EX­PE­RI­ENCE TAUNGGY I F I R E BAL LOON F EST I VAL

The fes­ti­val takes place an­nu­ally, be­gin­ning in late Oc­to­ber or early November and end­ing on the November full moon. Large an­i­mal­shaped bal­loons are launched through­out the day and can­dles and fire­works bal­loons be­gin af­ter dark

Asian Geographic - - Southeast Asia -

Things seemed to reach a break­ing point in 2014, when un­usu­ally windy weather led to the high­est bal­loon crash rate yet. Twelve peo­ple were hos­pi­talised and four peo­ple died, in­clud­ing two fire masters, who sus­tained se­vere burns while hoist­ing an ex­plod­ing fire­works cage off a tent full of spec­ta­tors.

There have been no bal­loon-re­lated deaths since then, pos­si­bly due to new safety mea­sures, in­clud­ing stricter en­force­ment of fire­work weight lim­its and a wooden fence to keep the throngs of peo­ple from swarm­ing the bal­loon teams.

Than Zaw’s wife, Daw Wai Wai Thaung, re­grets the fence. “I love to stand as close as I can and then run away from the fire­works. That’s my favourite part,” she shares.

And in one mo­ment, with noth­ing but a waist-high picket fence be­tween me and a hail of fire, I could see what she meant. Why else would 10,000 peo­ple hud­dle un­der gi­ant bal­loons fir­ing mor­tars in ev­ery di­rec­tion but up? It ap­pears that stand­ing in the way of danger has be­come an in­ex­tri­ca­ble part of this tra­di­tion, mak­ing it one that should be given a wide berth by the faint-hearted. ag JEROEN DE BAKKER grad­u­ated with honours from the Photo Academy in Am­s­ter­dam in 2012, af­ter which he trav­elled to Myan­mar for a year and a half to work on his book Myan­mar: Be­yond the Sur­face, which he self­pub­lished af­ter a suc­cess­ful crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. www.jde­bakker.com

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