You can soar above the Earth in a variety of aircraft, but perhaps none offers the breathtaking experience of a hot air balloon. You barely notice you've lifted off as the basket rises from the ground. The propane burners roar as they fill the chamber with air. Once airborne, you're soaring like a bird, free to enjoy the fresh air and 360-degree views. Of course, all views are not created equal. While hot air ballooning anywhere is a thrill, some places are more impressive than others.
Click through to see some of the world's most beautiful places for a hot air balloon flight.
With many observers lifting calls to boycott travel to Myanmar, now just might be the time to visit the ancient temples of Bagan. The complex is composed of 5,000 pagodas, temples and monasteries in a bend of the shimmering Irrawaddy River. It's a big area to take in on foot or by motorbike. A hot air balloon ride offers an ideal way to soak in the enormity of the majestic scene. Just be sure to visit outside of the rainy season (April through November) to ensure balloon flights are operating.
Masai Mara, Kenya
For a quieter approach to seeing the Masai Mara's incredible wildlife than the average bone-rattling safari vehicle, consider a hot air balloon ride over the revered game park. The park always delivers big animal action, but the most spectacular time to float over the area is during the Great Migration. From July to October, over 1 million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles file into the grasslands to feed after a long journey from Tanzania's Serengeti. You might also see hippos, impalas and lions on the hunt — from a safe distance, of course.
Queenstown, New Zealand
From excellent wines to jaw-dropping scenery, New Zealand's South Island inspires a lot of superlatives. But all of the adventure activity can get tiring. Pass on the ubiquitous bungee jumping touts in Queenstown for something more civilized: a ride over scenery you just might recognize from "The Lord of the Rings" movies. Balloons float down the valleys connecting Queenstown and Arrowtown. Snowy-peaked mountains line the way and patchworks of crop fields, rivers and lakes come together like puzzle pieces below.
You won't likely have the skies to yourself above the magical landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey's Central Anatolia region, but admiring the sometimes hundreds of other balloons on the horizon adds to the grandeur of the views below. Fairy chimneys—volcanic rock formations that were used as cave dwellings by ancient Cappadocians—rise in peaks from undulating hillsides. Your balloon pilot might even come close enough to the Earth to allow you to pluck an apricot from a tree or spot a fox hunting in the low grass.
Loire Valley, France
Hot air ballooning was invented in the late 18th century by two French brothers with the last name Montgolfier (which, not coincidentally, is the French word for "hot air balloon"). Is it any surprise, then, that the pursuit's birthplace dishes up one of its most formidable experiences? Even if you've admired the French countryside from a terrestrial viewpoint before, there's nothing quite like seeing the chateaux, vineyards and medieval villages from on high while floating through the spectacular Loire Valley. Champagne toast to follow? The French wouldn't have it any other way.
Napa Valley, California
There's nothing wrong with spending most of your time in Napa exploring wineries, but seeing the valley by hot air balloon is something else entirely. Dress warmly for your 5 a.m. wake-up call. The early morning chill will ensure you're wide awake for the fantastic views of perfectly arranged vineyards tucked against picturesque mountainsides. It only gets better when the sun peeks through the gauzy morning clouds, bathing everything in a golden glow -- not unlike that of the area's renowned Chardonnays.
Admire Sedona's wind-carved sandstone formations and deep red buttes when they're at their most beautiful: warmed by the colors of the sunrise. And do it from above. Locals in Sedona like to talk about the area's vortexes — spots that some insist heighten spiritual attunement. Whether you believe in that or not, you'll be hard pressed not to feel a part of something bigger as you bask in views of the region's glowing red rock landscape from high above.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
From a hot air balloon you can watch the rising sun lick the craggy peaks of the Teton range around Yellowstone, one of the world's most iconic national parks. It's not unusual to spot moose or hear the bugling of elk during balloon rides over Jackson Hole. The Snake River curls beneath you as the nearby ski slopes come into sight. The expansive views take in seven mountain ranges, including the Yellowstone plateau. Morning flights are best not only because winds are calmest but because wildlife is at its most active.
The North Pole
Ever competitive, cruise ships are always expanding their shore excursion offerings. One North Pole cruise operator, Quark Expeditions, really stepped things up in 2012 by offering the world's first-ever passenger hot air balloon flights at the North Pole. They're tethered flights that take place close to the ship, but that shouldn't diminish the experience of being among the few souls ever to float above sheer expanses of ice in one of the world's most frigid and remote environments.
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Palm Springs, California
Get a bird's eye view of Palm Springs during a hot air balloon flight over the tony California desert town and surrounding Coachella Valley. Sunrise or sunset is the perfect time for a flight, depending on winds. In addition to ogling the town's palatial estates and midcentury modern architecture, you'll see golf courses and polo fields, as well as orchards brimming with fruit. Flights take off from November to April; in summer, sizzling temperatures are unfavorable for flying.
The World's Best Places to Go Hot Air BallooningThese spots offer the planet's most spectacular soaring experiences