What’s it like to be up high in the sky? Will I be able to touch the clouds?
That has always fascinated me. It’s no wonder why riding a hot air balloon is on my ‘bucket list’!
I was researching about hot air balloon rides in the Bagan Temples of Myanmar, but my heart sank when I saw the price. The ride costs $300-$400+ per person! It’s definitely an awesome ride and would be worth it, but it’s not something I could splurge on at that moment. So I looked for other options and found that I can do it in Vang Vieng, Laos for under $90.
Laos is not as popular as neighboring Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. But the scenery in Laos is breathtaking!
Determined to try my first hot air balloon ride soon, so I went about planning it..
But first.. where’s Vang Vieng?
There’s no airport in Vang Vieng.
It’s about 4-5 hours north of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and about 4-6 hours south of Luang Prabang, a popular UNESCO World Heritage site in Laos. The first time I went to Laos, I stayed for 8 days in Luang Prabang. It was the first week of July, in the midst of the rainy season so it rained nearly every day I was there. Not a good time to go ballooning, that’s for sure..
So I came back to Laos in late November with my 2 cousins, as part of our 11-Day trip across Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.. and that’s when we all experienced our first hot air balloon ride! 🙂
A Review of my Hot Air Balloon ride with Balloons Over Vang Vieng
We booked the sunrise tour just the day before. Pick-up was scheduled at 5:40am. By the time they picked us up, there were already a few people inside the car. We continued to pick up other guests and arrived at the air strip at around 6:00am. The pick-up was quick as there were 2 transport vehicles collecting everyone booked for the sunrise tour.
There were 3 balloons, and we were deployed to the last one. But we were already up in the air by 6:35am. Perfect! Just in time for sunrise 🙂
This is how Vang Vieng looked from above.
As we went higher and higher, the tiny town of Vang Vieng faded below us.
On one side, I saw the sunlight slowly illuminating the rugged karst mountains. The sun was rising up high in the sky on the other side. It felt so peaceful up there.
We got about 30 mins. total flight time, but it felt longer. We landed on the fields surrounded by the karst mountains. The ride back took long, but we still got back to our hotel before 8am.
If you opt for the sunrise tour, it finishes early so you can add more activities during the day. In our case, we booked a rock-climbing beginner course from 9:30am to 1:00pm. That gave us enough time to have breakfast and change.
Should you ride a hot air balloon over Vang Vieng?
Vang Vieng is gorgeous! It’s definitely a must-visit when you’re in Laos.
But if you’re still on the fence about whether to ride a hot air balloon and have a few questions, then read on. I’ve compiled a few FAQs below. I hope it’ll help you decide whether or not to go ballooning over Vang Vieng.
Whether you go for it or not, there are plenty of activities you can do in Vang Vieng
Or you can simply sit back and enjoy the view from your hotel.. It’s a good place to wind down.
Hot Air Balloon in Vang Vieng: Frequently Asked Questions
1. Where do I book it? Can I make a reservation in advance?
There’s only one company that does this: Balloons Over Vang Vieng. Most hotels, guesthouses and tour operators offer this tour, but it’s all fulfilled by one company. Tickets cost somewhere between $85-$100, depending on where you book it.
You don’t have to book tickets in advance. (As far as I know, there’s no option to book this online.) Since Laos is still off the tourist trail and most visitors are backpackers and adventure seekers, there’s not many tourists even during peak season. Vang Vieng also had a reputation for being a ‘party town’ popular among backpackers for its wild tubing parties although this image is changing.
2. When is the best time to ride the hot air balloons in Vang Vieng?
Since hot air balloon rides are dependent on weather, it’s best to do it during dry season, which is around November to March. The weather is also cooler at this time of the year.
Try to avoid booking it during rainy season (May-October), unless you’re prepared for your ride to be cancelled at a moment’s notice.
I’ve seen someone from TripAdvisor saying it’s not available during the rainy season (that was in May), but I’ve also seen a few other guests saying it’s fine to book during the rainy season (that person went in August).
If you ask me, the best time would be towards the end of rainy season, in October and the start of the dry season in November. That way, you’ll avoid peak tourist season which is in mid-December to January.
3. How many people are there in one group?
Unlike the Bagan hot air balloon ride where you can choose to pay more to have less people on board, Balloons Over Vang Vieng don’t offer this option.
During our trip, we were divided into 3 groups.. and they had 3 hot air balloons.
Although they won’t break up your group, it is up to the staff to divide all tourists into different groups, according to weight distribution. My cousins and I were grouped together with a big group of Asian tourists (there were 7 of them), making it a total of 10 in 1 balloon.
We didn’t want to be lumped together with the big group (we thought they were Chinese, and big Chinese groups are usually noisy and loud). They were quite loud as well inside the transport vehicle that picked us up from our guesthouse..
But didn’t have a choice as we *had* to be grouped with other petite Asians. 😀 As we were landing, I talked to the one of the girls, and she said they’re from Thailand. I guess Asians (especially young Asians) tend to be loud and unruly in big groups, even Filipinos 😉
Other groups mostly had Western tourists, and there were about 7-8 people in 1 hot air balloon.
4. Which is better – the Sunrise or Sunset Tour?
I’d say it depends on your preference. We booked the sunrise tour, but if you don’t like waking up early, do the sunset tour instead.
Since it finishes early in the morning, the sunrise package is perfect if you only have a day to explore Vang Vieng. That leaves you enough time to do other activities for the rest of the day.
Also, if you want a good photo-op after the balloon has landed, get the sunrise tour. We landed on the rice paddies. Harvest season was over, and all that’s left are gorgeous brown fields.
Here’s a pic after our hot air ballon landed on the rice fields (sans the rice). Stunning!
5. Is is safe?
I can’t speak for others, but our experience was totally safe and handled professionally.
Though there wasn’t any safety briefing at all, we didn’t feel that our safety was compromised in any way. There were a lot of staff assisting us in getting into the basket and also after we landed. Since this is my first hot air balloon ride, I don’t have any previous experience to compare to.
It did feel a bit hot as some point during the ride, but we stayed well away from the flame.
My First Hot Air Balloon Ride in Vang Vieng — Definitely One For The Books!
The karst mountain backdrop, the lovely weather, cool season, and the laid back vibe of Vang Vieng all made this experience worthwhile.
Don’t expect lots of balloons though. Since it’s not that popular, there are only 2-3 balloons operating at a given time: 3 balloons if there are a lot of bookings, 2 balloons if there are less.
While it’s certainly not as picturesque and grand as Turkey’s Cappadocia or the Bagan temples, it still was breathtaking. And the price can’t be beat!
It makes for a good first hot air balloon ride experience.
How About You?
Have you been inside a hot air balloon before? Where? How was it? Let me know in the comments below!
And if you’re here ‘cause you’re thinking about ballooning over Vang Vieng, I hope this guide helped in some way. And if you do decide to go for it, tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you 🙂