, you realised that everyone is there for the sunrises. We were driven out to the golf course for our “breakfast-snack”. Tea (not the yummy Myanmar Sweet Tea) and instant coffee were served alongside some pastries and croissants. We had our introduction and safety briefing shortly after and had a few minutes to watch the pilots and their assistants set everything up. In order of sonority the balloons took off, with Bob starting then Oriental and lastly Golden Eagle.

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Inflating the Balloons

As an obvious safety measure, the balloons can’t fly in the dark. But unfortunately this leads a delay getting airborne. The gorgeous sun-kissed temples are already sitting in the morning sun by the time your flying. The flight was quick but of course, as your standing there soaring over ancient temples… there isn’t anywhere I would rather be. I was very grateful that we had only one couple with a massive overbearing SLR clicking in the corner. I shared my compartment with a family that were content on taking selfies on their phones. Watching our pilot steer this massive instrument was part of the fun!

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Our landing was pretty soft, only momentarily sitting on top of a shrub before we could be pulled away. The pilots unfortunately can’t control the direction, just the height at which we fly. Different times of year mean they have different land spots!

To close the morning off, we had a glass (or two!) of bubbly and shared our excitement while getting our certificates. We had some slices of fruit before getting taken back to our accommodation. I was back by mid-morning to continue Temple- seeing for the rest of the day!

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Thanks Ravi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flashback: Bumpy Trains and Ginger Salad.

09. Feb. 16 -> Somewhere between Goteik + Hsipaw

Well, I’ll start by saying that it’s not that bad! We’re at the point where the train is still swaying but atleast not bouncing! The first hour was definitely the worst! We were literally jumping off our seats! However, its become particularly enjoyable now!

In February this year, I was fortunate to travel to Myanmar for three weeks. With a crisp Lonely Planet on hand, I was eager to see another side of the Asian culture. On my first night in Yangon, I met up with two other amazing travellers, one from Germany and the other Australia. We teamed up for the Circle Line train the following day, and meet another traveller from China. Meeting up again in Bagan a few days later, we would travel the majority of Myanmar together- definitely influencing it for the better 😀

We spent 3 days in Bagan, cycling around and filling ourselves with Burmese donuts and Sweet Tea. Delicious curries for dinner, and an amazing hostel topped it off! (We stayed at Ostello Bello Bagan). From Bagan, we took a day boat to Mandalay. Coming from peaceful Bagan, unfortunately the highlight of Mandalay were the 600Ks Shan Noodles we had for dinner. “With alittle of the pickled spice vegg, it turned out to be the best 60cent dinner in a long time!”

Our 4am departure from Mandalay to Hsipaw meant we weren’t going to be getting much sleep!

This morning meant another early rise to take the train to Hsipaw [pronounced Sis-paw]. We decided to make the trip up for the night as our friend leaves on the 11th and we all wanted to the Goteik Viaduct (built in 1900!). The first hour we bounced around like dice in a cup and established very quickly we probably weren’t going to get much sleep! Our german friend didn’t feel well, and after putting her head on her backpack, in her lap, she was able to sleep. I slept for about an hour, in 2 half hour stints, and again for about 20mins this afternoon.

One of the best experiences of the (will be 11.5 hr) journey is definitely the food!! Each stop, we purchase difference baggies of food. Although the hostel in Mandalay was super kind and made our breakfast takeaway, we got some sticky rice (the dark one again) on our first stop. The boys also picked up some friend things but that was unfortunately very hit+miss. There was only one thing that we all liked (with vegg inside) and most of the other stuff went to the dogs. We also found Chinese tea and milk tea along the way! The boys also tried chilli-salted fruit (papaya + pineapple). For “lunch” we had the fried noodles from another station after Pyin Oo Lwin.

Money for Myanmar?

Do we ever have enough?

Money is on everyone’s minds, at least those of backpackers and travellers. There is no other intriguing time to draw up budgets and tally assets then when one is travelling. As a pre-trip boost I was going through my current travel diary, one that I have used for Romania and two quick trips to Berlin and Zermatt. In the back of the book, there is a small pocket in which I had stuck some Romanian Lei. Although not worth much in Switzerland, the notes I had would at least get me a coffee in Bucharest. It got me thinking about money and how it may influence my impact on Myanmar next month.

I have accepted without restriction that Myanmar certainly doesn’t compare to Thailand in terms of prices, or at least in the accommodation sector! Many seem to expect that all of Southeast Asia can be travelled on 30USD but as we found, especially in cheaper countries such as Laos, when everything is cheaper we (as tourists) tend to indulge a little… and sometimes a lot! Before I had ever backpacked I had no idea what a budget was, honestly. Although I was working full-time before my first trip to Thailand in 2012, I had no idea how to save or budget. I literally got on the plane with two months savings and worked it out when I got to Bangkok.

In comparison, our trip to South America (2013) and then Nepal (2014) we established that 50USD/day. In South America, I was happy that we had travelled Argentina (without using Black Market exchange rates) and Chile first, as they were the most expensive. We then slightly adjusted our budgets when we got further north, but it was certainly tough at times! (It didn’t help that daily bike rental in Chile was 20USD a day!). Once we were in Nepal, we realised we could adjust our budget to around 40USD.

I’m still going to cap my travel budget for Myanmar at 50USD. In Switzerland, that would get my partner and I dinner (without alcoholic drinks). For Myanmar, I have seen some hotel rooms at that price! Doesn’t leave much room for food and activities! We usually end up taking out some local currency, and seeing how long we can go with that amount. As my Lonely Planet is certainly out-of-date on the ever-changing technicalities in Myanmar (currency being one of them), I have accepted that the LP’s Myanmar guide is more of a this-is-how-you-get-there guide. It will be interesting to see how “money matters” are effecting a country with a rapidly changing tourist infrastructure.

Myanmar Part 2: Frustrating Synonyms?

I seriously feel as though I am out on my own on this one. It could be that alot of my friends sort it out back “home”, where its cheaper and doesn’t have a massive language barrier. I have to try and get records sent from Canada. Eventually certain aspects of travelling do catch up.

Immunisations.

It’s totally a 1st world problem. I understand. But I am pro-vaccination and I learnt that I’m at that age where (almost) everything needs boosters or done again. When we lived in Australia a few years ago, we got our Yellow Fever and Typoid/Hep A. Nobody told us that the 400 AUD we spent wasn’t going to last forever… a few years later, and I get another Hep A shot. I thought I was being really good when I pulled out my little yellow booket and showed him what I had done… The german doctor had to take it away and assess. Or translate. Still not sure on that one.

Probably didn’t help I leave in two weeks and there is usually an 8 week recommendation… There was an eyebrow-raise at that point.

Even though I had the whole appointment in German, and didn’t understand 100% of it, I know I need to go back tomorrow. Afternoon. And pick up something. I think tablets. Another Typhoid boost?

In Switzerland, the private medical will cover any immunisations that are part of the regular system when your a kid… but anything you need (or want) when it comes to jet-setting around the world is on your shoulders. And bank account.

I asked how much I needed to pay today. We’ll send you a bill. And a heart-attack. (This is Switzerland after all).

Myanmar: Part 1

Unterseen. 16.12.2015

Well, two months later and I’m that much closer to Burma!

One of the Asian countries that has long been at the top of my bucket list is Myanmar, even if it just for the hot balloon ride over the Temples of Bagan. However, after looking more into the country and learning about its history (and appreciating Buddhism more) I am excited more than ever to head out in Febuary.

… Tickets are booked! So far I’ll be staying in Myanmar for 3 weeks- I have my balloon flight on the 7th! Bucket list is slowly getting completed! I have only booked accomadation for when I arrive in Yangon & then Bagan as I wanted to have those two places organised!

On the 21st I fly back to BKK and will head up to Chang Mai for a week. Maybe do some trekking and visit the Sukhothai Ruins! By the time I’m there, Sara and Phil will be living in Bangkok so hopefully I’ll get to catch up with them!!

I’m super excited to be heading to Thailand again especially to a part that I haven’t been before ❤

On the 22nd I go to Genf to arrange my passport visa 🙂 and I ‘ve booked my vaccinations for the 12th Jan. I guess Typhoid doens’t last more than a year!! My sister is still looking at meeting me at the end of Feb- but with my plans pretty locked in- I don’t think to omuch will come of it. [However] she is pretty adiment that she will be meeting me there- we will see!