Up up and away they go! But who’s steering them? How do they get setup? What if it goes in the wrong direction? Here my travel guide for those of you who want to check out the hot air balloon fiesta in Clark, Pampanga in the Philippines.
Get there early!
To start off, before we get into the specifics of how to get there and what the fun activities are throughout the day, you need to know that the event starts at 5AM. That’s really early in the morning and I highly suggest you arrive at 5AM sharp because the balloons start going up by 6AM. Once the balloons are up they start floating away and they do not come back nor do they launch again. They only launch once a day and in the morning. So when planning your travel and accommodations make sure to keep that in mind 🙂 Have fun travelers!
How to get there
If you’re new to the Philippines and aren’t familiar with the system of transportation, you can either fly or take a bus to Clark, Pampanga. I’ll go through both methods below:
Bus to Clark:
From Manila, go to a Victory Liner terminal either in Cubao or Pasay. You can find these easily on Google Maps. Once you are there, you will ask the attendant for a bus ticket to Dau. Dau is a location in Clark and it’s at the center of the city not too far from the airfield. It’s only one bus trip to go there so no need to switch busses and is usually non-stop. The trip takes around 2-3 hours to get to the Dau station depending on traffic.
From the Dau station there will be Tricycles and Jeepneys available right outside which all have routes going to the Clark Airport.
Driving to Clark:
Take the North Luzon Expressway from Manila and exit at DAU, PAMPANGA. After your exit, a left turn towards Angeles City, and a little Angeles City/Dau traffic, will bring you to within an easy right turn of the Clark Zone itself.
If you dont have a car, but want a private car going to Clark, you can always book a car with a driver for a one-way trip to Clark by using 12Go in the Philippines. This is easy and convenient, but likely the most expensive (although perhaps cheaper than flying).
Flying to Clark:
You can fly to Clark from Metro Manila by booking on any of the major airlines. in the Philippines one of the cheapest airlines is Cebu Pacific. I suggest just to check Google Flights for the cheapest flight. Once you land at the airport you can get an Uber or Grab ride to the event grounds.
Once you’re in Clark, it’s easy to get to the event grounds which is held at the Omni Aviation Complex at the Clark Airport. You can use Grab, Uber, Jeeps, or Tricycles to get around the city very easily, although if you want the quickest and safest, stick to Uber.
What to expect when arriving at the event grounds
The event grounds are big, and if you take public transportation typically they drop you off at the road so you will have to walk for a while through the large parking lot. The event grounds map is below which was taken from the philballoonfest.net site:
Get your tickets
Upon arriving, you will need to go to the ticket booth. If you purchased your tickets in advance you can go right to the gate, if you didn’t purchase tickets you can purchase them for P500 (About $10 USD) at the ticket booth. This is only good for one day and is valid the entire day. If you leave the grounds for any reason and want to come back please make sure you get your hand stamped prior to leaving.
Once you have your ticket, time to get inside and have fun. If you’re like me and you’re there at 5AM, then I suggest you grab a coffee and some food (Yes, the food vendors are all there already by 5AM serving food). once you have your coffee, get to the fence and secure a spot. If you have a blanket, lay it down and put your bags on it and dont leave that spot. By 7AM or so when the balloons are up in the air there will be people crowded against that fence taking photos and watching the balloons going up. I’ve seen people who are 50 feet away from the fence and all you can see is people forever. Your photos will look SO much better when you have no people blocking your way. FIGHT for your spot 🙂
Bring a face mask to escape the dust
If you have any allergies to dust/dirt/smoke, I will warn you right away that the airplanes flying, and the skydivers have smoke trails which ends up causing alot of smoke on the ground. Additionally this is hosted on a large dirt/grass field and when the wind blows it gets quite dusty. Make sure to bring a face-mask if you have any of these issues. They also are selling masks on the grounds if needed.
The Hot Air Balloons
Around 6AM the announcers will start talking about all of the activities for the day. They will also be really informative about whats happening and teach you about how the Hot Air Balloons are setup. It’s actually quite interesting because it seems like a race is happening on the runway when all the setup starts.
How they setup the hot air balloons
Trucks will start flying out onto the runway with the baskets, or formally called “gondola”. The operator tests the fire on each to make sure they are working and then they lay the gondola on it’s side. They then lay out the entire hot air balloon at the top of the gondola flat and begin blowing it up with these giant fans. The balloon starts to fill up because they close the top of the balloon so it fills up. The air that’s blown inside is just normal cool air from outside, no heat yet.
Once the balloon is almost all the way filled up and the gondola is still on it’s side, the operator starts to pump the jets and fire erupts on it’s side. As more fire enters the balloon it expands and the balloon gets bigger and bigger and starts to float. As it starts floating the entire operation begins to tip upwards and… up, up, up… the gondola tips to an upright position. This is the point in which they load everyone inside and get the all clear to takeoff.
When everyone is securely inside, they pump the jets until it begins to liftoff the ground and float up and away. Here are some photos we captured at the festival:
How do you steer a Hot Air Balloon?
When I initially heard this on the loud speakers, I thought to myself, “I thought there’s only up and down…” While that is true that the balloon can only be controlled up and down by either pumping in hot air to go up and by pulling a cord to open the top to go down, the pilot can still have some control of flying them in certain directions by checking the wind directions above and below them.
They drop tissues to steer the balloon??
If you start to see a piece of tissue falling from one of the hot air balloons, that’s one of the ways they check it. They will drop a tissue and see where the airflow below them is traveling. It could be traveling to the right, left, or backwards. If in any case that is the direction they want to go then the pilot will let air out of the top to catch that wind gust.
Why are they launching helium filled balloons?
They also check the air direction above them by launching balloons filled with helium. As they let go of the balloons they will wait and watch them to see as they reach certain altitudes what direction the wind blows. Often they can ride at low altitudes one way and then catch a high altitude wind current going back to the same place, however, this really depends on the location and what the wind does.
Here’s a video which explains it quite well:
Not to scare anyone, but there have also been times that the wind just stops blowing completely leaving a balloon in an undesirable location (like on top of a house/building).
Activities at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
There are many activities at the Clark Hot Air Balloon Fiesta to keep you busy including the following:
- Food stalls are spread from one end to the other end of the grounds ranging from all food types you can think of.
- Shopping is available all around the event grounds ranging from clothing, decorations, air balloon gifts, and much more.
- Tandem Skydiving is available for P20,400 (Around $400 USD).
- Helicopter ride is available for P7,000 (Around $140 USD).
- Tandem Paragliding for P7,650 (Around $150 USD).
- Kids Activities including blow up playground and many characters dressed up for photos
While there are events happening all day, I will admit after the first 3-4 hours you will start to get a bit bored. They have activities planned every hour in the sky and on the ground which you can watch but after getting up at 4AM we left around 10AM to go back to the hotel and rest. Also around 11-12 it gets very hot outside and there aren’t many places with shade.
Where to stay in Clark:
Clark is slowly becoming the next big place for business and people to live in the Philippines as it has it’s own airport and is far enough from Manila to escape the madness. It’s also nearby to many beaches making it an attractive place to live.
If you end staying overnight in Clark(which I highly recommend since you have to get up at 4AM!), here are a few places which are quite affordable and nearby the Omni Aviation grounds.
Until next year, flying Yoda…
Overall, I loved seeing the hot air balloons get setup and learning about them. Once they launched in the air I was in awe at the beauty of them. They had so many fun shapes and sized (my favorite being the Yoda). Sad that the festival only happens once a year and that I didn’t get to go up in the air, but i’ll start saving my $500 for next year’s event 🙂
Have fun traveling and tell me about your experience here and anywhere else in Asia!