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Cloudy with a chance of love

Pilot Raphee Kornsiyakaj checks the wind over Pak Chong Valley. Photo by The Nation

Publication Date : 10-01-2013


Just like your highschool sweetheart, a hot-air balloon makes your heart beat faster and stronger


Love is in the air, go the lyrics to John Paul Young's big hit, and for once, I don't disagree with him. Love really does seem to be all around, at least at this particular moment, as my girlfriend and I drift happily in a hot-air balloon more than 300 metres above Pak Chong district in Nakhon Ratchasima, northeast of Bangkok.

The first rays of the morning sun rise beyond the high ranges of Khao Yai National Park. The valley unfolds beneath us in dramatic and beautiful hues, offering an ever-changing changing patchwork of massive, stark cornfields, huddles of resorts, golf courses and vineyards. White birds are flying below us in formation, presumably on their way to the nearest reservoir for a fish breakfast.

More than 10,000 visitors drive up to Pak Chong every weekend, but only very few are privileged to enjoy such a magnificent view of Pak Chong. The sensational sunrise, breath-taking scenery and, of course, the adrenaline rush are thanks to Raphee Kornsiyakaj, our pilot, who takes us up in the air and for the cruise above Pak Chong.

Part of Kirimaya's Ballooning Adventure, this special trip is designed for couples - all kinds of twosomes, in fact - who want to experience a romantic escape in style during the season of love next month. After 20 Valentine Days and more "been-there-done-that" experiences that we can remember, my girlfriend and I brave twinges of vertigo and give a hot-air balloon the chance to spice up our romance.

Surprisingly enough, the hot-air balloon is a lot like love itself. You know where it begins but you have no idea where it will lead.

"You cannot set a direction for the balloon flight. It depends on the wind," says Raphee, as we're taking off and gaining altitude over Kirimaya Resort.

I should have asked him before getting airborne. Now I can't tell falling in love from a fear of falling.

Like when you catch sight of your crush, my heart starts racing harder and faster and both legs are shaking. It's the adrenaline rush: you can count on ballooning for that 'falling-in-love-again' experience. To calm my nerves, I look across the pilot's shoulders and feast my eyes on the spectacular sunrise.

It is starting to get light. The sky grows slowly pink, revealing the valley shrouded in silver mist. Suspended at 300 metres, we watch the rising sun casts long shadows across the high ranges of Khao Yai National Park, a Unesco's World Heritage site. We can also see the ground crew, on their quad bikes, tracing our course and exchanging jokes with our pilot through walkie-talkie radios.

After 60 minutes, Raphee asks: "Where shall we land?"

"How about at the balcony of Villa 911 in Muthi Maya Resort," I suggest, thinking we might at well end the trip at our villa.

But as I said earlier, the problem with ballooning is that you don't know where it ends. Five minutes later, we come to land on the 11th hole of the Kirimaya Golf Court.

"I did my best," he laughs. "But we missed a hole in one."

Forget the hole in one. A Champagne breakfast is waiting for us at Kirimaya. As I climb out the basket, I hear a cork popping and the glorious aroma of eggs and bacon drifting on the still morning air.

Getting there

Kirimaya is tucked away in Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima province, about two hour's drive from Bangkok. The Ballooning Adventure, with choices of accommodation, such as Terrace Suite or Tented Villa, is available from January 15 to February 28. The resort also arranges a flight-only experience (with champagne breakfast) for a pair of lovers.


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