After two years of the pandemic, I appreciate the chance to join the balloon fiesta and visit different countries around the world more. This time, through a pilot friend, I happily accepted the invitation to join a memorable balloon festival in Vietnam - a beautiful country in South Asia I just had heard of but never visited before.
Tuyen Quang - First impressions last long
The festival took place in Tuyen Quang province, with 3 hours driving from Hanoi city - capital of Vietnam. Tuyen Quang province is one of the sleeping beauty of Vietnam, as it is not well-known as some other tourism attraction yet it’s blessed with great natural beauty and much cultural heritage from the mountains and lakes.
There were 22 balloons joining the event, with pilots from 7 countries: the UK, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Germany and Spain/Turkey (me). Together with my Rocket, a Dinosaur and a Cat are three special shaped balloons. On the open day March 30th 2022, the giant and colorful balloons attracted thousands of local people and tourists. Seeing the balloon for the first time, many people couldn’t help showing their surprise and excitement.
A challenging but fascinating flight
My first flight would be best described with two words: challenging and fascinating. Although it’s never easy for pilots to fly the balloon in a brand new area, I carefully took off after ensuring it was safe enough. Lucky for me, the weather was very nice that day, a bit cloudy at first but it got clearer as my balloon flew higher.
It came to the hardest part when looking for a landing place as it was in the city, electricity lines and rice fields were everywhere. Finally, I successfully landed on a small road (well, 2 meters inside crop field 😜). The pickup truck and my supportive crew quickly arrived in time to “harvest” my Rocket. Vietnamese passengers really enjoyed the flight and champagne even though their shoes would need some wash up from the dust of the crop field.
Moments not to be forgotten
On day three of the fiesta, I had a sharing section with local students from elementary to high school. At first, they surprised me with their English skill, no translator needed for our section. They asked me questions about the way a balloon works and what it is like being a pilot. “Why did you decide to become a pilot?” - a familiar question but being asked by a young student, it reminded me of my earlier days when I started this career as a young newbie. The answer is every balloon flight is an adventurous experience. The proud feeling when you can handle a giant balloon flying in the sky, experiencing the real cloud pass your face and seeing the beauty of our nature from a different perspective.
The night glow in Tuyen Quang was also one of the most impressive ones that I have joined. Awesome DJ on the stage to play EDM and create a vibrant and lively atmosphere that thousands of people on the field were on the beat. Following the stage light sign of different colors, each group of balloons took turns to burn rhythmically. When all the balloons started to burn at the same time, a combination of light, music and fire had almost stopped the time and left an unforgettable moment in every participant of the show. It was slightly rainy at the end. However, a warm dinner with a few beers from the host really helped to cheer us up.
Lam Binh - a hidden beauty that worth the effort
After three days flying over Tuyen Quang city, we moved to the second place called Lam Binh - a mountainous area. Lam Binh deserved the saying “where the beauty converges” with the sublimity of its landscapes. While the view is spontaneous, it is again a challenge for pilots. I was nervous at first but the more I flew up, the more I enjoyed the flight with a nice sunrise and breathtaking views opening up. A smooth landing on a village road gave me a confidence boost.
Besides flying hours, our team has some relaxing time to discover the local cuisine and landscapes. The traditional dishes are made from the rich and fresh ingredients coming from the mountain and the clear river in the regions. Being skillfully prepared by local people, the meals are served with corn whiskey in a cheerful and friendly atmosphere.
On the last day of the festival, we were on a tour to explore nature in Lam Binh. Starting with lunch on the boat, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful clear river surrounded by green mountains. Our boat seems pretty small among this impressive surrounding. It went slowly and dropped us at the foot of a mountain. After almost 1,5 hour climbing, we reached “Khuoi Pin” cave. The stalactite system was formed millions of years ago, making the cave mysterious, stimulating curiosity and discovery. Finishing the trip at a stream, we felt refreshed and all the exhaustion seemed to be washed away by the water.
Adventure to be continued
A warm farewell party from the provincial department as a celebration for our successful festival. At the end of the party, I experienced a heart touching moment with a singing performance from minority students.
My trip ended on April 5th with great memories about the people and the place. Being a pilot gave me the chance to visit different countries and make new friends around the world. Hope to visit Vietnam again and can not wait till my next balloon adventure!