Colourful display of hot air balloons

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The skies above Padang Polo in Penang last weekend was a colourful scene thanks to the hot air balloons that took off.

There were not only the run-of-the-mill ones but the fourth Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta also had those shaped like a dog, lovebirds and a fire engine.

Even Yoda made an appearance.

There were others that looked like an owl, a fire engine, a pirate parrot, and Busby the Queen’s Guard.

The uniquely-shaped balloons, including 10 colourful ones, were brought in from United States, Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom, Brazil, Thailand, India, Taiwan and Spain for the annual event.

There were sneak previews at various locations leading up to the festival.

Event organiser AKA Balloon Sdn Bhd also launched The Path where hundreds of small handpainted hot air balloons were strung up like lanterns at the Butterworth Art Walk and the Esplanade in December.

Subsequently, hundreds more of these colourful balloons were strung up at Padang Polo and lit up in the evenings of the festival.

The only damper was when it rained right before the launch Saturday evening.

“We had about 50,000 people turning up throughout the day despite the rain in the evening,” said AKA Balloon Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Nur Izzati Khairudin.

Crowds started turning up at the field when the rain stopped at about 8.30pm.

She said it was fortunate the rain stopped just before the opening that was helmed by Penang Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas and Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Ten hot air balloons were inflated and lighted for the Night Glow show in conjunction with the opening ceremony while a fireworks display added to the festivities.

Twelve hot air balloon pilots, including one from Malaysia, took part in the two-day event, providing tethered rides in three balloons.

One of the pilots was Bunjira Luanprida from Thailand, who is the first female hot air balloon pilot in Southeast Asia.

“I have been doing this for many years, I love flying hot air balloons,” she said.

Luanprida flies a bright orange balloon with stripes across.

One of the balloons that commanded the most attention is the one that looks like Yoda, which was from Belgium

Its pilot Benoit Lambert said he has been flying balloons for more than 20 years.

“My father was a balloonist so from the moment I first got on a hot air balloon at the age of eight, I wanted to be a hot air balloon pilot too.”

He said his job allowed him to travel around the world, participating in hot air balloon festivals and events.

“I love the freedom flying a hot air balloon gives me,” he said.

The second day of the fiesta drew a crowd of more than 130,000 due to good weather and clear skies.

One of the first visitors to go on a tethered ride was Sukbeer Singh and his family.

“We drove from Ipoh to ride on a hot air balloon,” he said.

Tethered balloon rides, where visitors get to go up to 60 feet above ground, were only available for two sessions per day.

There were only a maximum of 150 people per session.

A total 16 hot air balloons were only inflated around the field for three hours in the mornings and four hours in the evenings due to weather conditions.

Other than the hot air balloons, food stalls offering a variety of local and international fare were set up around the field.

Other activities such as art and craft workshops, paddle boat rides in an inflatable pool, reverse bungee jumping and a giant trampoline were available throughout the day.