If your idea of fun involves a blurry riot of colour and explosions, look no further than the Taunngyi Fire Balloon Festival, which takes place in the culturally diverse capital of Shan State over several days every November. This celebration is held around the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, a Myanmar national holiday that marks the end of rainy season and is also known as the Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights.

Traditionally, it is a festival to pay homage to the Sulamani Pagoda by sending up decorated hot air balloons, and lately it also became as a Hot Air Balloon Competition Festival and the festival is divided into two parts; daytime competition and nighttime competition. In the daytime, hot air balloons are sent up with the shapes of various animals and mythical creatures, and hot air balloons with firework & fire-cracker (known as Nya Mee Gyi) and lot of lanterns are hanging in the hot air balloons (known as Seinnaban) are sent up in the nighttime.

The meaning of Tazaungdaing Festival

Tazaungdaing Festival - the Festival of Lights - is one of the highlights of the year in Burma and absolutely not to be missed if you are visiting the country in late November.

Predating even Buddhism, the festival taps into the essential elements of Burmese life, culture and history. 

Just as Christmas was a festival to celebrate the winter solstice, and Easter the dawn of spring, the Tazaungdaing Festival has its roots in the change of the seasons. The festival celebrates the end of the rainy season, a key moment in the Burmese calendar.

But it is not just about the weather; Tazaungdaing also has immense religious significance. The festival marks the end of the Kathina, or Kahtein, season when monks are offered alms and robes. 

The celebrations of Tazaungdaing Festival

The Tazaungdaing festival was observed in Burma (now officially called Myanmar) even before the spread of Buddhism. It was held in honor of the God of Lights, and it marked the awakening of the Hindu god Vishnu from his long sleep.

Burmese Buddhists later attached their own religious significance to the festival, saying that this was the night that Siddhartha's mother, sensing that her son was about to renunciate the royal robes of his birth and put on the robes of the monkhood, spent the entire night weaving the traditional yellow robes for him. Her sister Gotami (Buddha's aunt) continued this tradition and offered new robes annually.

To commemorate her achievement, robe-weaving competitions to weave special yellow monk robes called matho thingan are also held throughout the country, most notably in Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda. During these competitions, held for two consecutive nights (the night preceding and the night of the full moon), contestants work nonstop from night until dawn to weave these garments. 

Another festival activity is the offering of Kathin robes to the Buddhist monks to replace the soiled robes they have worn throughout the rainy season. This offering ceremony begins on the first waning day of Thadingyut and continues until the full moon night of Tazaungmone.

In many parts of Myanmar, hot air balloons lit with candles, are released to celebrate the full moon day, similar to Yi Peng celebrations in Northern Thailand. The balloons are released as an offering to the Sulamani cetiya in Tavitisma, a heaven in Buddhist cosmology and home of the devas, or as a way to drive away evil spirits.

Among Tazaungdaing festivals, Taunggyi's hot-air balloons and firework-launching competition is the most prominent festival. The origin of Taunggyi's hot-air balloons contest dates back to 1894, when the British first held hot air balloon competitions in Taunggyi, soon after the annexation of Upper Burma. 

Alms-giving and charity, both religious and secular, including satuditha feasts, are also commonly undertaken during this festival, as a means of merit-making. Others return home to pay homage to elders (gadaw) and visit pagodas. Many concerts and other secular festivities, such as live performances of traditional dramas like the Yama Zatdaw, are also held between Thadingyut (the end of the Buddhist lent) and Tazaungdaing. 

Candle-lighting of 1,000 candles at the same time at temples is also practiced on full moon day. Pagodas and temples are filled with Buddhists coming to worship Buddha. There is a belief that a vegetable salad, Melzali bud salad, has amazing medicinal benefits on Tazaung Daing full moon night, so families prepare the salad to enjoy at midnight under the biggest full moon of the year.

In pre-colonial times, the Burmese court worshiped 15 Hindu deities on the full moon day. On the eighth waning day of that month, after a procession to the king, 8 pyatthat structures made of bamboo were burned. 

In Burmese tradition, during the full moon day of Tazaungmon, Burmese families pick Siamese cassia buds and prepare it in a salad called mezali phu thoke or in a soup. On this night, young men celebrate a custom called "kyimano pwe", lit. "Don't wake the crows up"), by practicing mischief on their neighbors, by stealing or playing tricks on them

Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival

Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival is a part of Tazaungdaing Festival, which is a traditional festival and public holiday in Myanmar. It is also known as the "Festival of Lights" and it is celebrated on the full moon of Tazaungmon, the eighth month of the traditional Burmese calendar. The Tazaungdaing Festival marks the end of the rainy season. In Taunggyi in Shan State hot-air balloons lit with candles are released to celebrate the full moon day and the Tazaungdaing Festival. It is comparable to the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong celebrations in Thailand.

However, the Taunggyi Balloon Festival it much more than a public holiday. It lasts around 6 or 7 days and it is also a balloon competition and funfair at the same time. Traditionally the festival ends on the full moon day Tazaungmon with the announcement of the winners of the balloon contest. The balloons are beautifully designed and hand-made of traditional mulberry papers and bamboo. They are released day and night during the festival. The balloons for the daytime competition are smaller and usually have the form of pagodas, ducks, dragons or even elephants. The bigger balloons decorated with candles are released at the nighttime competitions, sometimes even with attached fireworks that explode into the night sky.

Like other full-moon festivals held throughout South East Asia also the balloon festival's origin is connected to Buddhism. The release of a balloon is a Buddhist symbol for floating one’s sins and bad deeds away. During the festival monks are offered new robes and alms as a means of merit-making. A robe-weaving competition to weave monk robes is also part of the festival. Historically the British started soon after the annexation of Upper Burma the hot air balloon competition in Taunggyi as a part of the Tazaungdaing Festival.

Nowadays the festival is a huge, vibrant and most popular event in Myanmar which is also broadcasted on television channels. Combined with the funfair the festival is a colorful and exceptionally loud spectacle. There are also illuminated Ferris Wheels, live music on stages, plenty of beer and food served in food stalls and Myanmar energy drink sponsors handing out soda cans for free. At nighttime the square below the Yat Taw Me pagoda where the festival takes place is immensely crowded with visitors and party people. And sometimes it is even dangerous: It is not uncommon that spectators are injured or in rare cases even killed when hot air balloons carrying fireworks drop down onto the crowd by accident.

Taunggyi has almost no infrastructure for foreign tourists. Most of the hotels in town during the festivals are fully booked mainly by Myanmar tourists and local people. Most of the foreign tourists stay at the nearby Inle Lake and visit the balloon festival doing a daytrip and return in the evening to Nyaung Shwe. However, to witness the whole festival it is better to stay in Taunggyi for a couple of days, which requires of course an early hotel reservation. And then you will be rewarded with an exceptionally loud, colorful, vibrant and unforgettable event.

Regional tradition

  • Residents of Madauk, Nyaunglebin Township and Pathein celebrate with a mi hmyaw pwe. 
  • Residents of Dawei hold a procession of the 28 Buddhas
  • Residents of Mawlamyine, Kyaikkhami and other costal towns in Mon State, Lower Myanmar hold a swam oo hmyaw pwe, in which earthenware bowls filled with offertories such as flowers, fruits, vegetarian desserts, candles and joss-sticks are set adrift at sea to the arahat Shin Upagutta at the dawn.

Where to experience Tazaungdaing Festival

The Tazaungdaing Full Moon Festival is celebrated countrywide, but the liveliest displays are in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, and the city of Taunggyi in Myanmar’s Shan State. Here you can admire its hot air balloon lights which are probably the most famous. Detail about Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival can be found above.

When is the Tazaungdaing Festival?

The Tazaungdaing Festival takes place each year during the full moon of the eighth month of the Burmese calendar. It means it moves around from year to year.

Here are the dates of the festival until 2024 for your reference

Year Date Day
2020 27 Nov to 30 Nov Fri to Mon
2021 18 Nov Thu
2022 8 Nov to 9 Nov Tue to Wed
2023 26 Nov to 27 Nov Sun to Mon
2024 14 Nov to 15 Nov Thu to Fri

Similar festivals of light in Asia

Loy Krathong & Yee Peng Festival (Thailand)

Loy Krathong

Also known as Thailand’s light festival, Loy Krathong (or Loi Krathong) is a three-day festival that takes place on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In Chiang Mai, it’s also celebrated concurrently with Yi Peng or Yee Peng Festival.

During Loy Krathong, locals will gather around lakes, rivers and canals to release beautiful lotus-shaped rafts that are decorated with candles, incense and flowers. The word krathong refers to the decorated raft while the word loy means to float.

While there are different tales about the origins of Loy Krathong, many celebrate this ritual now to pay their respects to the Goddess of Water and to ask for forgiveness for causing pollution.

Krathongs were traditionally made with organic materials like banana leaves, banana tree bark, spider lily plants and bread but you can find different variations now using styrofoam, glossy paper, and plastic. Avoid adding on to the pollution by getting the ones made using natural materials!

Here is the detail about Loy Krathong Festival

Yee Peng

In North Thailand, the Loy Krathong festival coincides with Yee Peng or Yi Peng festival and they’re often celebrated together. During Yee Peng, locals will release paper lanterns into the sky to welcome a brighter future. Many will recognise it as the Tangled-like lantern festival!

The sky lanterns, also known as khom loi, are made using thin rice paper, bamboo and fuel cells. Many make a wish before releasing their lanterns and it’s been said that if it stays lit until it’s out of sight, your wishes will come true!

Here is the detail about Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai

Hoi An Lantern Festival (Vietnam)

In the Hoi An Old Town, you just don’t want to miss the Hoi An Lantern Festival. Lantern Festival is one of the most unique attractions of Hoi An and in fact all throughout Vietnam. It is one of the main reasons thousands of both domestic and international visitors flock every year, for a chance to witness such a beautiful scene that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

Lanterns are lit every night in Hoi An regardless of whether it is the Lantern Festival or not. Candles are placed and burned at the bottom of the colorful paper lanterns, creating a glowing atmosphere in the twinkling moonlight.

The Hoi An Lantern Festival will be held once every month. The lantern festival has become popular enough that even if your visit isn’t on the full moon date, you can still participate in the Hoi An traditional full moon festival most nights of the week. There are many things to do in Hoi An beside the festival, but if possible, you should arrange a time to see Hoi An Lantern Festival which has been long regarded as one of the best things to do whilst visiting Hoi An!

Here is the detail about Hoi An Lantern Festival

Boun Lai Heua Fai (Laos)

Every October, the little UNESCO town of Luang Prabang lights up for the festival of light, Lai Heua Fai, in celebration of Boun Awk Phansa, the end of Buddhist Lent. The city becomes impossibly beautiful, illuminated by wax candles melting to pagodas and crepe paper lanterns hanging from temple roofs and the windows of local homes.

Here is the detail about Boun Lai Heua Fai

Thadingyut Festival (Myanmar)

Surprise? Not at all, the Burmese loves festival and light, so they have 2 festivals of light per year to celebrate.

Thadingyut takes place for three days during the full moon of the seventh month of the Burmese calendar (usually near the beginning of October), and marks the end of Buddhist lent. It’s a time for families to come together and celebrate Buddha’s descent to earth after visiting his mother in heaven.

Cities throughout the country are especially aglow during Thadingyut. Fireworks haphazardly shot into the night crisscrossed with colorful strings of dangling lights, making this second most popular national holiday wildly delightful. Locals and travelers alike are beckoned to explore radiant streets and illuminated pagodas, all lit up to resemble a welcoming pathway for Buddha’s return to the mortal world.

Consider it luck if the power goes out in Yangon on the actual evening of the full moon of Thadingyut. The occasion becomes even more spectacular when blinking electric lights get replaced with more traditional glowing lines of candles in windows, up rooftops, on verandas, and even along the ground.

Thadingyut serves as a time for respect to be intentionally shown to elders in the family, and to those with highly valued positions in Burmese society such as teachers and bosses as well. In exchange for paying respect and asking for forgiveness, it’s customary to receive pocket money.

Here is the detail about Thadingyut festival

Bon Om Touk (Cambodia)

Bon Om Touk is a celebration of the end of the rainy season on the full moon of the Buddhist month of Kadeuk. The full moon is considered to bring good luck that can lead to an abundant harvest. On the Western calendar, Bon Om Touk falls either in October or early in November.

The heavy monsoon rains cause the Mekong River to reverse course and backflow into the very large Tonle Sap Lake far upstream. This causes the lake to overflow its normal bounds, which provides plenty of water for Bon Om Touk’s main event, the annual Pirogue longboat race. Once the Mekong and the Tonle Sap River, which connects the Mekong to Tonle Sap Lake, again start flowing toward the sea, you know it is almost time for Bon Om Touk.

Here is the detail about Bon Om Touk Festival

Diwali Festival (India)

Diwali, or Dipawali, is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians.

Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that's also enjoyed by non-Hindu communities. For instance, in Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C.; in Sikhism, it honors the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment. Buddhists in India celebrate Diwali as well.

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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