Photo Essays | Society | Southeast Asia

Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

The Taunggyi Tazaungdaing or Festival of Lights sees fireworks mixed with hot air balloons, all handled by amateurs.

By Libby Hogan for
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.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Team members sprint between the fire drum and their balloon as it inflates.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

One of the youngest competitors, Khun Than Htun, inspects his fireworks creation.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

The workshop of one of the teams puts the finishing touches on their fireworks display.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Each year about 300 balloons enter the Taunggyi balloon festival.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Three monks watch the evening display of balloons.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Pa O men dance down the street of Taunggyi in a parade to open the festival.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

The humble workroom of a team making their own homemade fireworks.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Young Pa O girls march down the street of Taunggyi.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

A successful flying bird balloon launch.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Two boys inspect the remains of one balloon that didn’t quite make a successful take-off.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

The daytime balloon festival is just as chaotic as the nighttime event.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Onlookers watching the daytime balloon festival.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Firemen look on, ready to step in if anything goes wrong.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

A balloon with fireworks kicks into action.

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Myanmar’s Deadly Hot Air Balloon Festival

Displays often feature Buddhist symbols or Pa O famous figures.

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“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.