Burma from above: Ballooning over Ngapali


Allie Dunnington is a balloon pilot who works across Burma, and has flown hot-air balloons all over the world. Here, she describes a flight over the jungle-clad region of Ngapali, in Rakhine State - and shares her incredible photos.

The morning sun gently rises behind the endless layers of wild, forested mountains. "Welcome to my ‘Wild Burma’! I am Allie, balloon pilot, and this is my favourite view of all!"


Morning sun

As I speak I pump a few burns into the balloon envelope and we rise up to 2000ft. "You can now see the coast of the Bay of Bengal, down here the meandering Thandwe River which originates in those mountains and flows gently into the sea. In this region of Rakhine State we can find the last remaining herds of wild elephants and numerous exotic birds."


The meandering rivers of Rakhine State, with the Bay of Bengal in the distance


Light reflects off the river

I rotate the balloon, pulling my green-and-black ropes to give everybody the same stunning view whilst keeping their cameras in a stable position. Then we dip down to float at low level above Thandwe town. As we drift over the busy market everybody looks up and gives us an enthusiastic wave and shouts "Mingalabar!"

We spot some old British colonial buildings before reaching a hill. This is Nandaw – one of the three main holy temples of Thandwe. We are lucky and fly directly over the gold-plated stupa and the reclining Buddha.



Now it’s time for me to look for a suitable landing place. It’s not easy at this time of the season (Nov/Dec) as the rice paddies are often still in standing water and not harvested. But from experience I know of a couple of cut fields near a road and small village. And indeed, with a bit of going up and down the balloon gently follows my (and the wind’s) direction and we finally land with just a soft touch in a dry paddy.


Ready for landing

Immediately we are surrounded by dozens of excited village kids. Curious eyes follow up the flames whenever I have to put in another burn to keep the balloon upright. The crew comes running! Well done boys! With 10 local crew we are lucky that we don’t have to do anything now but to get out of the balloon and enjoy our flight in true balloonist fashion: with chilled orange juice followed by sparkling wine and fresh fruit.


Time to celebrate

We can arrange for you to join Allie on a balloon flight over Ngapali, Inle Lake, or Bagan. Simply get in touch with one of our travel consultants to begin planning your trip today! Alternatively, you may be interested in one of the other unique Insider Experiences we offer in Burma - take a look here.

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