Hot Air Ballooning in Vang Vieng, Laos

Posted by - November 8, 2016 | Category: The Yard

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.

Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon being inflated Laos

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?”

Yeah, no.

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.

Raymond Walsh Vang Vieng Laos Hot Air Balloon Ride

Exhibit A. (You’ll find out what that means if you read the rest of this article)

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.

Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon Ride Travel Tips

Hot Air Balloon Ride Vang Vieng Laos

What is the cost?

View from hot air balloon in Vang Vieng Laos

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.

Raymond Walsh Man On The Lam Hot Air Balloon Ride Vang Vieng Laos

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?

Karst hill ranges in Vang Vieng Laos from hot air balloon

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?

View of karst hill range in Vang Vieng Laos

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?

Interior of hot air balloon Balloons over Vang Vieng Laos

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?

Raymond Walsh Man On The Lam Hot Air Balloon Ride Vang Vieng Laos

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?

Inside a hot air balloon Vang Vieng Laos

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.

Hot-air-balloon-being-deflated-Vang-Vieng-Laos.jpg

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. 

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16 comments - add one
  1. Raymond,
    Great post young man! I have always wanted to do a hot air balloon ride, but things keep getting in the way. Your driver should have left the inconsiderates! Hopefully they got an ear full from the rest of you! Great photos!
    Mike

  2. Coincidentally… I too, can now report on the pure bliss of sailing aloft in a hot-air balloon. Somewhat like you, I too had previously passed on opportunities in my travels to do so (Bagan in Myanmar, and above the pyramids in Giza spring to mind). Ah but just a few weeks ago – aloft among those incredible fairy chimneys at Cappadocia, Turkey – no way was I going to pass it up!

    A bit more pricey than your Laos “flight” ($120 for a full hour aloft) but actually on the low side compared to some of the other places to balloon in the world.

    I was also surprised that in Laos there seemed no concern for flying early (and also, they offer *sunset* flights???) My understanding is that ballooning is all about the wind, and thus before sunrise is the safest time to fly as that’s when the winds are generally most mild/predictable. Indeed, in many parts of the world, often flights are cancelled due to too high winds. Must be different in Laos – maybe the winds are always mild…

    In any case – yes, I agree – my balloon trip in Turkey, was among my TOP travel experiences. Worth.every.penny.

    1. The winds were definitely pretty mild there Dyanne, and if there’s even the hint of rain they don’t run. I’ve been to Turkey twice but that was back in my pre-blog days, and the landscape in Cappadocia would’ve been spectacular to see from a hot air balloon. Definitely jealous of you on that one! 🙂

  3. Wohoo! Happy to hear you were able to go on a hot air balloon ride! USD 80 is really cheap too. We paid 160 euros each in Cappadocia. And I think you’re still being a too kind with “inconsiderates”. 🙂

  4. Hi Raymond,

    Wow! Looks like Avatar! Question: do the hot air balloon operators drink like the kids used to drink in VV LOL! Just joking….we found this town amazingly beautiful, even amid the chaos of some heavy partying from the youngin’s WAY back in 2012. The karsts are epic. So are your awesome photos 😉 Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  5. wow..wow..wow..really awesome i cant beleive this when we are in air and see the underground make a fear and also make a happy…after i read yourblog i want to ride with HOT AIR BALLOON…

  6. Now it makes sense why you would go hot air ballooning in Laos. $80 US? Sign me up! I’ve yet to do that anywhere in the world, but have wanted to fly over Cappadocia. Bagan would also be another hot air ballooning site of interest for me, as would be Wadi Rum in Jordan.

    1. Cappadocia would be my next choice for sure — such beautiful landscapes there. I looked into the hot air balloon ride in Bagan while I was there but the cost was ridiculous — $365 USD!!

  7. Great post for those considering that trip. You have persuaded me and I sure will fly the balloon.
    I wish you many more great experiences like that.

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