Shan State, Myanmar – High on the plateau of Myanmar’s Shan State – a region rife with insurgency and rich in ethnic diversity, located in the country that is the world’s second largest producer of opium – the sky explodes in a galactic display of handmade fireworks as they are launched clinging to the base of paper hot-air balloons.
Drawing tens of thousands of people from all around Myanmar to the “wild west” town of Taunggyi, the Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights is held each year at the end of the rainy season, around the time the moon is full.
Hundreds of 25 to 30 foot (7.6 to 9 metres) high hot-air balloons with fireworks and candles strapped to the bases are launched skyward in what is considered to be one of the most beautiful and dangerous festivals in Southeast Asia.
The explosive-laden hot-air balloons regularly crash onto the festival grounds, causing panic below as hundreds of people run for their lives. Last year, four people lost their lives during the celebration, while 12 others were injured.
“We have been doing this for more than eight years, me and all my friends. From our villages we raised $3,000 to make two balloons,” said 35-year-old balloon builder Zaw Myo Aung from Inle Lake in Shan Stat. His balloon includes nearly 70 pounds (32kg) worth of homemade explosives and took two months to build.
“We are so happy. This is the best time in our lives and we love it,” Aung said.
Aside from these massive ornamental balloons, there are also elements of the lights festival that make it one of the most peculiar events in the region such as man-powered ferris wheels, curious carnival games and cruel animal shows.
Fifteen balloons made it to the final competition.