Tazaungdiang Festival, Festival of Lights, celebrates the end of the rain season (monsoon). It’s a Buddhist tradition and a national holiday in Myanmar, celebrated on the full moon day of Tazaungmon, the 8th month of the Burmese lunar calendar. International that is usually in Nov.
During this festival that takes a week, people all over the country take part in competitions of waving monk robes. Offerings and donations to charity are important parts of this festival too. In many places hot air balloons lit with candles are released to celebrate Tazaungdiang, as offerings and to drive away evil spirits. Pagodas are visited and many live concerts and traditional (theater) dramas are organized.
Balloon Festival in Taunggyi
Most famous is the Balloon Festival in Taunggyi, a town north-east of Inle Lake at an altitude of 1500 m. Families lit balloons and candles at daytime during 3 days at the Awayyar Fire Balloon Field, just outside of the town. Many other activities can be visited, like markets, shops, food and drink stalls and a funfair.
The hot air balloon competition starts after sunset of the last day. This event attracts more than 20.000 spectators, most locals. Each team enters the field in a parade of a few vehicles, bringing the balloon. The parade circles around the field with music from a pickup truck. They stop at the center, where the balloon gets filled with hot air. After months of hard work now is the time to shine in the competition. Usually the whole ritual takes around 30 minutes, so about 2 balloons an hour can be expected to lift-off.
Booking and travel
Another option is to visit Nyaungshwe for the wonderful Inle Lake, of which you can read in another post on this site. From Nyaungshwe it is around 1 hour by car to the balloon festival in Taunggyi. Travel agencies offer a trip to the balloon festival. You can be picked up at your hotel, or you walk to the gathering point in the small village. The 35 km to the Awayyar Fire Balloon Field takes about a 1 hour drive. From the parking place it is about 20 minutes walking uphill to the field. Along this road you’ll find many market shops and places for food and drinks.
Don’t expect a comfortable touring car. It will be an open truck with a bench left and right. Sitting face to face, like sardines in a can, expect lots of bumping and shaking. This is the common way of transport, so try to get used to it. Bring a sweater for the chilly evening wind.
When arrived, the truck driver gives the time and location for pickup to return to your hotel. When possible, take a picture of the truck, driver and license plate to be sure finding your truck at night.
Be on the safe side
Most of the balloons carry fireworks, which lit after the balloon is airborne. However, that’s a matter of timing and influenced by weather conditions. The balloons take-off from within the crowd and the fireworks light up from the basket underneath. Some balloons don’t get up fast enough though, so the firework lights up already when still within the crowd.
Other recommendable precautions are glasses to protect your eyes and a hat and jacket. The hat and jacket possibly fireproof or easy to take off in case it does catch fire, as some people walk around with fire torches and drank too much as an associated part of their festival. So be alert to what happens around you to stay away of danger. These precautions should be enough to keep you on the safe side.
The participants have spent a lot of time and effort to make beautiful balloons and a spectacular fireworks show. The show is awesome. The balloons can be seen a long time in the sky picking up more altitude.
Occasionally a balloon catches fire from the fireworks and falls back into the crowd before reaching a safe altitude. From distance it might look spectacular but people have to run away quickly to make place for the in flames falling balloon, spitting fireworks around. Some people endure small burn wounds, but that risk is part of the spectacular game for the locals.
Overall it’s an exciting and spectacular experience. When you visit Inle Lake in November, attending the famous Balloon Festival in Taunggyi is highly recommended and an unforgettable experience.