Twice I’ve been scheduled to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride — once in Spain and once in California — but twice weather foiled the attempts, and twice I woke up to cancellation calls instead of clear blue skies. Recently I finally got my turn, and I took a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng, Laos. And what a turn it was.
Now in Vang Vieng, when the hot air balloon ride is billed as a “sunrise hot air balloon ride,” that term is used rather loosely. My hotel told me pick-up would be at 5:40 AM, so at 5:30 AM I was downstairs, and my driver was already there, at the helm of his empty tuk-tuk. “Great,” I thought. “I must be the only one. How awesome is that?”
We still had to drive around town to pick up the others. Of the 5 other stops we made, only one couple was ready. The driver had to go and physically knock on doors to wake people up at a couple of the stops. So we had to circle around and back and forth until the “inconsiderates” (that’s a word now – kinda like how “deplorables” is a also thing) got their lazy asses out of bed. It was just after 7:00 AM by the time we got to the field, and the sun was already above the horizon.
We may not have been adrift to witness the sunrise, but it was still one of my favourite experiences of all the things I’ve done over the past five years. There’s something romantic about it all. The colourful balloon adrift over the karst hill ranges and farmers’ fields.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I’ve compiled some travel tips should you be considering taking a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng.
Table of Contents
- 1 Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon Ride Travel Tips
- 1.1 What is the cost?
- 1.2 What happens if your hot air balloon ride is cancelled?
- 1.3 Should I do the sunrise or the sunset flight?
- 1.4 Is it safe to take a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng?
- 1.5 Is it worth it to take a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng?
- 1.6 Anything else I should know about the hot air balloon ride?
Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon Ride Travel Tips
What is the cost?
Pickup and drop off to your hotel is included in the price.
All hotels and tour and travel agencies in Vang Vieng use the same company — there’s only one hot air balloon ride company in Vang Vieng (Balloons over Vang Vieng) — so no real need to shop around, unless you’re trying to save yourself (literally) a couple of bucks.
The official price of a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng is $80 USD (as of November 2016,), but I did see a few that had the price posted for $78 USD. If you’re really pinching pennies, take a walk around town and you’ll see a couple of places selling the ride for that lower price. At the time of posting, if you’re paying more than $80, you’re getting ripped off. You only need to book a minimum of a day in advance. They have at least three hot air balloons (although there was only enough of a crowd for one the day I went), so there’s usually no need to worry that it will be sold out.
There are a number of Vang Vieng tour companies that allow you to book the hot air balloon experience online, but they charge anywhere from $95 to $149 for the exact same $80 balloon ride. Don’t fall for it. It’s best to book the tour when you arrive. Your hotel will probably only be charging $80. If not, walk 20 feet down your street, you’re sure to find one that does.
I did some research on the internet, and if my calculations are correct, this is probably the cheapest place in the world to go hot air ballooning. The next cheapest I could find was in California, and that was only if you took advantage of a Groupon offer. Another company in California had a cancellation list you could join — if someone bailed last minute and you could make it that day, you’d save yourself a significant chunk of change. Both though were at least $50 USD more expensive than the Vang Vieng hot air balloon ride on offer. So if you’re looking for an affordable hot air balloon ride, this is the deal to jump on.
What happens if your hot air balloon ride is cancelled?
It’s best to arrange it for early during your stay in Vang Vieng. Depending on the time of year, weather can be a key factor. If your flight is cancelled, they’ll rebook you for the next day or refund your money. I went in October and the weather was lovely.
Should I do the sunrise or the sunset flight?
In my opinion, the sunrise flight is the best option. Yes, you have to be ready for a 5:40am pickup, and yes you’ll have to forgo some Vang Vieng partying the night before (or not if teetotalling is your thing), but there are a couple of reasons why I suggest the morning flight. First, the sunset flight may go up in smoke. Not because of the hot air balloon pilot of course, but many villagers burn their garbage in the late afternoon/early evening and that doesn’t make for the best photos. Second, the morning fog lifting off the fields as the sunrise burns it away does make for some eerily beautiful scenery.
Is it safe to take a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng?
While there have been plenty of accidents and deaths in Vang Vieng, none of them have ever involved a hot air balloon. What surprised me though was that there no safety briefing before the balloon ride. In case something happened, we wouldn’t have known what to do. The instructions we were given? “Get in.”
I’ve read that it’s pretty much standard for most reputable hot air balloon ride operators to have some sort of briefing to customers before getting in that basket. If you’re reading this Balloons Over Vang Vieng, get on it please if you want to up your trustworthy factor.
Is it worth it to take a hot air balloon ride in Vang Vieng?
Definitely. The scenery is spectacular, and when the pilot is not blasting the propane to keep the balloon aloft, it’s nothing but you and the clouds and the spectacular karst mountain scenery. Well, and 7 or 8 other people. But for the most part, they were silent like I was. Soaking it in, and probably enjoying ticking something off their bucket list. If you’re keen on having a one-of-a-kind memorable experience, definitely add hot air ballooning to your to do list of Vang Vieng activities.
Anything else I should know about the hot air balloon ride?
If you’re tall, or bald (or both like I am) bring a hat. I thought my scalp was going to go up in smoke every time the pilot fanned the flames. (See “Exhibit A” photo at the top of this page. I mean, look at the glare on that noggin’!)
Check what the temperature is supposed to be the morning of your flight. Depending upon the time of year it can get chilly, but shorts and a t-shirt certainly made the cut for me.
It’ll put you in a really good mood afterwards. Almost enough to forgive the “inconsiderates.” Almost.
Is taking a hot air balloon ride on your bucket list?
Note: I paid for the Vang Vieng hot air balloon ride with my own money. And it was worth every penny.