Taunggyi is best known for the annual Fire Balloon festival held for one week near the beginning of Nov each year. For most of every day, hot air paper balloons several metres in length in the shape of various animals are launched and sent floating over the town (if they don't spontaneously combust on take-off, a relatively common occurrence). Definitely one of Myanmar's must-see events, it's popular with locals, but hardly any foreigners attend.
The market in Taunggyi is worth seeing. Shan noodles and Burmese sweet tea can be purchased at low cost, and CDs and VCDs are cheap and abundant. Another attraction of the market is the abundance of Pa-O (distinguished by interesting headscarves) women selling fresh produce and inexpensive tea from the Shan hills.
There are also many other interesting places in Taunggyi. Below are some of the recommended things to see & do in Taunggyi.
Inside the city
1. Visit places of worship
Taunggyi’s culturally diverse population means that it has places of worship for a host of religions, including a number of mosques, a Chinese Buddhist monastery (Kwan Yin Si Hpaya Kyaung) and a Catholic cathedral (St Joseph’s).
2. Shwe Phone Pwint Pagoda
Panoramic views of the entire city, and further across the plains to the north of Inle Lake, can be found at the Shwe Phone Pwint Pagoda, which sits at the top of a ridge to the east of Taunggyi. Walking there from the centre of town takes around 40 minutes, or you can get a taxi for K5000.
3. Sulamuni Pagoda
The city’s most prominent religious monument is the Sulamuni Pagoda, a huge white stupa modelled on the Ananda Pagoda in Bagan; it was built in 1994 to commemorate Taunggyi’s centenary.
4. Shan State Cultural Museum
The Shan State Cultural Museum a pretty dusty and basic place, but offers some insight into the history and style of the various tribes in the area, as well as some local political history. Entry is K2,000. Being located at an altitude of 1,436 metres, Taunggyi (which means ‘Big Mountain’ in Burmese) has a cool and pleasant year-round climate.
5. German-run Aythaya Vineyar
The German-run Aythaya Vineyard is immediately to the west of Taunggyi; one of only two vineyards in Myanmar, it also hosts attractive teak-built accommodation (the ‘Monte Di Vino Lodge’) with views of the picturesque Aythaya Valley.
Out of town
The pagoda complex at Kakku is a centre of worship for the Pa-O people and features thousands of closely-packed stupas in a small area, all with tinkling bells on top – making for an enchanting atmosphere. Unfortunately, many of the structures have been insensitively restored, using concrete instead of traditional brickwork – but the setting remains an impressive one.
Behind the pagodas to the east, you will find a lovely rural scene, with the Shan hills stretching out into the distance and a small river in which you can take a swim. Kakku is one and half hours south of Taunggyi on the road to Loikaw.
The Kakku pagoda festival is held on the Full Moon of Tabaung (usually February or March). During the festival, the Pa-O pay homage by wearing their finest ethnic clothing and by decorating their prize bullocks. For exact dates, see our festivals calendar.
2. Hten San cave
60 kilometres east of Taunggyi, Hten San is a dramatic and extensive limestone cave system which hosts large stalactites and stalagmites. It offers more natural beauty than the other famous cave in Shan State at Pindaya, although it does have some gaudy Buddhist tributes.
Entry costs an eye-watering US$20 – although determined visitors may be able to negotiate this down to $10.
The Fire Balloon Festival
One of Myanmar’s most famous yearly gatherings, the Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival is held for several days around the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, which is a national holiday and marks the end of the rainy season (early November in the Gregorian calendar). The festival features fireworks and a startling array of different balloon designs, with competitions for style and elevation achieved.
The daytime hours are focussed around family entertainment, with large animal-shaped balloons – but the revelries go on through the night until the early hours of the following morning, when huge balloons laden with hundreds of fireworks are sent up into the sky.
Visitors should note that safety standards are not what they should be, and there have been a number of accidents over the years; you should make certain to maintain a safe distance from the balloons. During the festival, accommodation prices are sharply increased and transport to Taunggyi should be booked well in advance.
Here is the dedicated article about Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival
Other Taunggyi festivals
In late November or early December, ethnic Shan gather from far and wide in Taunggyi to celebrate Shan New Year with traditional dancing, colourful costumes and Shan long drum music; at midnight, new year is marked with fireworks and balloons.