Updated 14 April 2020
The hot air balloon experience in Cappadocia, Turkey, has always been on the bucket list for many travellers. For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must-try!
P.S. Heading to Turkey? Make sure you check out our 6D5N itinerary!Credit: Giphy
I went in 2013 with my mom and dad. Before the ride, I felt genuinely scared and excited at the same time because there were a few recent accidents before my trip. To be honest I did not expect to ride a hot air balloon because I thought my dad wouldn’t pay for such an expensive ride but I was wrong ?
P.S. Explore Turkey on a budget with these 5 useful hacks!
Going with a tour group
We went on a 10-day tour to Turkey with a travel agency but the hot air balloon ride was optional. We topped up around RM600 per person for the 1-hour ride (this was in 2013, the price now is around USD140-250 per person). With the package, a halal (and delicious!) breakfast buffet was included plus a medal and small celebration with sparkling drinks after we landed. There are many similar packages and you'd have to decide which one suits you best (more on this later!). Fortunately for us, our tour guide helped us to book the package and we had to just confirm and pay a day before our ride.
We went during the Tulip season (late-April) and my recommendation is that it's good to go during this season as it's the transition season from spring to summer. So, you can expect clearer skies and cool breezy temperatures. Spring and autumn are generally the best times to visit as the weather is moderate and the crowd is lesser. During summer (July-September), it can get very hot and crowded! One thing to note is that you might not be able to take the ride if the weather condition is not safe (windy or raining).
How to dress for the ride?
As it was not that cold, I wore a casual t-shirt with a sweater and tracksuit. One important thing to remember is to wear proper shoes. It's always good to check the weather before going. It can be a bit colder when you are each 3000-5000 feet above the ground so that's when you need to bring an extra jacket or scarf to protect yourself. I don’t recommend wearing a hat or cap because it’s very windy!
During the day of our hot air balloon ride, we had to wake up as early as 4am and get ready as the transportation pickup was before 5am. You might even have to wake up earlier depending on the route of the driver and the hotel you stay at. So please sleep early so you can stay fresh during the hot air balloon ride. One of the reasons why we didn't look too excited in photos was because we were very sleepy ?
To be honest, I only started to get anxious and nervous after having breakfast and coffee (I was sleeping on the way from the hotel to the restaurant ?). To make things worse, I had a stomachache (this normally happens when I get nervous)! If you need to use the toilet, do so before heading to the hot air balloon site as it takes 10 minutes from the restaurant area to the hot air balloons and there are no toilets on site. Trust me, you won't want to disrupt your experience by having a full bladder or stomach ache!
After the initial nerves, it was finally time to get on the hot air balloon. For normal packages like ours, the group is quite huge so we were split up into different hot air balloon baskets. There are many different sizes of baskets which can fit a different number of people (4, 6 or 10). My parents and I were in the 10-pax basket. If you're in a group of family or friends, I'd suggest sticking together as the pilots for different baskets will decide where to land. It might not all be in the same location.
When we were getting on the basket, my parents and I and even our tour guide were shaking and we felt very scared because we knew it could be quite a risky ride! Plus, we were informed a night earlier that our ride might be cancelled due to the weather and now that we were actually about to take off, it made us even more scared.
As the pilot started to light the fire above us, you can just imagine how dramatic the scene was. Truth be told, I did have several thoughts of leaving the basket because I was too scared and I remember my mother’s face was so pale as we were starting to take off.
But when I saw the gorgeous sight of other hot air balloons that were already in the air, it seemed very unreal as I was witnessing that for the first time. As a hobbyist photographer at that time, my first instinct was to take as many photos as possible, so that kind of helped with the nerves a little bit.
After the first few fire shots, the pilot started to pull the trigger and without releasing it, we were already on our way up. There was no turning back now. At this point, I stopped taking photographs and just experienced the take-off. The take-off was slow and steady though it can be quite dangerous because we can bump into other hot air balloons. After a while, as we went higher, I felt more relaxed and started to enjoy the ride. Trust me, the take-off experience was the scariest part but after that, I was just full of excitement and wanted to snap as many photos as I could.
It was a little cloudy and dark for the first few minutes after take-off and once the sun shone through the surrounding, it felt magical - definitely my favourite moment! Our pilot had timed it properly and I'm so thankful for that. Literally within minutes, it turned from dark and cloudy to a sudden magical view. Subhanallah, it was a breathtaking 360-degree view. It felt unreal like I was in a dream. If you think the view from pictures is beautiful, you have to experience it with your own eyes to see the beauty in real life ?
No words can express how excited I was for the rest of the entire ride. Not to mention that it was cool and breezy from the high altitude. With me being slightly sleepy at that time, I could fall asleep in that bucket!? The experience definitely felt like a lifetime achievement, it was as though I was the king of the world.
It was nice to see that my parents enjoyed it as well, though they weren't smiling in this photo ? My dad was excited all the time and since his best friend was on the same trip as us, they were making jokes during the flight. As for my mom, I could see that she had quite a bit of mixed feelings - she was super excited but yet, paranoid of falling.
The ride was supposed to be 1 hour but we had to land early as there was one passenger with high altitude sickness. As I mentioned earlier, the pilot will decide where to land.
When we landed, a pickup truck carrying a landing platform was already in place to catch us upon landing. When we finally landed, everyone had to jump off the basket to make sure the hot air balloon stopped floating.
Though it was a little disappointing as I had wanted to stay longer and photograph more, overall I was satisfied with the perfect timing of the sunrise and I got all the shots I wanted. The only regret I had was that after we landed and I browsed through my photos, I realised that everyone didn't look too happy maybe because we were sleepy ?
Useful tipsBefore the ride:
During the ride:
- Save your money accordingly because the ride is very expensive.
- Come during a suitable season, check the weather and plan to stay a few days in Cappadocia for any unexpected events and bad weather. Also, there are so many other places that you can visit around Cappadocia that might require you to stay longer.
- There are many different packages so before choosing one, make sure you check these pointers - pilots' proficiency, size of the basket, length of flights, transport vans (to and from the area), breakfast and insurance.
- Don’t forget to get travel insurance for anything that might happen.
- Sleep early! You have to wake up very early for the hot air balloon ride!
- Avoid bringing a big backpack because you won't have a place to store it so pack lightly. My camera bag was so big that it made me a little uncomfortable.
- If you live in a humid environment like Singapore and Malaysia, you need to be prepared to moisturise your skin and lips. My lips were too dry until I had a bit of bleeding and it was visible in photographs ?
- Do note that if you do stay long enough up there, you might be facing direct sunlight. So, it's always good to use a sunscreen.
- You need to have one telephoto lens for the great view of a crowd of hot air balloons taking off and please bring a lens (16-30mm for full-frame) to photograph your family and friends in the basket because you cannot move around much in the basket.
- Shoot as much as you can when the sun starts to shine - this is the golden moment that only lasts a few minutes!
- When photographing the view, make sure the sun is on your side as the subject will be more vivid and there'll be better contrast.
Other activities in Cappadocia:
With the tour, I could go on a road trip around the west side of Turkey and stayed a few nights in Cappadocia. You shouldn’t go to Cappadocia just for hot air balloon alone!
You can explore rock houses and underground cities for free. It's one-of-a-kind in the world and a travel experience worth checking off your bucket list. A visit to the Goreme National Park is also a good idea as you'd get a stunning view of the rock formations in Cappadocia, or experience dining in a cave restaurant.
Besides that, you can also immerse in Turkish culture and experience workshops/classes for making traditional products. For example, pottery-making and silk rug making classes. You can experience extracting silk string from silk cocoon to make a rug! Don’t forget to shop for traditional Turkish plates and rugs. There are some shops and classes where the instructor can speak fluent Malay too ?
P.S. Here are the top 9 things to do in Turkey's breathtaking regions!
Final thoughts on the Cappadocia hot air balloon ride
Overall, I would highly recommend the hot air balloon experience in Cappadocia to anyone! It should definitely be on your travel bucket list. Be sure to save some money and grab this chance to experience riding a hot air balloon in a beautiful Islamic country like Turkey. But do note that it’s not worth it to take the hot air balloon during winter and rainy season because it can be dangerous and the view might not be that great. The hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is definitely one of the best experiences I've ever had and if you're thinking about it or hesitating for some reason, I say just go for it!
Disclaimer: Do note that the views expressed in this article are purely those of the writer’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect HHWT’s views.