Dr Allie Dunnington of Oriental Ballooning has written us a fantastic blog post about her experiences ballooning over Inle Lake in Burma.
Allie is based in Bristol (like us!) but has flown a hot air balloon in 74 countries – more than any other female pilot. She is an extremely experienced commercial pilot with nearly 1,000 balloon flights under her belt. Allie is a qualified instructor and recently also qualified as the first female examiner in the UK. She is currently in Burma for the 2015/16 season.
Bristol and Burma
Bristol has a strong and thriving hot air balloon business and the connections with Burma are strong. The balloons flown in Burma by Oriental Ballooning are all made by Cameron Balloons, based here in Bristol. Like Allie, up to 15 pilots each year head to Burma for the balloon season, which runs from around October until March.
Last week, I was asked where in the world was my favorite balloon flight. That’s like being asked your favourite book or film – there are so many to choose from and each one unique in its own way. However, I recently did a flight for Oriental Ballooning that stands out from all the others: at Inle Lake in the Shan Hills of Myanmar.
Located in beautiful valley, it’s one of the most unusual and extraordinary places in the world to enjoy a flight. There are only two commercial balloon flights that I know of that fly over water, so that makes Inle pretty special straight away. The lake is large (about 45sq miles) but it’s also high – at 2,900 metres above sea level.
We set out for the take-off site, a beautiful monastery, while it was still dark. A morning flight always starts early, before the wind speeds get too high. The loss of a bit of sleep can sometimes make you feel slightly deprived but this was no ordinary balloon trip, not even to get to the balloon itself. I didn’t go around the lake; I was driven across it at high speed, in nearly pitch-black in a local fishtail canoe – the preferred local mode of transport. It’s a very James Bond-style start to an adventurous balloon flight.
Lifting off just after dawn I could immediately see why this area is so famous. Inle Lake is home to the Intha people, many of whom are farmers. Anyone else might have settled for a boat but the Intha people decided to create their very own “floating land”: a system where they grow vegetables and fruit on floating gardens. They place long poles through the earth and vegetation to anchor it to the lake bed, if they didn’t they would wake up to find it had drifted away in the middle of the night!
These colourful gardens and crop fields provide an astounding sight as I slowly make my way from the south of the lake northwards toward the small and interesting town of Nyaung Shwe. I varied the altitude of the flight quite a bit to take advantage of the dramatic change in perspective. At the highest point (at over 1,800 m/6,000 ft), there are astounding panoramic vistas above the surrounding mountains, while the lowest, just a few feet off the lake surface, makes it possible to say a quick hello to yet another unique sight – the famous one-legged rowing fishermen.
They don’t of course only have one leg, it’s an extraordinary technique they use to enable both arms to be free to use their nets whilst still making their way across the lake.
As we approached the landing site we floated over the small number of hotels on the shoreline and on the lake itself, having seen some of the most beautiful countryside in a truly wonderful country – and all before breakfast!
InsideBurma Tours customers can take their very own, once-in-a-lifetime flight over Inle Lake with Oriental Ballooning. Other destinations include Bagan and the new balloon experience over Ngapali. Just let your travel consultant know while planning your trip!
To see more about the beautiful locations where Oriental Ballooning fly, visit http://www.orientalballooning.com