March 1, 2015
Songkhla International Balloon Festival
At night the balloons take on a life of their own as they fill the night time sky, accompanied by a thunderous combination of spectacular light and sound shows which pulls at your senses
When: Annually in March (TBA)
Where: Jiranakom Stadium in Hat Yai district
The capital city of the same name is unique in Thailand, in that it is not the largest city of the province, that honour goes to the venue for this festival. Hat Yai (also known as Haad Yai or Had Yai), it has almost twice the size of population as the capital city of Songkhla. The province is located on the Malay Peninsula while Hat Yai is situated fairly close to the Malaysian border.
A mass launch of balloons is scheduled each morning as the sun rises and within a short period of time the sky becomes a mass of vibrant colours, full of hot-air balloons in different shapes and sizes from around the globe.
Through-out the day, there are wide variety of events including music concerts, parades, marching bands and traditional music and dance shows, plus ‘Nang Talung’ shadow puppet shows and a traditional Thai fair, including games and rides.
Mingled in this mass of dazzling colour, strange and not so strange noises and aroma’s will be a mass of vendors selling traditional local handicrafts and most importantly a vast army of people selling both Thai food and beverages.
If you have the stomach for heights and can handle the heat from both the burner flame and the day time temperatures then you are in for a real treat, as you will have the chance to soar above the city in man’s first successful human-carrying flying machine.
One of the real pleasures of this form of travel, is it is so peaceful and you really feel as it is as close to flying with the birds as you will ever get, with only the sound of the burner to remind you that you will have to return at some time to terra firma.
As the sun sets and while the festival continues, with the Thai fair and the mass of vendors, the atmosphere takes on a new life of its own, when the ink black night sky comes alive, with the evenings events, called ‘Balloon Night Glow’, this combination of spectacular light and sound shows, is sure to leave you wanting more.
Do try a few of the local delicacies while in the south of the Kingdom, such as Shrimp and Fish Crackers, they are both delicious and inexpensive, plus the equally tasty Spicy Rice Salad with Vegetable’ (Kao Yum Nam Budu).
The dish is both sweet and salty and consists of Budu Sauce, (Budu is a brown coloured fish sauce and one of the best known fermented seafood products in Southern Thailand), which you pour on the rice, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, pineapple/mango and any number of vegetables, including; long beans, shallots, carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber can be added, topped with a dash of coconut and dried shrimp. Mm Yummy.
It can be expensive
A word of warning if you are going to the festival, the cost of living in Hay Yai is fairly high, in normal Thai terms. This is due to the fact that most of the visitors are from Singapore and Malaysia. Do your wallet and your head a favour, (the city is manic compared to most of southern Thailand) and nip back to the capital city, (also known as “the great city on two seas”), which is surrounded by quiet, sandy beaches such as Samila and Son Awn. It is here where you can top up the tan and chill out before you get back on the road.
Directions from Hat Yai to Songkhla; take the service bus (dark green colour) which is close to Hat Yai Clock Tower to Songkhla. The fare is about 30-40 Baht.
How to get there: From Bangkok click here
While the views from way up in the balloons cannot beat the aerial scenery you can expect from the Balloon Festivals later in the year in Chiang Mai, the day and night festivities do eclipse its Northern counterpart and if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the deep south of Thailand in early March then you should try to hot foot it over to join in the festivities……. you will not be disappointed.
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