The Philippine International Hot Air Ballon Fiesta is an annual event that gathers the hottest balloons from around the world, flying machines and everything that is airborne into one fun festival. It features various aerial events such as sky diving, ultra-light flying, airplane rally and balloon bursting competitions, aerobatic stunts and precision flying, aero-modelers flight exhibition from the Aero-modelers Association, helicopter fly-by and choreographed kite flying demonstrations by the Kite Association of the Philippines.
Finally, on its 15th year, we were able to attend the biggest festival of everything that flies. It was a four-day event that started last February 11 at Clark Freeport in Angeles, Pampanga. Although we missed the hot-air balloon flight in the morning, we were still able to see some of the hot-air balloons on the field when we got to Clark around 7 a.m. I was expecting that the balloons would be gone by then and that they would not be back till 4 in the afternoon.
It’s really a must to go there as early as 4 a.m. if you are planning to drive there from Manila on the same day to see the dawn balloon flight. The traffic from the Dau exit and upon entering the main gate to Clark was really congested. The queue to the parking area, as well as the main entrance of the show area is also very long. A better alternative to waking up in the wee hours of the morning would be to stay overnight at Clark or Angeles City.
It was a whole day event packed with exciting air-sport shows which entertained visitors throughout out the day. The festival site was bustling with bazaars, food stalls, game booths, aircraft and big bike exhibits, photo exhibits of the air force team and a thick crowd enjoying the spectacle. In between shows, many visitors were busy flying their own kites while others had their own tents and picnic mats set up on the field. It was really hot in the open-field and there wasn’t much shade available while watching the show. I used the newspaper that I bought as mats to have a power nap on the grass field and my umbrella to protect us a bit from the intense heat of the sun.
This year’s event is expected to topple the attendance record of more than 60,000 local and foreign tourists who attended last year. During our visit, the crowd was composed mostly of families along with their children, a handful of foreign visitors, couples who were having their “pre-valentine” dates and a lot of photo enthusiasts. Aside from the numerous festivals in the Philippines like Panagbenga and Sinulog, the hot-air balloon fiesta is also eye-candy for hobbyist, amateur and professional photographers alike. The oddly-shaped gigantic balloons, colorful kites, paraglider’s fabric and the Hollywood-worthy stunts of the aero-sports participants were perfect for color and action photography as well as for everyone who loves to fly.
The balloon-bursting competition was one of the crowd’s favorites. There was a loud gasp for every missed balloon and a loud applause for a big hit. It was exciting to see how these small aircraft hunt and chase the yellow balloons that were drifting in the teasing wind. It was also amusing to see a choreographed kite-flying demonstration to the tune of “Open Arms” by Mariah Carey by a representative from the Kite Association of the Philippines (KAP). It even inspired Charlie to get the same kite he was using. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available at the kite booths because it was custom-made.
The ultra-light and microlight aircraft formation flight in the afternoon was also a crowd-pleaser. They were flying at a very low altitude trying to drop a flour bombs onto their target- a few volunteers in the middle of the field. We stayed until 6 p.m. for the Hot-Air Balloon Night Glow where the glowing hot-air balloons would once again soar into the dark sky. The crowd suddenly thickened again a few minutes before the take-off. Unfortunately, the organizers had to cancel the activity due to unfavorable wind conditions. I was really looking forward to this event and was a bit disappointed together with hundreds of people who flocked the event. It’s a good thing some of the hot-air balloons were still able to inflate despite struggling against the strong wind. It was still a fun-filled weekend filled with everything that flies and more!
Bits and Info
a. Entrance fee – PhP150, Parking fee – PhP50, Hot-air balloon ride – UD$150
b. It can get very hot in the open field. Lots of water, a tent, picnic mats or umbrella would be useful especially if you would be staying for the whole day.
c. It is advisable to stay at Clark overnight to avoid the heavy traffic in the morning.
d. For more information, visit its official website.
How to Get to Clark Field, Pampanga
By Private Car
Getting to the Clark Special Economic Zone by car is easy. One simply needs to take the North Luzon Expressway from Manila and exit at Dau, Mabalacat. Take a left turn towards Angeles City and make an easy right turn into Clark itself. After entering the main gate, proceed along Roxas highway, and the Balloon Fiesta will be to your right.
The car trip should take about an hour and a half from Manila.
By Public Transport
Public buses also ply the route on a daily basis. Ride a Victory Liner bound for Dagupan and alight at the Dau common terminal. Philippine Rabbit also has trips to Angeles, Pampanga via Dau. Other buses going north also pass by the area. Ask the driver or conductor beforehand to be sure.
From the Dau bus terminal, walk a bit toward the highway where jeepneys or tricycles are available. These vehicles can take you to the Clark gate.There is a jeepney terminal there with public utility vehicles that can take you to the fiesta grounds.
There are two airlines offering domestic flights to Clark’s Diosdado Macapagal International Airport: Cebu Pacific, SEAIR, and Zest Airways. Several International flights also service Clark including Asiana Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Tiger Airways, and Air Asia. For complete and updated schedules, visit www.clarkairport.com.
February 13 Hot-Air Balloon Fiesta Schedule
Philippine Army Flag Jump 5:20-5:30
AM Hot Air Balloon Flights 5:30-7:00AM
Candaba Birds Fly-in 5:30-7:00AM
Philippines/Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia/UK Paragliding Exhibition 7:00-7:30AM
ACFC Ultralight / Microlight Aircraft Formation Flights & Flour Bombing 7:30-8:00AM AFP / Civilian Skydiving Exhibition 8:00-8:30AM
Meynard Halili / Bill Wright Aerobatic Air Show 8:30-9:15AM
Helicopter Flight Display 9:15-9:45AM
AOPA-P Light Aircraft Balloon-Bursting Competition 9:45-10:45AM
Philippine Coast Guard Rescue Demonstration 10:45-11:45AM Airlink/WCC/AAA/Omni/PPA/CA/Orient/Light Airplane Flyby 11:45-12:15PM
Radio-controlled Model Aircraft Demonstration 12:15-12:45PM
Winch-Launched Glider Demonstration 12:45-1:30PM
Kite Flying Exhibition 1:30-2:00PM
AOPA-P Light Aircraft Balloon-Bursting Competition 2:00-2:45PM
AFP / Civilian Skydiving Exhibition 2:45-3:15PM
CIAC Fire-fighting Demonstration 3:15-3:45PM
Bill Wright / Meynard Halili Aerobatic Air Show 3:45-4:15PM
ACFC Ultralight / Microlight Aircraft Formation Flights 4:15-4:30PM
PHILSCA Rocketry Demonstration 4:30-5:00PM Philippines/Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia/UK Paragliding Exhibition 5:00-5:30PM
Hot Air Balloon Night Glow 5:30-6:00
Reference: Philippine Hot Air Balloon Festival official website.