Ballooning over Bagan

Quite early on in our relationship, Jo introduced me to an amazing non-narrative documentary film about the world called Baraka. So when, through my work, we got the chance to go to an advance screening of its sequel Samsara, we jumped at it. And of the very many utterly incredible images that the film showed, one that really jumped out at us was the footage taken from a hot air balloon over the ancient temples of Bagan. We left the cinema suitably inspired and wanting to go experience some of it for ourselves.

Cue forward about 9 months and we're on the overnight bus from Yangon to Nyaung U in Bagan with a couple of freshly purchased ballooning tickets in our pockets and smug smiles on our chops!

Cue forward another 9 hours and the smiles have temporarily gone as we arrive in Nyaung U at 4.15am, having barely slept, to the realisation that we aren't going to be able to check into our room for another 7 hours or so, and with uncomfortable wooden chairs and buzzing mosquitos as our only friends. A stark reminder that travelling ain't all fun and games.

Our balloon trip wasn't actually for a few days yet, so we had plenty of time to explore Bagan's temple-strewn plains variously by foot, horse & cart and bicycle, before we took to the air. Shwezigon Paya was our first stop, a big gilded zedi / stupa a short walk outside Nyaung U.

Howard Marks particularly liked this photo!

The next day we booked ourselves a horse & cart, with a friendly young betel nut chewing driver called Sumo, to take us around some of the key temple sights.

Sumo also found us a nice crumbling rooftop to watch the sunset from...

Next it was the turn of pedal-power to take us the 2 mile journey from Nyaung U to the bulk of the 4,000 or so temples, and along the dusty tracks that connect them. A sentence which really just serves as an interlude to yet more photos...

The day had arrived, and we were picked up from our hotel at 5.30am by one of Balloons Over Bagan's lovingly restored pre-WWII Chevrolet buses and driven to the launch area near Shwezigon Paya for coffee and biscuits while we watched the balloons being filled up...

And then we were up, up and away in our beautiful balloon, floating gently across the villages and temples as the sun began to rise from the east. A magical experience!

And to wrap up a fine indulgent morning, we were treated to a champagne breakfast upon landing. Just don't ask us how much the trip cost!

While in Bagan we also had some pretty spectacular food, with our favourite eatery being a little bamboo shack called Bibo that was run by a charming young Burmese couple who created the most amazing Thai and Burmese food in a tiny kitchen with just two small gas stoves. All the more remarkable as 'amazing Burmese food' is practically a misnomer.

And it was during one of these meals that we agreed upon a few important life decisions - one of which being to stop smoking, for good, on the slow boat to Mandalay...


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