On our way from Luang Prabang to Vientaine we stayed two nights in Vang Vieng. If you have been in Laos, you may ask, why Vang Vieng? Isn’t that the notorious backpacker village where young people get drunk (and high), like Torremolinos in Spain?
True, but it is also situated in a beautiful karst landscape with numerous caves. And you can make hot air balloon trips there! Expensive, but we had never done that before and we would like to experience it once in our life..:-).
At 4 pm we were picked up from our hotel and taken to the field where they were already busy preparing the balloons. Two this time, each can take eight people. First they blow air in the balloon, and after that they start heating the air with a kind of flamethrower. Then it is time to enter the basket, not much space for eight people plus the skipper, so not easy to take good pictures.
Not surprisingly I was by far the oldest participant..:-). Here is a picture of the skipper and me, just before take-off. Everything was organised very professionally, walkie talkies, gps etc.
In this video you see how the air inside the balloon is heated, while people are holding the basket, to prevent it from premature lift-off.
Take-off was very smooth, and when the flamethrower is not working, it is completely quiet, because you are “floating” with the wind. I did not find it scary at all, although I could see a few others who held the railing tightly. Here is a collection of pictures. In some of them you will see the second balloon
The skipper can control the altitude of the balloon by burning (-> going up) or releasing air from the top of the balloon (-> going down). Because the wind direction depends (slightly) on the altitude, he can also steer the balloon a bit. We went so low that we almost touched the tree tops and up until 800 meter. Very exciting.
A video taken by Aric:
Here is the route of the balloon, and the altitude profile. The yellow track is the minivan that took us back to the village (halfway picking up the people form the second balloon)
The whole flight took only 45 minutes and covered a distance of about five km.. At the end the skipper drops a rope/cable, picked up by the ground staff, who then take care that the balloon lands in exactly the right location. This procedure works well, if there is not much wind. When you book, you get a warning that there might be a last-minute cancellation when the weather conditions are adverse!
A very exciting adventure!