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August 16, 2018

Gliding in the skies

Enjoy spectacular views at these choice spots — from a hot-air balloon

MEREDITH WOO

BASK in the serenity of dawn or the tranquillity of dusk as you watch the landscape transform from your vantage point in the sky.

Such is the appeal of hot-air ballooning, a leisurely yet magical adventure that allows you to float amid the clouds or dip low to caress the foliage and skim the waters.

The dream-like experience is often followed by a celebratory post-flight repast, often held at a vineyard or picnic spot, and almost always with bubbly.

Bagan, Myanmar

One of the best ways to experience the mystique of this ancient Buddhist city is in a hot-air balloon at dawn.

During its boom as the capital of the Pagan Empire from the 11th to 13th century, more than 10,000 religious monuments were erected. Today, about 2,200 pagodas, or stupas, and temples remain.

Watch as the sun gracefully rises, lighting the sky up in myriad hues. The iconic spires emerge from a sea of layered mist, the reddish-brown brick gleaming gold from the sun’s rays.

One of the oldest providers of hot-air ballooning here is the aptly named Balloons Over Bagan, founded in 1999.

Celebrate your descent by munching on pastries and fruits, and clinking glasses of sparkling wine; or opt for the premium package, which includes a full continental breakfast.

Ballooning season: Oct 20 to April 10, 2019

Price per person: From US$350 (S$480)

Info: www.balloonsoverbagan.com 

Cappadocia, Turkey

Like Bagan, hot-air balloon rides have become a common sight in Cappadocia.

A Unesco World Heritage Site, the district in east-central Anatolia is famed for its otherworldly geological features hewn over time by erosion and volcanic eruptions, as well as by the activities of its inhabitants in the fourth century.

Worth noting are its “fairy chimneys” — naturally formed rocky pillars, or hoodoos — as well as “pigeon holes” and underground dwellings carved from the soft rock. These include churches cut into the rock, and even massive 10-storey-deep subterranean cities that once offered refuge to up to 10,000 people at a time.

One highly rated hot-air ballooning company in Cappadocia is Royal Balloon, founded in 2010 by a local family that has served tourists for three decades.

Guests will also be delighted by the buffet breakfast offered after check-in and the customary post-flight champagne ceremony.

Ballooning season: Year round (weather permitting)

Price per person: From US$160 (S$255)

Info: www.royalballoon.com

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania 

Stretching as far as the eye can see, this phenomenal Unesco World Heritage Site spans a mammoth 1.5 million ha, or about 20 times the total area of Singapore.

During the annual Great Wildebeest Migration, two million wildebeests, 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles, 300,000 zebras and thousands of other herbivores sweep across the vast savannah with their offspring in tow — while tailed by predators — in search of water and fresh grazing spots.

Climb aboard a hot-air balloon to witness the spectacle, or marvel at the expansive glory of the plains, streaked by generations of wildlife trails, from as high as 300m.

The balloon can also take you to off-road areas, which are usually out of bounds to vehicles.

Serengeti Balloon Safaris, began operations in 1989. Its flights include an Out of Africa breakfast served in the bush, under an acacia tree.

Ballooning season: Year round (weather permitting)

Price per person: US$599 (S$815)

Info: www.balloonsafaris.com

Napa Valley, California, United States

The combination of fine wines, breathtaking aerial vistas of verdant vineyards and perfect weather here makes a hot-air balloon flight a delightful escapade.

As your balloon reaches its apex, let your eyes linger over the expanse of patchwork fields and manicured trellises. The region is home to over 400 wineries, such as Pine Ridge Vineyards, which is known for its robust Cabernet Sauvignon, and Stewart Cellars, a boutique family-owned producer.

From your gondola, you might even catch a glimpse of the rugged Palisades mountain range and Mount St Helena, the highest peak in Napa County.

One of the many hot-air balloon providers is the eponymous Napa Valley Balloons, whose fleet of pilots has accumulated 23,000 hours of ballooning experience.

After your ethereal experience, tuck into a hearty breakfast with the region’s finest bubbly at the acclaimed Domaine Chandon Winery.

Ballooning season: Year-round (weather permitting), but best in summer and autumn

Price per person: from US$239 (S$325)

Info: napavalleyballoons.com

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