The Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta 2017 was celebrated on the 9th to the 12th of February. Every year, the event gathers locals, tourists and aviators from around the world for a spectacular event which showcases several aviation stints and aerobatic exhibitions.
My friends and I have decided to check out the show this year. It was our first time, and the event itself was an unforgettable experience due to the overwhelming crowd.
We left Manila at 2AM and made our way to Clark Air Field, Pampanga. When we got there around 5AM, we had to park really far from the event venue as there were already many people there before us. We had to walk for 30 minutes before we reached the ticket sales entrance.
Before we got to the ticket booth, we heard event officials on their megaphones saying that there are no more tickets available. Some of the people started turning back because there were no more tickets, but we decided to try our luck.
When we got to the long line of anxious show visitors, my group ended in 2 lines, but luckily it went to our advantage. Due to the bad organization of the event, one line was halted and closed because they ran out of tickets, so my friends in the other line bought tickets for us and they allowed us in.
When we got there around 6AM, the hot air balloons started getting heated by the burners. Some balloons took off around 6:30AM, the other comically shaped balloons were not able to take off as the heat of the sun started to make it difficult for them to fly.
The balloons for this year were cute, the non-traditional ones were shaped as Yoda’s head, a clown’s head, an F1 car, a dog, and a castle.
The hot air balloons took a slow pace, leaving minutes after the other. It still turned out to be a beautiful site and definitely memorable.
When my friends and I left the venue, we were stuck trying to exit as it has been jammed with people trying to come in and people trying to leave. It almost caused a stampede with people pushing each other. Gladly, people were still in their good vibes and would clap whenever the crowd moved an inch.
I’m more positive that this event will be better organized next year.
Below is a short guide and some tips for next year’s visitors:
Buy tickets prior to going. Despite our luck on being able to find tickets in the event day itself, many other rows were not allowed entry because they ran out of tickets and it was already overcrowded. To be safe, buy tickets prior to going. Visit the official event website here to find out where to buy tickets prior to the event.
Read the event schedule. I had other friends who went to the show on the previous days and they did not get to see the site of the hot air balloons as they went during mid-day. Despite having shows for the whole day, you will miss the highlight of the show which is only at 6:30AM or 5:30PM. Hot air balloons need the cool air to fly and need to take off before it gets too windy, so they cannot fly when the sun is up heating the ground. It’s best to leave Manila at dawn to catch the sunrise and watch the balloons fly. You are also less likely to catch the balloons in the afternoon due to the chances of wind. It also gets dark very fast and you will not be able to capture great pictures in the afternoon show.
Protect your skin. In the event itself, there is no shelter and no trees, so if you plan on staying the whole day, you will be under the sun and it could get quite hot. Put on sunscreen, bring water (you can also buy there), and bring a hat or an umbrella.
Protect your belongings. You will be surrounded by thousands of people, and when the show is on, you are literally sandwiched between bodies. Protect your belongings by putting it inside an anti-theft bag, or be vigilant at all times.
Create a meet-up-spot with your group. Signal is really bad in the area, and with the amount of people using the cellular data and mobile internet, you cannot rely on your phone to contact your friends or family. Use particular landmarks: a food tent, a stage, etc., in case you accidentally separate from your group.
Bring a folding stool/ picnic mat. When you’re at the venue, theres no proper seating to relax or eat your meal. If you plan to stay the whole day, bring a folding stool or picnic mat so you can relax and eat your food. It can get really dusty so a stool is better than a mat. If you parked really far, it may be a hassle walking back to your car and chilling there.
Bring a face mask and wet wipes. The event is really dusty and it actually triggered my asthma. They do sell hospital grade face masks outside the venue but to be safe, bring your own disposable mask; an N95 if you are sensitive. The wet wipes will be to wipe your body and feet after the show as you will be covered in dust.
Food and drinks. You don’t need to bring your own food and drinks as there are so many stalls to choose from. Save yourself the hassle and buy from there. We brought our picnic food and wine, but didn’t get to even eat or drink in the venue because it was too dusty and crowded for us to put our picnic mat on the ground. The food and wine just ended up being very heavy having to carry it to the venue then back to the car.
Transportation. I would advise to bring your own vehicle if possible. Some public buses do not leave in the hours you want to leave to reach the venue at the time you want to be there. For more information on commuting to the venue, visit the blog post by Fritz by clicking here.