2016 Taunggyi Balloon Festival

As we often do, during our 8-week trip in 2016 we timed our visits to several cities to coincide with local festivals. Our first festival on this trip was in mid-October in Luang Prabang, Lao for Van Ork Phansa celebrating Buddhist Lent and the end of the rainy season. The 3rd festival we visited was the Surin (Thailand) Elephant Roundup held in mid to late November.

balloon fireworksThe middle festival we were able to take in on this trip was the Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon and Fireworks Festival celebrated annually near Inle Lake, Myanmar in early to mid-November.

This is a weeklong Festival of Lights celebrating the Full Moon of Tazaungmon. The event takes on the atmosphere of a carnival with music, amusement rides, traditional foods and a wide variety of vendors selling all makes and manors of products. On the night we visited there was a large tightly packed crowd that made movement around the grounds difficult but not impossible.

balloon 2The main attraction to the event are large hot air paper mache balloons fueled literally by a fire r hanging beneath the opening of the balloon. And as if hanging an open fire from an outsized paper bag rising over a large crowd isn’t dangerous enough, many also carry a lower platform from which fireworks are shot off both skyward and in the direction of the crowd once the balloon is airborne.

Virtually every village and civic group in the region constructs and enters the competitions that go on for over a week. There are actually 2 competitions going on; one for the most beautifully decorated balloon and the other or the most outstanding fireworks display.

Balloon with firetruckIf you Google this event, which we had done, you’ll see some reports with warnings about safety issues so we heeded our guide’s advice and found a vantage point near one of the several fire trucks stationed strategically on the grounds on the ready in the event a wayward firework sparked a fire.

And while we didn’t witness any out-of-control fires, we did have to duck more than one rocket spinning and spiraling in our direction. In fact, we stopped filming for the video above when we had to focus on dodging fireworks but if we had managed to hold out, we could have included some impressive fireworks as the balloon rose higher and higher and eventually disappeared into the night sky.

Fortunately we were up to the challenge and lived to tell this story.