A trip to Myanmar is mostly a throwback in time, where life still goes at a slower pace. Internet came to the country relatively recently and old traditions live strong everywhere you visit. In the midst of the peacefulness, whether in Mandalay or Bagan, there is always a feeling of being lost in time. But that doesn’t mean the country isn’t filled with surprises at every corner.
Case in point is the Taunggyi hot air balloon festival. This annual event is a stark contrast to all the other serene festivals: it’s loud, bright and colorful. Myanmar pop music, fireworks, bright neon lights, and the main attraction: colorful hot air balloons.
The Tazaundaing festival marks the end of the rainy season in Myanmar. Traditionally, this happens on the full moon day of Tazaungmon in November. In the 19th century, the British brought some unusual attraction to the festival: a competition of hot air balloons.
Several weeks before the festival begins, locals in the Shan region build hot air balloons from scratch. People use Shan paper to make the balloons, a material made from Mulberry bark. The balloons are then decorated with paintings, candles and fireworks... yes you read right: fireworks!
Come festival time, balloons are released into the air, with hundreds of burning candles and fireworks shooting in all directions. After about 15 minutes of chaotic, yet mesmerizing beauty, the balloons burn in the sky, the remains falling to the ground.
If you are in Myanmar around November, this fascinating spectacle is a must. It is a great opportunity to see another side of Myanmar people, who are normally rather shy and quiet. Loud music, fireworks, and celebrations mark this unique festival. The colorful balloons shine bright in the night sky before “going up” in flames in the sky above the crowds. This certainly is an unforgettable experience you’ll only be able to experience in Myanmar.
Keep it safe
While Myanmar thrill seekers usually try to get as close as possible to the balloons, we recommend watching the spectacle from a safe distance. As you may imagine, fireworks on hot air balloons in the middle of large crowds are inevitably risky, especially for the uninitiated. Thankfully, local authorities are considerate and have set up special sections for foreigners. As always, travel smart and be safe but don’t miss out on the fun and unique adventures in each country. Much like a hot air balloon, balance is key.
Thanks to Dustin Main for these incredible photos. Check out his Instagram for more amazing pictures of Myanmar and take a look at his website too!
How to get to Taunggyi hot air balloon festival
As a visitor, we recommend staying in Kalaw or Nyaung Shwe which is closer. Accommodations at Taunggyi are very limited, especially for tourists. From there you will need to hire a car to get to Taunggyi. Private or shared cars are easily arranged for the festival and take about 45 minutes from Nyaung Shwe and 2 hours from Kalaw. Being a popular festival, traffic can be pretty dense at times as there is only 1 main road up to Kalaw.