Interview: Chief Pilot Mark “Nobby” Simmons of Balloons Over Bagan

“For Balloons Over Bagan, what started out as a single hot air balloon with eight crew over 20 years ago has now grown into a 12-balloon fleet with over 100 local staff and 16 foreign pilots and technicians. The company is arguably the most established ballooning provider in Bagan — a vast land of green plains where over 3,000 temples sit. And floating dreamily over the landscape is, in our opinion, the best way to witness the scale of it all.”

– By Chuin Ying

To give us a bird’s eye view perspective, we speak to Balloons Over Bagan’s Chief Pilot Mark “Nobby” Simmons on why going sky high over the ancient city of temples and pagodas is such an indelible delight.

Why should a guest fly over Bagan? 

Of all the wonderful countries I have flown in, Myanmar is definitely at the top of my favourite list. The scenery in Bagan when you look down on the temples spread out across the Ancient Monument zone is just breathtaking. From a piloting perspective, the calm weather conditions are just perfect.

What’s your favourite part of your job as a balloon pilot?

Working abroad and being able to travel with my family. My wife, Janet and I made the decision to homeschool our two children so that we could stay together as a family during my contracts away from home. 

We first arrived in Bagan on my son, Henry’s 2nd birthday while Janet was pregnant with our daughter, Lewella. He will turn 14 in January and Lewella is now 11 so they have spent their childhood living in both the UK and Myanmar.

For my wife and I, we feel that we couldn’t have given our children a better start in life in seeing the world and understanding different cultures.

Preparing for take-off moments before sunrise

What was your most memorable flight?

I hold a couple of ballooning World Records, one of them being the youngest pilot to captain a balloon across the English Channel in 1992 when I was 21. This flight took a lot of preparation and I had good luck with the weather, but to fly from England all the way to France was pretty special.

How did you become a balloon pilot?

My first balloon training flight was on May 4, 1989. I was fortunate enough to start working as a Ground Crew for my friend’s father who ran an advertising balloon company in the UK. It took two years of flight training to achieve my Private Pilots License in January 1991, and then my Commercial Pilots License in December of the same year. At the age of 22 years old, I was — at the time — the youngest Commercial Hot Air Balloon Pilot in Europe.

Bask in a beautiful Bagan sunrise from a balloon basket as you float above regal temples shrouded in mist

How many years have you been working in Bagan?

I have been working for Balloons over Bagan since 2007. In 2014, I was appointed Chief Pilot.

Where else in the world have you flown?

I have flown in over 35 countries during my career. I’ve seen some beautiful parts of the world, from the deserts of Morocco to the snow-covered mountains of Switzerland — all from the basket of a hot air balloon.

I also met my wife while flying in Switzerland. She was taking a year-long sabbatical from university in Toronto and I was attending a winter balloon meet in a town called Château d’Oex when we first met, so flying in the Swiss Alps holds fond memories for me.

Photo credits: Sunrise Sunset Times

Blue Sky Escapes Exclusive: Enjoy a 1-for-1 Hot Air Balloon Flight

In partnership with Balloons Over Bagan, we are delighted to invite you to soar over the ancient city of Bagan with Mark and his team through our exclusive offer: book a ride with us and the second person flies for free*.

Book your next unforgettable ride with your loved ones at ask@blueskyescapes.co or +65 68146939.

*Valid only with a minimum of six booked nights with Blue Sky Escapes in Myanmar before 10 April 2019.

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