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Up Up and Away – How We Crashed A Hot Air Balloon

In the Middle of A Hot Air Balloon Crash
Snapping photos in the middle of the hot air balloon crash

Weeks into trekking through Asia we’d arrived at my favorite part of china, Yangshuo. After being hassled to buy DVDs for days, scammed at both the Beijing airport and the cab from the airport, we’d finally found our way from the smog that is Beijing. Yangshou, and that part of China look like the china you see in paintings, on their currency and in films. Towering peaks breaking low laying clouds, rivers snaking through lush terrain, picturesque clouds over mountains. Arriving in Yangshuo we soon found ourselves inner tubing through mud filled caves, eating pig penises on a stick and drinking God knows what, lots of animals penises in whisky I can only assume, it is China. Yangshuo is one of the more picturesque areas I’ve been too, very distinct and you’ve never seen another place like it. It’s beautiful. It’s also fairly popular with hot air balloon rides. Did I say hot air balloon rides? Funny, I meant hot air balloon crashes.

Hot Air Ballooning Yangshuo
Your typical photo from a hot air balloon trip in Yangshuo, and how our ride started

“Meet at the KFC”, if you ever go to China you’ll soon reignite your love affair with KFC, trust me. But we didn’t meet at KFC, We’d gotten too drunk and slept in or we went somewhere to tube or something, I can’t remember. We apologized and rescheduled a meet again at…KFC. Chinese people really like KFC. The next day we woke up early, stumbled through the rain and the snaky alleyways to our beloved KFC. A short van ride into the middle of nowhere we came to our hot air balloon, yellow and blue and bloated full of hot air. Like an ex-girlfriend.

Nearly crashing into the farmers house
Getting pretty low to the ground, we nearly missed a farmers house. We didn’t miss his fence…

If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon your only frame of reference is probably 1980’s music videos or calendars of the same era. Let me tell you, I know there may be an illusion of romance connected to a hot air balloon, but it’s not only ear plug loud, it’s also hot. You’re basically riding a little bomb, a little bomb in a basket under a balloon.

Hot Air Ballooning through bushes
Just feet from the ground, preparing for impact amongst the trees

Wed paid for a 30-minute ride, and again, if you’ve never been, never go up for more than 30 minute, it goes up and moves around. That’s about it, and you’re confined to about 4sq feet, along with the “pilot”. So after being I don’t know 10,000 ft in the air we began to bob up and down for fun I suppose, seeing the valleys and peaks. It starts raining, “hmm” I though, as hot tub hot water rolled off the balloon onto us. We went back up, 28 or so minutes in we start to lower towards the earth. I’d assumed the ride was over but the cost of admission was just about to begin.

Our Hot Air Balloon Pilot
“Hold On!” – our hot air balloon captain

Lower and lower we go. It wasn’t until we were about 40 feet above the ground in descent that I realized “oh shit, we’re crashing”. I looked to my friend and without saying a word we were on the same page; I think this was the stage where we started laughing maniacally. The basket is now a few feet off the ground flying past trees and towards a dirt farmers branch assembled fence. BAM! We crash through the fence exploding it like in a bad action sequence. The basket plops into a rice patty finally stopping, bobbing around like a toy. Our laughing must have terrified the “pilot” at this point, “hold on, one more” he said. “What?” it was at this point it was clear, the basket had come to a stop, but the balloon, she still wanted to dance. The balloon starts dragging and bouncing us through the field like a ball on a string with too much slack. Clumsy and awkward it was wrecking ball- the ride. Finally, the balloon stalled and lay on its side, we were free. Now to flee the crime scene, we quickly hopped out of the basket and moved along the banks of the rice field, I kept falling into the basins as my friend only helped by shooting photos. Maybe after a 1/4-mile we got back to the road and the van, and made our escape, laughing all the way. Drunk from the night before and full of a new lease on life we rode back to our hostel, laughing in death’s face. Word on the street the hot air balloon rides of Yangshuo are no more. After the death of 4 tourists the locals have put a stop to the rides for the time being. The incident now ranks in my top 5 of best moments of life. You’re never more alive than when close to death and like Icarus before us; we flew too close to the sun. Only in a hot air balloon.

The crash is over
Not sure whats going on as we’ve stopped crashing through the trees, bushes, and some poor farmers fence
Help arrives
Help arrives and we’re told to leave the balloon
Abandoning the Pilot
Abandoning the Captain as he sits stuck in a farmers rice paddy
Laughing as we run away
At this point we don’t really know whats going on, not much English being spoken, could not stop laughing
Falling in Rice Paddy
I kept slipping off the narrow muddy path into the rice paddy
Cant stop laughing
For some reason we were laughing hysterically throughout the whole experience
Safely to the van after the crash
Our journey ends as we reach the safety of the van, still laughing

Estimated Crash Site Map

One good comment on "Up Up and Away – How We Crashed A Hot Air Balloon"

  • April  @ Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    This made me laugh!!!!!!!!!! Loved the description! I’ve been to China but never made it out of the cities…have always wanted to see the sort of China you picture in your head!

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