EXCITED but a little nervous — I have a mixed feelings on what I have signed up for today. Nevertheless, I am about to get another tick on my bucketlist — riding a hot air balloon!
I have been wanting to do this since my visit to the Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta a few years ago. Amazed by the pretty vibrant balloon floating in the air, I always wondered how it really works.
So here I am, waiting for the pick-up from Balloon Adventures Dubai at 5.45am. Yerp, I am going on a hot air balloon for the first time and I am doing this across the desert of Dubai!
UP, UP AND AWAY
Sharp at 6am, a white van with Balloon Adventure Dubai arrives.The driver comes out of the van and hands us a boarding pass form to fill in.
“There are already a few on board, and the four of you are our last pick-ups. We will go straight to the take-off location from here,“ he says. From where we are now at Dubai Outlet Mall, it will take 20 minutes to go to the take-off point.
It‘s still dark and we are in the desert, cold and windy. I have no clue on my exact location (somewhere in Al-Faqaa‘) but I‘m glad that I‘m not doing this alone. With me on my first hot-air balloon experience are my three siblings.
Our parents, who aren‘t with us today, are freaking out. They keep texting us every minute for updates. But we assure them that it is absolutely safe and they have nothing to worry about as we have good weather today.
The other passengers are from China, Korea, Canada and German and for many, it is their first time too.
While the Balloon Adventure Dubai crew members, known also as BAD Boys, are setting up the balloon, the pilot Richard briefs the passengers on safety standards. He teaches us how to use the safety harness, the take-off and landing positions, as well as how and when to board the basket. We are also given a safety belt each to wear.
“Passengers aren‘t allowed to bring any belongings, except camera and phones. But don‘t use them during take-off and landing,“ says Richard. He then ushers us to the launch ground where we wait for his cue.
Setting up the balloon may look easy. But, it‘s not. It may take at least 20 minutes to inflate the balloon and a lot of hard work is put into it.
Before inflating the balloon with hot air, it is first filled with cold air using a powerful fanat the base of the envelope. When there is enough air in the balloon, then hot flames shoot from a burner to heat the air inside, creating pressure until the balloon inflates and lifts off the ground.
It‘s quite incredible to see the flat envelope expand into a giant balloon that can carry up to 23 people!
“You can now come aboard, guys!“ Richard calls out to the passengers. One by one, we jump up into the basket as it slowly lifts off from the ground.
It‘s quite unnerving at first when the basket starts to float above the ground but surprisingly, it lifts off smoothly. Within a minute, we are already soaring across the desert.
The view from up here is amazing. The sun is about to rise and we are going to see it from a height.
On board, there are a few couples, cuddling each other and enjoying the spectacular view. Oh, watching the sunrise on a hot air balloon, definitely romantic!
The bright orange dot in the horizon isn‘t shy to show herself today. We are lucky as there is no fog and the sky is crystal clear. By now, we are already at 1,220m high and Richard steadily spins the hot air balloon at a slow pace so that everyone gets a view of the sunrise.
As the sun gradually rises, we get to admire the landscape. From up here, the sands have many saturated colours, probably created by the shadows.
Since we are not the only hot air balloon riders today, the sky looks really picture-perfect, painted in orange hues and dotted with coloured balloons.
FLYING WITH A FALCON
We have been flying for 20 minutes now. Besides admiring the desert scenery, passengers will also experience flying with the world‘s fastest bird, the Peregrine falcon!
Renowned for speeds reaching over 320 km per hour, we now have the chance to see it in action.
On board with us is Henry, a falcon trainer and his 2-year-old falcon Pikachu. He will beflying around the hot air balloon. What awes me most is that Pikachu knows how to return to his owner‘s arm!
The Peregrine falcon is a well-respected falconry bird due to its strong hunting ability, high trainability and versatility. Its main diet are medium-sized birds but it occasionally hunts small mammals and reptiles, even insects.
Besides the falconry show, Richard shows us some of his skills, such as the hot air balloon “French kissing“. He flies the hot air balloon really close to other hot air balloons. It really is an exhilarating moment as two balloons come close and softly tap each other.
After almost an hour, it is now time to land.
We attach our safety belts to a harness on the basket and get into the landing position by bending our knees, almost like a sitting posture.
The hot air balloon slowly descends lower and lower. Since we‘re in a sitting position, I can‘t really tell if we‘re nearer to the ground or not but suddenly I can feel the bottom of the basket bumping the ground.
When our ride finally comes to a halt, the basket gradually flips to the side towards our back. It‘s an interesting way of landing; we are now lying on our backs, waiting for the cue to get off one by one.
After the hot air balloon experience, we head for breakfast at a Bedouin camp in Dubai Desert Conservation, 15 minutes away from the landing site.
We first head there in a van but, on our arrival at the conservation, colourful classic open top 1950s Land Rovers await. Guests are invited to go on a 10-minute bumpy sand dune ride on the Land Rovers to the camp.
Upon arrival, guests are served local coffee and dates, and invited for a gourmet buffet breakfast with dishessuch as caviar, smoked salmon, eggs Benedict and fresh fruit.
At the camp, guests can also freshen up at clean, private bathrooms. For AED1,195 (RM1,280), that morning’s experience is really worth it!
BALLOON ADVENTURES DUBAI
1303 Control Tower, Motor City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 4 440 9827
Whatsapp: +971 5442 54995
For more info, visit www.ballooning.ae/hot-air-balloon-ride/
Adult: AED1,195 (RM1,280)
Child (five - 11): AED1,045
Half day in the morning, daily until May 31. Close in Summer (June to August)
WHAT IS INCLUDED:
- Pick-up and drop-off from and to the hotel
- One-hour balloon flight time
- Falconry show
- Breakfast at a Bedouin camp