Monday, January 10, 2011

HOT AIR BALLOON OVER CHIANG MAI- A Once in a lifetime experience

A hot air balloon flight is something that most of us dream of experiencing at some point in our lives. 

The idea of taking a hot air balloon trip can be a very pleasing, tranquil experience----- silently and naturally floating through the air while looking down on some beautiful countryside. I particularly like the idea of taking a hot air balloon flight in the morning or evening when you would get to experience the dawn or sunset. Sunrise and sunset balloon flights are the most breathtaking of all.

Going up high in the sky on a hot air balloon has always been one of my life time dreams. I have always wanted to try this experience everywhere I heard there were hot air balloon rides. The nearest I got to actually see a hot air balloon was when I went to watch the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Pampanga. Even at that time -- I started to ask around if there was any way to get to ride one. Unfortunately, they were not taking any passengers on their balloons... I ended up taking photos of the various shapes of the balloons.

Since then I wanted to experience the ride. I tried to take a hot air balloon ride in several countries but was not able to do so... Maybe it was not the right time for me to ride one....Another attempt on riding  the hot air balloon was last February--- I was scheduled to go on the hot air balloon with my friend, Oskie... but I had an accident, fractured my foot and had to cancel the ride again.

But today... is a very special day for me... I was going up on the hot air balloon with my friends, Oskie, Boom and Jaqui. It was going to be a hot air balloon ride over Chiang Mai with champagne breakfast.... WOW!! what more can one ask for! We were scheduled to have an early dawn ride. " Perfect, I hope to get a good sunrise shot!! " -- was all I had in my mind. Oskie reminded us during dinner that the pick up time at our hotel  was 6:00am. Our wake up call will be at 5:00am. Great!!! I am an early riser so that would not pose any problem on my end.

Finally the day came!!

I was up at 4:00am --- I looked out the window of our hotel room--- it was still very dark outside. I immediately got dressed, fixed my camera and decided what lens I would bring. A taxi picked us up at our hotel, Royal Princess, promptly at 6 o'clock and we began our 30 minute drive north of Chiang Mai to the launch area when the sun was just beginning to rise.

As we got to the launch site, we were offered some coffee before the take off. But in my excitement--- I decided to take photos instead of having coffee. Oh no!! FOG!!!!! There was fog all around us. I started to worry about the photos we will be taking on the hot air balloon..... FOG --- to me meant UNCLEAR, silhoutte  shots!! ... but according to the people I talked to--- when the sun comes out -- the fog will disappear.

We were then introduced to Wout Bakker, a licensed pilot from Holland, who also flies hot air balloons in Holland and Slovakia during the rainy season in Chiang Mai. He informed us that some balloons there hold as many as 30 persons -- but today we will be flying a balloon that holds only 4 persons plus the pilot.

I saw another balloon being readied to go up... it was a one-person yellow balloon that was going to ascend right after us.

Wout started to hit the burners on and off ....A massive hot-air balloon was being inflated in an adjacent field to the accompaniment of roars from gas cylinders.

Watching the limp balloon on the ground slowly fill with air and take shape was simply captivating.

This is a view from the top of the balloon... while it was being inflated.

( courtesy of Boom Boncan )

After giving us last minute instructions all of us climbed in one by one. We took our position on the basket. Wout came in the last and positioned himself.

Once Wout had warmed up the air inside the balloon to flight temperature, and we are inside the basket. The balloon gently lifts off the ground with such elegant grace...

( courtesy of Boom Boncan )


Here are my first shots as we rose slowly to the air...

The actual lift off is un-noticeable until you look down to see the launch site no bigger than a small thumbnail below.

( Photo taken by Wout Bakker - courtesy of Jaqui Boncan's camera )


* Casual clothes are the most comfortable. A warm sweater may be needed for early morning, but this can be taken off as the day warms up. Wear comfortable shoes you can stand in for more than an hour. A cap is also recommended.

* A point and shoot camera , video camera or DLSR cameras are definitely required if you want to record your special occassion. In order to have the best photographs possible, I suggest that you use a UV filter on you camera otherwise your photos will end up looking hazy.


 * Piloting a hot air balloon is fairly simple; the pilot will fire the balloon burners -- this pushes hot air into the balloon and gives it a lift. The more hot air is fired into the balloon, the quicker it rises.

* To make the balloon descend, the pilot will use the burners less, cooling the air inside the balloon will cause it to descend.

* Navigating a hot air balloon is a little more difficult, as the balloon is not steered directly by the pilot. The wind direction changes at different altitudes, so the pilot must ascend and descend to the right altitude and travel with the wind.

Flying across beautiful landscapes hundreds of feet high in the air . We passed over a number of small communities. Down below we could see people who had stopped what they were doing to stare at the magnificent sight. Many of them waved at us as we passed by.

This picture was taken near the end of the flight. You can see the shadow of our balloon. Wout was already looking for a safe place to land. We had to land in an area that had an access to the road as the support team were following us in the pick-up truck. Wout told us to bend our knees as we landed and not to jump out of the balloon immediately as we might go back up.

The flight lasted about an hour. As it turned out the Wout found a perfect spot to land which was a dry field that was close to a small road.

We were met by the support team and as we were having our breakfast -- they even managed to deflate the balloon and pack it back to their pick-up truck.

After our flight, we walked to a small table that was set up with coffee, tea and rolls. Wout then gave the ceremonial toast... he popped open the champagne and called us one by one.

According to the proclamation of Louis XVI, Wout sprinkled champagne over our heads and declared us to be the Duke and Duchess of Chiang Mai and we were given a certificate of our flight.

It is a definite MUST DO for anyone who has ever found themselves lost in the romantic ideal of hot air ballooning. If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend taking a hot air balloon ride. They are a lot of fun, and it is a very peaceful and relaxing experience!



Price: 8000 Baht per person

this includes Transfer from your hotel to the launch site. Coffee or Tea while the balloon is being prepared. Flight certificate signed by the pilot. Insurance. Champagne breakfast. Return transfer to your hotel.

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