“Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away”. Okay okay maybe you wont ‘fly away’ per se… BUT you will fly high! Vang Vieng is a small has-been farming town come tourist party destination that definitely lives up to its name as the adventure capital of Laos! If limestone mountains with cliff faces that fall hundreds of feet into the Nam Song river will get your blood rushing, then wake up before dawn and drift thousands of feet in a hot air balloon for the best view in town.
At 5:30 in the morning I squeezed into the back of an over crowded truck filled with sleepy tourists sluggish from drunken tubing and to many happy-shakes the previous day and headed through the back streets of Vang Vieng. My destination after a few more hotel pickups, an old rice field where rainbow fabric lay lifeless on the dried maze with a single lonesome pilot standing guard. As I emerged from the confinement of the truck I felt confused and a tingle of fear washed over me as I noticed the lack of activity and staff. Just my luck if it’s canceled! My running mind was quickly stopped by laughter when the 20 strong crew rolled out from under the envelopes in perfect secrecy sporting show hands and humorous grins and like clockwork they began to blow hot air into the rainbow fabric bringing it to life. Within minutes the fan-heaters were swapped for a flame thrower that rumbled as it shot fire into the expanding balloon which billowed as it took over the sky.
During the high season Balloons over Vang Vieng operates three hot air balloons, two that carry eight people and one that takes nine. I was placed in the biggest balloon with a young Chinese pilot that spends eight months of the year flying balloons in Vang Vieng. Without realizing my ascent had began and I was flying without wings through the morning mist that hugged the earth below and into the crisp clear sky, with only a wickerwork gondola holding me from the river below.
Let’s be honest the dusty Vang Vieng isn’t much to look at from eye level, but from above the faded candy colored tin roofs look less makeshift and more like a landscape painted by Eugene von Gérard. With a single pull on the chain, flames wooshed upwards, my ears popped and the balloon floated with gentle speed into view of the sunrise that coruscated orange hues over the limestone mountains and colored the clouds beneath my feet with endless rays of pink creating a dreamscape of natural beauty.
If your a tad bit weary when it comes to flying or heights in general (I freaked every time the air pressure gauge beeped :?) then like me you will be thinking “How safe are hot air balloons?” and “Is Laos the safest country to try this in?” Hot air balloons are considered one of the “safest means of flying” (every activity has some level of risk involved) as it is essentially a giant parachute and when piloted by a trained professional you will float through the air like a feather and land with ease (I had a textbook landing in a vacant parking lot in town). REMEMBER when your up in the air and vertigo takes over your mind Balloons Over Vang Vieng, has 8 years experience. Their pilot and ground crew are professionals and are in constant contact with each other which leaves very little to chance. ENJOY YOU WILL BE FINE!
TRAVEL HINT: Check the weather conditions before booking your trip to ensure you go on a sunny day with little wind.
You can book your hot air balloon trip through any travel agency in Vang Vieng a day in advance. As there is only one company who runs the hot air balloons in town the price is a non-negotiable $80 USD for a 35 to 45 minute flight, but being the cheapest worldwide the set price really isn’t worth complaining about.
There are three different times you can go up in the balloon: In the early morning at 6.15am (Sunrise tour), late morning at 7am and afternoon tour at 4.30pm (Sunset tour). These times are dependent on the number of people who have booked and the weather conditions on the day of flight.
Hot air ballooning over Vang Vieng has been the highlight of my world trip so far. The experience is exhilarating, romantic and truly the best way to see the valleys, peaks and landscape Laos is famous for, so if your in Vang Vieng “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away”.