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September 24, 2008

Myanmar’s Flights of Fancy

The world’s most exotic balloon safaris.

It’s been a rough year for Myanmar (aka Burma). After Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Burmese coast in May, the country’s governing junta shunned foreign aid while a handful of good-hearted tour operators stepped in to help refugees. Even now, parts of the country are on the verge of starvation following the worst plague of rats for 50 years. But October marks the beginning of tourist season (following the monsoons), and Myanmar is determined to rally back.

The regime is on the visitor-friendly offensive: it has promised to re-open next month all major beach resorts along the Bay of Bengal that weren’t severely damaged by the storm, as well as initiate a new expedited visa-on-arrival system in November (the current process takes days). October also means hot-air balloon season in Myanmar, and the best in the biz is pulling out all the stops to attract sightseers and help revitalize the local economy.

Balloons over Bagan — operator of the largest luxury passenger fleet in Asia — virtually wrote the book on hot-air ballooning in Burma. Now through March, the outfit (run by the folks who last year introduced the country’s first luxe wilderness retreat) offers daily dusk and dawn “champagne flights” over Bagan. What will you see? The country’s ancient capital Bagan is home to the world’s largest collection of Buddhist temples (2, 217 to be exact), forming some of the most spectacular views anywhere in Asia.

This December, BOB takes passengers beyond Bagan with the launch of a series of exclusive “balloon safaris.” The take-off itinerary — epically titled The Grand Voyage — is a week-long tour de flight involving six separate balloon trips spanning Myanmar’s Inle Lake, Pindaya and (of course) Bagan regions. Each balloon is piloted by a licensed British expat, with local know-it-all guides on hand to suggest post-landing activities — which might include exploring limestone caves in Pindaya, visiting thousand-year-old pagodas in Bagan or wine-tasting at Myanmar’s first vineyard. And by the end of the day, you won’t be sleeping in a wicker balloon basket: expect to bed down at some of the finest accommodations in the land.

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read more: 01. Air | 08. Journey | 09. Active | 10. Culture

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