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Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

 
 

“At first we didn’t know which way the fireworks were pointing,” confides 20-year-old Kham Than Htun as he inserts more cylinders of fireworks in neat rows attached to the hot air balloon basket. Straightening up and brushing some gun powder off his fingers, he continues, “But every year we learn.”

In eastern Myanmar, the Taunggyi Tazaungdaing hot air balloon festival was held at the start of November. Over 300 balloons were entered in the evening show, spanning just over one week. Balloons were decorated with Buddhist symbols and each weighed an average of 60 kilograms with fireworks.

The full moon celebration is also known as the “festival of lights” and is a holiday when Buddhists offer light to Buddha.

Over the years, these light displays have grown from humble candle arrangements to the more extravagant fireworks displays. This year, one shop owner was killed and at least 12 people were injured when a balloon crashed into the crowd, yet the local Pa O population say the festival will continue despite the danger.

Libby Hogan is a journalist based in Yangon, Myanmar.

Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Teams often consist of 30 to 40 volunteers to assist with holding the balloon displays. All hands on deck are needed to get the balloons up.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Team members sprint between the fire drum and their balloon as it inflates.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
One of the youngest competitors, Khun Than Htun, inspects his fireworks creation.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
The workshop of one of the teams puts the finishing touches on their fireworks display.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Each year about 300 balloons enter the Taunggyi balloon festival.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Three monks watch the evening display of balloons.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Pa O men dance down the street of Taunggyi in a parade to open the festival.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
The humble workroom of a team making their own homemade fireworks.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Young Pa O girls march down the street of Taunggyi.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
A successful flying bird balloon launch.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Two boys inspect the remains of one balloon that didn't quite make a successful take-off.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
The daytime balloon festival is just as chaotic as the nighttime event.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Onlookers watching the daytime balloon festival.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Firemen look on, ready to step in if anything goes wrong.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
A balloon with fireworks kicks into action.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
Myanmar's Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival
Displays often feature Buddhist symbols or Pa O famous figures.
Image Credit: Libby Hogan
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