Nov 29, 2013

Hot Air Balloon Ride in Bagan Was Not Meant To Be.

* This article about my attempt to the Balloon Ride in Bagan is the uncut version of this writing, which I've uploaded myself.*

It all began in February, 2013 when Air Asia was having a promotion. My actual goal was to book tickets to Chiang Mai to see the Loy Khratong festival In November, but the price was still too much for me. So I tried another interesting destination with bigger discount: Rangoon, Burma. 

A part of Sule Phaya, in Rangoon.

You see, I have this little obsession to visit all the countries in South East Asia and Burma is one of the 3 countries I haven't been (others are Brunei Darussalam and Timor Leste). Waking up at 3 a.m. just to access the Air Asia website, I successfully purchased round trip tickets - for me and Diyan, back then my boyfriend and now my husband - from Jakarta to KL and KL to Rangoon. The total trip is 9 days, with 6,5 days of it being spent in Burma.

I was super excited! It's been a while since I had a trip more than a week long. 

Trying to blend in, wearing longyi :P
Photo was taken on Tha Gyar Hit temple, Bagan.

Browsing on 'what to do in Burma', the excitement rose as high as possible when I stumbled upon a website that talked about hot air balloon ride in Bagan. I forgot what the website was, but it had a photo of the Bagan view taken from the balloon up high. A vast land with forests, sandy plain, meticulous thousands of temples and pagodas seen from above, it was amazing!!

I made up my mind to put balloon ride in Bagan in my itinerary, until I saw the ride fare: USD 320 / pax.
WHAT THE....!!

Suddenly I wasn't so sure about going on the balloon ride.

Balloons over Bagan.. 

However, the Bagan image taken from the balloon was stuck in my mind. Riding the balloon or not, Bagan was absolutely a must-visit to Diyan and me. So it felt like I couldn't live peacefully knowing that I could ride the balloon but didn't. After we got married, we got our finance planned, and voila! The balloon fare was calculated in our travel budget plan!

We were going on a balloon ride over the enchanting Bagan plain!! Travel plans didn't get more exciting than that!

Sketching a little bit, while watching the sunrise. 

Then October came. It was time for us to apply for visa, book for accommodations and make sure on the bus schedules. We wanted to be more detailed than usual because I read that you can't use ATMs nor credit cards in most of Burma, including Bagan, their number one tourist attraction.

However, Diyan was very busy at work, that it took him 2 weeks to get a leave permit from the office. By the time we could apply for visa, it was already late in October. We didn't book anything until we got the visa, not even the balloon ride in Bagan. I was nervous because according to Lonely Planet, November is the start of high season in Bagan. But booking the ride meant we had to transfer the nonrefundable money - all of the USD 640 for 2 pax, not just a sum of deposit - plus the bank transfer fee of USD 25. We were afraid to lose that much money in case the visa didn't come through. I mean, from all the things we read about the country and its political situation, we couldn't predict anything.

Never give up!

We were so relieved when the visa came out 6 days (including weekend) after we applied! We rushingly e-mailed the balloon company to book slots, and I was pessimistic when they didn't reply soon enough. Almost a week later they replied, and it was negative :( But they said there's still a chance for us just in case somebody canceled their bookings - which I was hopeful for, but honestly pessimistic about.

The show must go on, so we flew to Burma with a balloon ride crossed out of our plan. But we got the cash with us, all saved extra carefully so as not to fold even a teeny bit of the money (dollars to be exchanged and used in Burma have to be in super mint condition!).

Is there hope?

On our second morning in Bagan, we went to the balloon office, asking about the possibility of us going. The nice Burmese woman with good English told us that all of their 7 balloons are full booked in the whole November, but if the government approves of 3 more balloons added to the arrangement, then we could go.


We had to wait - again, nervously - for the news until the next evening. And guess what! THE GOVERNMENT APPROVED THE NEW BALLOONS AND THAT MEANT WE WERE SCHEDULED TO GO THE NEXT MORNING! That was, like, the best news I've ever heard since Jakarta's governor election last year! Hahaha..

We were so happy, I couldn't help myself not to hug Diyan as soon as we exited the office - you see, even a couple holding hands is super rarely seen in Bagan. 

Couldn't believe we were going on the balloon ride! Woohoo!!

We prepared everything before we went to sleep. I set up the alarm, and my subconscious didn't stop thinking about the balloon ride, that I kept waking up almost every hour. Even Diyan, who used to sleep in, was awake BEFORE the alarm went off. We were supposed to be picked up at 5.10 a.m., and we were standing by at the lobby at 5.00 a.m. So unlike Indonesian to be present earlier than the appointed time :))

The clock ticked.

It was 5.15 and nobody came.

The phone rang in the lobby, the guesthouse staff picked it up. I had no idea what it was about, but I had a bad feeling.

After the phone conversation, he continued with his chore, so I thought that wasn't the balloon office calling.

5.25 a.m.

The guesthouse staff approached us and asked what we were doing.

"We're waiting to be picked up by the balloon company," I said.

Then he was saying something about the balloon in a poor English, we couldn't understand. He told us to wait a moment, then he went and came back with another staff that speaks better English. That guy told us that the balloon office called to say that the ride is cancelled due to weather condition.

He was so much like the Grim Reaper. I was upset beyond control. I even snapped at the poor-English guy for not letting us know the second he got off the phone and let us wait there for nothing! (for which I apologized the next day). Diyan was as upset, but he took it much better than me.

So sad, I sank even deeper than the setting sun :'(

The day started badly, but we had to make the best out of our time in Burma. We also stayed hopeful. We were supposed to go back to Rangoon in the evening, but we decided to give balloon ride another try the next morning. So we extended our stay at Aung Mingalar guesthouse, which cost us another USD 40, and said bye bye to our USD 20 deposit at the guesthouse in Rangoon.

Who knows. The weather might be back to normal condition in a day's time :)

There's always something to pray about.

At the evening, we repeated the preparation, but this time we got our hopes a bit lower, so as not to get as dissapointed if we couldn't go again - may God forbid. Again, I was restless in my sleep. I woke up before the alarm set off, and we were ready at the lobby at 4 a.m.

The phone rang.

Nobody picked up.

The phone rang again. There was nobody at the reception. Diyan had the urge to pick it up but was afraid that it wasn't about the balloon.

15 minutes went by. Two Burmese guys on a motorbike came to the guesthouse and met us.

"We're from the balloon company. Sorry, we can not fly this morning, because the wind is not good," one of them said.

Right. That was the deepest I had my head down. I thought I was ready to hear the news, but I wasn't.

We went back to our room in silence. Diyan continued his sleep, me writing this. I had to let this out. We can't give it another try on this trip because tomorrow we have to fly back to KL then Jakarta. We had to surrender...

The day felt gloomy afterwards...

This whole balloon thing might sound like I'm being dramatic and exaggerating things. Well, think what you like, but this is truly how I feel about it. I was heartbroken when my first attempt of riding a hot air balloon in Vang Vieng failed in April 2012 due to stormy wheather, and I am heartbroken over a similar thing today. I mean, what is it with me and hot air balloon rides? Am I not destined to ride it at all? Is this God's way of telling me to just save up the money? If things happen for a reason, I'd like to know so much, what is the reason behind this?

So, why is it, God?

However, this doesn't keep me from hoping. Our Ha Long Bay 2D1N cruise got cancelled in October 2009 due to a typhoon effect. But we went back for the cruise in April 2013, and it was 3D2N, even better!

Maybe, this is God's way of telling me to come back to Burma later, see other beautiful places here, and get on that balloon in an even better condition that I can't even imagine, yet.


For now, I am still keeping my fingers crossed.
And the dollars will remain untouched until then ;D

See you again, Bagans!

Have you been wanting to do something in your travels but failed to do it? Share your stories and help make me feel like I'm not alone :)

Also about Burma/Myanmar, some written in Indonesian:
Golden Palace Bagan
Restaurants in Bagan
Berkenalan dengan Longyi di Yangon


  1. Hello..i am planning my trip to Myanmar this June and was looking for hot balloon ride in Bagan when I found your blog.
    Well so sad that u didn't go. Could u share the company name which provide the service?. Thanks.
    Btw we have similar blog name. Yours in Bahasa while ours in English translation. But we blog in Bahasa and yours in English. How cool is that? :)

    1. OMG I didn't read this comment until just now.. I'm going over to your blog

  2. Aku ngerasain sedihnya banget, huhuhu...
    Mungkin lain kali lebih menyenangkan. Mungkin.

    1. amin, re.
      ini ditulisnya memang pas lagi sedih2nya di hotel pas di Bagan.. cuma postingnya aja yang nunggu pulang dari sana.. :|