Hot Air Balloons in Taunggyi

Month:   November
Visited: 2166 Time

         Taunggyi is the capital of the Shan state in Myanmar. Most visitors come to the Shan state to visit the Inle Lake with its floating markets and gardens. A less known sight occurs annually in October-November in Taunggyi. This capital of the Shan state hosts the Tazaungdaing Festival is held, 6 days before the full moon of Tazaungmone (November).
         The Tazaungdaing festival contains of three parts. There are processions with lighted candles, but there are also Non-stale weaving competitions called Matheo Thingan. This competition is held on the eve of the day before full moon between teams of women. Robes calls “Ma Tho Thin Gan” (None Stale Robe) are woven from evening till dawn. At dawn, the prizes are given to the winners and the finished robes are offered to images of Buddha.

         The most spectacular part of the festival is the hot air balloon contests, held in commemoration of offering lights to the “Sula Mani Pagoda” that is build in Tavatisma (the heaven of the 33 gods). The Buddha birth stories (Jatakas) tell that prince Theidatta made a great renunciation, afterwards shedding His hair and flung them into the sky. The king of the 33 gods (Tagyarmin) took those hairs and enshrined those into the “Sula Mani Pagoda”. To honour this pagoda, the hot air balloons take off into the sky each year.
         The balloons rise during the day and the night. Day balloons are normally in the form of pagodas and animals such as elephants, ducks or dragons. The night balloons are have less spectacular forms, but they are exuberantly decorated with small coloured paper lanterns that are hung at the sides of the balloons in the form of religious figures, floral designs and the name of the group. The balloons are not only spectacular decorated, they are also huge. Their height is between 6-7 meters and they have a diameter between 5-6 meters. Some balloons are filled with fireworks and if they reach a certain height there is a spectacular explosion of coloured fireworks. The balloons are evaluated on the altitude it reaches, how long it stays in the air but the emphasis is on its beauty.

         All balloons are handmade out of traditional Shan paper and pieces of cloth. The pieces of cloths are soaked in oil and wax for several days and then wrapped up to the iron frame. A group of approximately 400 people work more then 1½ month on a balloon, by shaping the parts separately and combining them later. Around 135 balloons rise up during the festival, so one can imagine how many people from Taunggyi and the surrounding places are directly involved.
         When you are going to the festival, you will hear drums that will bring you in delirium. The streets are filled with gambling stalls and you can buy food and drinks everywhere. Drinking is one of the side activities of the Myanmar men during the festival, and you will see quite some drunken guys but there is a good atmosphere. Most people gather on the big square where the balloons rise into the air. When a new balloon is in turn, the mass of people makes some tiny little space to let the group enter the square. The balloons and its candles are transported on a little truck and the group accompanying it walks behind it while slamming on their drums.

         There is a special “VIP” tribune for the local VIP’s and foreigners, and the officials will try to persuade you to stay there. You will have a good view over there, but it is much more exciting to stroll around and participate between the festivities. As said, centre of the excitement is the square surrounded also surrounded by food stalls. People love to show how they are building up their balloons and having a drink with you. But be aware, if you go on the square it is very busy so this may not be a good idea for the claustrophobic ones. If you like a nice view without being surrounded by the VIP’s, but if you don’t like the extreme busyness you could walk up to the pagoda on the hill. Although it’s crowded during the festival, it is a more tranquil place where you can enjoy the view without some are walking you off your feet.
         Going to the hot air balloon festivities in Taunggyi is a great experience that you won’t forget for the rest of you life. So, if you are in Myanmar at the end of October/ November you should to try to be in Taunggyi during the festival. A good chance that this will be a highlight of your trip.