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I did almost no research ahead of time for my trip to Laos. So imagine my delight when I learned that there was an attraction so new that it had yet to hit the guidebooks: hot air ballooning over Vang Vieng. Is there a more romantic way to explore a place than by floating thousands of feet high in the air above it?

offers this experience at the bargain price of $70USD per person. While my trip was a gift from a friend I would have happily paid that price — it’s almost a third of what most operators around the world charge. Flights depart at 7:00am, 7:40am, and 4:30pm. As you might be able to tell from my I Hate My Alarm Face below, I went on the 7:00am departure.

Watching the balloon being blown up was fascinating and definitely reason alone to go on the first flight of the day — never mind getting to watch the sunrise over the famous Vang Vieng limestone karsts! But the set-up was quite the production as well as a reminder that I was taking part in a fairly adventurous activity, considering Southeast Asia’s motto: Safety Seventh! It may not be an official motto considering I am the only one using it, but trust me — it applies.

As always, click to enlarge

Seven or so of us shoved our way into the tiny basket and laughed nervously as the burner burst to life with flames. We adjusted to the heat of the fire as it lifted us slowly but surely away from land and towards the sunrise.

As we crawled higher we gained a completely unique perspective over the limestone mountains that Laos is known for. They push up harshly out of an otherwise flat valley, rough angles pushing upwards towards the clouds.

And at their feet lies the small town of Vang Vieng, population 33,000. Vang Vieng might not be much to look at while at eye level, but from above the collection of candy colored roofs looks almost quaint.

And of course, running through it all is the infamous Nam Song River, a portion of which is Ground Zero to tubing tourism.

But none of that insanity is visible from up in the clouds. Up there it’s all mountain, rivers and rice paddies.

I watched in awe as a tiny machine clipped to the side of the balloon recorded our height climbing up to 900 meters, or 3000 feet! I don’t have any deep fear of heights but reading that number and having zero grasp of the science behind how we were being suspended so very high above the ground was a pretty exhilarating feeling.

what happens when you hand a DSLR to someone else: fuzzy photos

Although the rides last a full forty minutes, it seemed like only seconds before we were descending back to Earth again.

I was absolutely kicking myself the entire time for bringing the wrong memory card and being unable to shoot video, but the feeling was at its worst as we brushed slowly and calmly though the treetops. I can’t think of a more cinematic moment in my life.

We steered close along the river, trying to come to a slow and controlled landing.

Of course, the landing is always the most dramatic part of hot air ballooning. We were passing along the river for so long I thought that surely we were going to drop down into it, when suddenly we made whip-lash inducing with the riverbank. We bumped and dragged and stumbled along for a bit until we came to an anti-climactic pause.


Unless you count a quick journey up in a tethered balloon over Angkor Wat, this was my first real experience hot air ballooning. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Laos! Between this and the caves and lagoon that I featured previously, I think it’s clear that Vang Vieng is a worthwhile stop for anyone passing through Laos, regardless of their desire to spend the day at a riverside rave.

As we drove back towards our guesthouses and watched the second flight of the day pass overhead, I couldn’t help but think that there was no better start to a day than this.

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39 Comments...
  • Oh my gosh, Meihoukai!! I’m soo jealous! The photos are amazing! I plan on doing this in a couple of months when I’m in Montenegro, although, I’m afraid I’m going to be too terrified to take pictures πŸ™
    Tiffany @ theUnimaginedLife recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      Thank you Tiffany! There were definitely a few people in my basket who were pretty terrified of heights. I’m glad that’s one phobia that seems to have passed me by!

  • Jeff
    July 23 2012

    I think I’m going to adopt your SE Asia motto.
    Jeff recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      Ha, it’s pretty appropriate based on everything I’ve observed!

  • Annie
    July 23 2012

    super cool. and great photos. especially the last few.
    Annie recently posted..

  • I love it! Cool photos and the scenery is beautiful!
    crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      Thanks! The setting could not have been better. Beautiful place.

  • Dad
    July 23 2012

    I love hot air ballooning. If I recall correctly Mom shares my enthusiasm.

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      You were my very first ever hot air ballooning buddy back in Cambodia!

  • Sarah
    July 23 2012

    This is incredible! Hot air ballooning has been on my bucket list forever.
    Sarah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      Me too! Funny thing is I was trying to decide between going to Laos or Burma and one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Burma was to hot air balloon over Bagan. Little did I know what was waiting for me in Laos!

  • Dani
    July 23 2012

    Wow, it looks beautiful from up there πŸ™‚ What a fantastic experience!!
    Dani recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      It definitely is on my list of “coolest travel experiences!”

  • Lindsey
    July 24 2012

    WOW!! Absolutely adding this to my list! Amazing views πŸ™‚
    Lindsey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      This is definitely a bucket-list worthy adventure, Lindsey! Thanks for reading!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    July 24 2012

    This looks amazing–and I’ve never heard of people doing it in Laos (mostly New Mexico, California or Turkey). I feel like lately I’m the only person I know who HASN’T been up in a hot air balloon! Shows you what kind of people I hang out with/follow online, I suppose =)
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      Seems like indeed, you have pretty cool friends πŸ™‚ I LOVED hot air ballooning and this only made me want to it even more in places like Turkey, Australia, etc.

  • Jaime
    July 24 2012

    Oh this looks amazing… this is the 1st time I am hearing of Hot Air Balloons in Vang Vieng. So much is written about that place, but it’s always negative post. I will be in SEA soon and if my budget allows I will do this as well. I did a HAB ride in Luxor Egypt and it was amazing. Such a cool experience. Love the photos.
    Jaime recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2012

      You know, I have mixed feelings on Vang Vieng. I had a great time but it was definitely a guilty pleasure, emphasis on the guilty! It definitely helped to mix up the tubing with some more back-to-nature activities like caving and soaring above the clouds πŸ™‚

  • Hannah
    July 30 2012

    Wow – incredible photos Meihoukai. I didn’t know you could go ballooning in Laos so I’m excited to try it when we’re there πŸ™‚
    Hannah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 31 2012

      I was so excited to do it! Like I said elsewhere in the comments, I had almost gone to Burma rather than Laos and a big part was that I wanted to hot air balloon over Bagan…. so I’m so excited I got to do it anyway!

  • jipp
    August 19 2012

    Woah! THis is so cool. Thanks God I got to read this before I go to Laos this October. I really thought Vang Vieng was all about tubing and mount climbing. Thanks for this. πŸ˜‰
    jipp recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 19 2012

      You’re welcome! It definitely seems to be a newer attraction.

  • Brad from myWanderlist
    December 10 2013

    OK, that is literally an amazing experience, awesome photos too! I can’t believe it’s only $70 bucks?! The secret is bound to get out…
    Brad from myWanderlist recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 11 2013

      It might cost more these days, but at the time it was an absolute bargain, I agree! Though there might be a reason for that… πŸ™‚

  • Andrie
    March 15 2014

    Amazing!!!!

  • Frank
    November 7 2014

    Beautiful, great idea. We’re in Nong Khai in Dec/Jan and looking for some adventures in the area. I’ve always wanted to get up in a hot air balloon…must be pretty freaky in one of those little baskets.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Meihoukai
      November 7 2014

      This was definitely one of the highlights (pun intended!) of Laos for me. So cool! Hope you get the chance to experience it as well πŸ™‚ Happy travels!

  • Daniel
    March 21 2016

    hey, which month did u do the hot air balloon? was it july? did it rain a lot?

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2016

      Hey Daniel, it was April, and no, I don’t recall it raining at all!

  • Jeffrey
    November 13 2016

    hi! do you still have the name of the balloon company? i’ve been reading some negative reviews about hot air ballooning in vv, but after reading you blog i really want to try it!

    thanks!

    • Meihoukai
      November 14 2016

      Hi Jeffrey! Sorry, all the information I have is in this post. Good luck!

  • bubble
    October 25 2017

    Your pictures very cool. This is an amazing moment in the sky. Once I was 16 years old, I get in the balloon. I admit that I scared the heat of the fire on the balloon, but it was my great experience that I never forget.

    • Meihoukai
      October 25 2017

      I was pretty nervous too! Where did you go hot air ballooning?

      • bubble
        October 31 2017

        Thailand, Ubonratchatani province. Long time ago, it was a Children’s day and they brought the balloon to show us. They give a chance to everyone who wants to try to get in the balloon. So excited!!

        • Meihoukai
          November 2 2017

          That’s awesome! What a fun memory from growing up in Thailand πŸ™‚