Think of Ngapali and you probably picture luxury resorts and palm fringed beaches. This may well be true of the coast, but Ngapali and its surrounds offer much more than just sun, sea and sand. Dramatic mountains, tropical forests and sparkling rivers awaiting those who venture beyond the beach.
Not many do, of course, opting instead to soak up the sun from the comfort of their deck chairs. But for those who want to experience this stunning landscape and still be back on the beach in time for breakfast, there’s now a new way to see Ngapali: from the sky. Tourism mainstay Oriental Ballooning started operating flights here in November last year, making it the latest addition to their list of destinations which includes Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan.
Having recently flown over Inle Lake, I was skeptical that Ngapali’s landscapes could compete with the dramatic vistas of Shan State.
“Isn’t it just … ocean?” I ask our pilot, Allie Dunnington, before the flight.
“Ngapali has everything: Ocean, mountains, forests, pagodas. It’s perfect for ballooning,” she says.
She’s interrupted by the thunderous roar of the propane burner as the basket gently lifts off from the ground. As we float upwards, it doesn’t feel as if we’re moving at all, but as if the earth is being slowly pulled away from beneath us, and before we know it the villages beneath us have morphed into a miniture toy town. We ascend slowly, drifting silently above the palm trees, still shrouded in early morning mist.
As we climb, a breathtaking panorama unfolds around us. In the distance, the forest disappears into the dark silhouettes of mountains, behind which the first glimmers of morning light bath the horizon in a warm pink glow. Beneath us, an inky black river snakes across the landscape through a patchwork of fields before disappearing behind a curtain of cloud. Farmers attending their fields nearby smile and wave at us. Their cows, on the other hand, run away in fright, startled by the looming shadow of the balloon.
As we land, a throng of villagers appears, running across the field to greet us. They huddle around the basket, peering at us and chattering excitedly. While the crew helps us climb out of the basket, more excited spectators come running across the field to greet us, and before long a sizeable crowd has gathered.
“We call it the flying watermelon,” one woman tells me, pointing at the balloon. She scuttles off, and returns minutes later holding a ginormous watermelon, which she presents to me with a smile, pointing at the balloon again.
As best as one can whilst holding a huge watermelon, I put my hands together in a gesture of thanks. It may not be champagne, but it’s a memorable, Myanmar-style end to our own successful flight in the giant flying watermelon.