Balloons At Sunrise

The basket bumps and skids along the ground, almost out of control despite the men and women gripping the sides fighting to steer the heavy beast.

The basket and its cargo lift a few centimetres and the handlers fight harder to push it where it’s supposed to be, well clear of spectators and the surrounding not-fully-inflated balloons.

At last, it’s in a safe spot and the pilot pulls hard on a handle, releasing a noisy jet of flame up into the brightly coloured balloon. Suddenly, the basket is rising, faster than seemed possible a moment ago.

The crowd applauds and exhales an audible “awwwww”. A balloon taking off is indeed a majestic sight, especially at this site, The Prince Royal’s College in Chiang Mai.

We were up before the sun, bleary and gritty-eyed, but eager to see the balloons take off on the first morning of the Thailand International Balloon Festival.

Fumbling in the dark, Darling Man and I stuffed sleepy baby limbs into a hot pink track suit and loaded the limp body onto the motorbike.

We passed young monks collecting alms in the pre-dawn chill, hugging silver pots of food to their stomachs. Some had slipped the food pots down the front of their saffron robes. No shoes and bare shoulders — no wonder they were feeling the cold.

We find the royal field, floodlit and full of people milling about with enormous cameras. I see many people with lanyards displaying official-looking passes. I worry that we won’t be able to get close enough to the balloons because we are not accredited media.

But there is no official types separating the non-accredited from the action, so we dive in.

We watch people efficiently unpack huge rucksacks stuffed full of parachute silk and drag metres and metres and metres of it across the ground.

Giant fans are used to puff up the fabric. Once deemed puffed enough, the flame is brought into play.

As the darkness fades, the colours of the balloons become more intense. More balloons puff and tilt upright.

And then they start to take off, each liftoff celebrated with applause and “awws”. Miss M and I wave to each basket-full of aviators as they slip up and up and disappear over the trees.

Finally, the last one lifts off and there is no reason to stay. The Prince Royal’s College is actually a school. The sun is up and the grounds are now swarming with children in 1920s-style uniforms.

Time to head home and catch up on sleep.

Darling Man, who celebrates his birthday today, has an eager gleam in his eye. I know he wants to come back Saturday and Sunday morning. I know he’s also keen for the night-time liftoffs and fireworks. “We’ll bring a tripod for the night show,” he declares as we ride home.

Tonight we will have a Thanksgiving dinner with American friends, new friends we’ve met here in Chiang Mai. Right now it seems we do indeed have a lot to be thankful for.

And after all those words, here is it is in pictures:

Thailand International Balloon Festival in Chiang Mai

Thailand International Balloon Festival in Chiang Mai

Thailand International Balloon Festival 2011

Hot air balloons in Thailand

Where ever in the world you are right now, there is still time to catch the Thailand International Balloon Festival — it’s on til Sunday!

Details are here:

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5 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, went back to work and then decided to drop out again. Blogging from Ho Chi Minh City at the moment. With two kids, unexpected but much-loved repercussions of dropping out!


  1. amazing! i love hot air balloons – they are so very beautiful. and happy birthday!! what a great celebration!

  2. I really want to do a balloon ride sometime. Just have never been to a festival. Might have to try it in Egypt when we are there soon. Love the photos of the flames, very well captured.

  3. Randy says:

    Fantastic piece! We took a sunrise balloon ride a few weeks back over Cappadocia, Turkey, and it was pretty unbelievable.

  4. I am usually all about the photos, but I really enjoyed your description in this piece.

    • Barbara says:

      Sometimes I think no photos is just as good! Other times, I’m dying to take a photo but just don’t have a free hand. Toddlers sometimes need two hands, sometimes four!

  5. Great pictures! My fear of heights usually keeps me grounded 🙂

    • Barbara says:

      My Mum is afraid of heights, but she always wanted to go hot air ballooning. So for Mum and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary I bought them a hot air balloon ride (with champagne breakfast). Right before they boarded Mum wasn’t sure she could do it, but she did, and had a wonderful time.
      So, Nathan, never say never!

  6. That morning light is so gorgeous — beautiful photos! We made it to the evening launch on Saturday and it was slightly more…. hectic. 🙂

  7. Jim says:

    I am so wanting to do this! Hot air ballooning must be the grandest adventure!

  8. Sadly, I’ve never been anywhere near hot air balloons. It looks fascinating!

  9. Laurel says:

    I love hot air balloons, not sure how I missed this festival when I lived in Thailand.

  10. Sophie says:

    What a cool experience! Northern Thailand it is 🙂

  11. Abi says:

    I had my first hot air balloon experience this year and I absolutely loved it!

  12. What a cool event. I love hot air ballooning. It is so peaceful.

  13. […] by train. Recommendations from friends (and their blogs) have led us to a lantern festival, a hot air balloon festival and night […]

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