This fire balloon festival, lasting 7 days, is held every year in Taunggyi. Celebrating the end of the rainy season, it coincides with the first full moon after Buddhist lent. The hot air balloon competition, day and night, attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Teams prepare for months creating intricately designed paper balloons. Daytime is more sedate…a great time for families. Hot air balloons in the shapes of animals such as parrots, cows, elephants are launched. There are also stalls with games, rides, and plenty of food.
Nighttime is when the real excitement occurs. Men danced with each other as they waited for the next balloon preparations to commence. Some balloons are attached with hundreds of candles. Fifty kilos of fireworks are attached to other paper balloons, setting off a sparkling array of blues, reds, oranges, yellow, and purple light shows as the balloons are launched. Visitors beware! This can be dangerous. Our guide warned us to be aware of which way the wind was blowing, and cautioned us about getting too close. Thinking he was being overly cautions, I only listened with half an ear. As we watched a balloon being fired up to launch, suddenly the wind shifted. The balloon hadn’t quite launched when the fireworks were triggered sooner than planned, shooting out arbitrarily into the crowd.. Adrenaline surged as people stampeded to get to higher ground. Luckily no one was hurt. The firemen on site got the situation under control. From a safer distance we watched the balloon soar upward, spraying it’s dazzling array of fireworks in it’s wake.
The balloons launch approximately every 2o minutes. During the break we meandered through the stalls. The scents of fried food and incense fills the air. Different genres of live music can be heard…from rap, to pop, to more traditional Myanmar melodies. Beer, rum, gin, and whiskey are sold almost everywhere. Many of the games are typical of carnivals and fairs. For a few Kyet (pronounced chet) you can try your hand at winning prizes. The Ferris Wheel was quite an interesting site. It’s powered manually. With increased fascination we watched as 10 young men climbed up the spokes of the 50 foot structure, using their bodies as momentum to power the wheel. Hearts thumping we observed some of them swinging from the bars as the wheel spins toward the ground, as others, upside down, swayed between the bars. To stop, they dangle from the back of the chairs to slow down the force. Dang….that would never fly in the Western world.
All in all, the festival was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. In the Shan state, the mountain town of Taunggyi is about an hour ride (longer with traffic) from Nyang Shwe/Inle Lake. Transportation can be arranged for about $12.00.