Bagan, balloons and 777 steps

Sometimes on a lovely summer’s day in England, you might look up into the sky and see a hot air balloon or two. And maybe even people waving from it. At that moment, thoughts idly turn to what a lovely thing to do it must be, and how one day I really must sort that out.

I never have.

So on the basis that if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it properly, I got up this morning at 4:30 (yes, I was thrilled) and headed over to a field near New Bagan in order to fulfill a long held wish and go up in a balloon. Of course, given the location, this wasn’t an ordinary trip. Having written yesterday about the stunning sight of the 3,000 temples, pagodas and other monuments that comprise Bagan, rarely has such an early start been quite so anticipated.

It was everything you could hope for. Those who have done it before will know that the rate at which you lift off the ground takes you by surprise, but having been in helicopters many a time, the thing which is most striking (and of course obvious) is the relative silence.

As the sun comes up and floods the landscape with colour, it shines off the various structures. Flying over them is an experience not to be missed, there’s no other way of describing it.

In the afternoon, I took a trip to Mount Popa, a 1,500 metre extinct volcano, with the classic caldera shaping the cone. The mountain itself is impressive, but the real experience was climbing the 777 steps of the volcanic plug attached to the mountain called Taung Kalat.  ‎ It is, as so many features here are, a religious site, but irrespective of that, the views across the whole floor of the floodplain around the Irrawaddy are something to behold, and more than make up for the lactic acid burn in the calves.

That’s it for Bagan, just two days. One more would probably be ideal, but tomorrow I am off to Mandalay, and if I can find a road sign to allow for cheesy “Road to” jokes, I shall be sure to oblige.