Taiwan International Hot Air Balloon Festival Is Back in Full Force
This year’s annually held Taiwan International Balloon Festival kicked off on July 2 at Luye Highland. This year marks the 12th consecutive year of the festival—yes that’s right—not even COVID could stop us from putting on this hot air balloon show these past two years! Most important of all, now gone are the restrictions on out-of-county residents, so now the festival can be enjoyed for all!
Magistrate April Yao invited multiple high-profile guests all to fly on the untethered hot air balloons during opening day like the New Director General of the German Institute Taipei, Dr. Jörg Polster; Branch Chief of the American Institute in Taiwan Kaohsiung Branch Office, Mason Yu and the Director General of the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association Kaohsiung Office, Ono Kazuhiko. Our guests had a blast, created long lasting memories, and they even got to see Free Bear, first hand, dancing with his friends as part of the pre-show.
Attendance on opening day was short of pre-pandemic numbers but expected. It was estimated roughly 15,000 to 18,000 people came to join in the festivities according to Taitung County Tourism Department Director Yu Ming-shun. 2020’s opening had an estimated 20,000 come in attendance for reference. Hotels and hostels were also reported to be booked at near 70% capacity for those coming to enjoy the hot air balloons.
The evening brought inopportune rain that disrupted this year’s debut Night Glow Concert, but the show went on—the damp crowd sitting in tents and under umbrellas on the hillside were surprised by a brief choreographed dance using the balloon maintenance trucks and burners. It quite literally lit up Luye Highland!
In year’s past, the Night Glow Concert has brought thousands of people together, shoulder-to-shoulder, spectating jaw-dropping illuminated hot air balloons with balls of fire. All the while, hearing the beats of music and a dazzling light show going on simultaneously. The Night Glow Concerts alone make it worth trekking down to Taitung to witness this event in-person.
The festival doesn’t just stop there, either. There is a plethora of additional activities sprinkled throughout the duration of the 45-day festival like the Xiaoyeliu Night Tour, Taiwan Cycling Festival or the Night Tour in Sanxiantai—just to name a few for you to enjoy the festival to your heart’s content.
2022 marks the twelfth anniversary of the festival. Originally starting in 2011 as a means to expand Taitung’s international profile and promote tourism, the Taiwan International Balloon Festival has become the single-most easily identifiable part of Taitung over the past decade across the island.
This year features over 30 domestic and international hot air balloons all coming in various colors, shapes and sizes like the Hello Kitty, Taipei Bravo Bear and Elvis Balloons. Participating countries include Japan, Brazil and the USA. Fun fact: Did you know a traditional hot air balloon, like the Taitung Balloon, roughly costs 3 million NTD (~$100,000 USD), and for a custom shaped balloon, like the Free Bear Balloon, runs approximately 5 million NTD (~$165,000 USD) to manufacture? You’re encouraged to check out this year’s Balloon Catalog on the Tourism Departments official website to get-to-know the balloons and where they come from.
We welcome everyone to come on down and to participate in the festival. Worry not those who are afraid of heights, this festival offers something for everyone: take in views from afar, or for the ambitious, go for a tethered ride, and for those who need a true one-of-a-kind experience make an appointment for a free-flight ride. Let the hot air balloons take a load off your mind—surely there is a bright tomorrow knowing that the Hello Kitty is floating and greeting us from above.
Stayin’ Cool in the ‘Tung
Taitung is a subtropical paradise, sometimes even dubbed the Hawaii of Asia; consequently, the sun is much more potent here than other parts of the world.
Taitung reaches its peak temperatures just in time for summer crowds coming for the annually held Hot Air Balloon Festival. Learn from my mistakes—the heat of the subtropics is a very real danger—avoiding your archenemy, the sunburn, is the name of the game. Cooling down is just as imperative when staying in this subtropical exercise enthusiast destination, especially during summer conditions where UV light is at peak strength.
If you find yourself being enticed by doing an extended trip in Taitung, whether you are looking for a place to visit in the subtropics, a digital nomad or some other remote worker, you will most likely have access to a kitchen, grasp the opportunity, and get yourself a blender, even if it’s a small one from your local grocery store—more on the blender in a moment.
Taitung is a tight-knit community, everyone knows everyone. Given the integral role agriculture plays in Taitung, residents will often find themselves in a situation where a classmate’s best friend’s sister’s mom’s coworker—or some other equally convoluted distant acquaintance—has a surplus of fruit and offers it up as a gift to show their gratitude toward you.
Before you know it, you’ll be buried in more pineapples, mangoes and atemoyas than you know what to do with. My solution: freeze, blend, serve. All of these exotic subtropical fruits make excellent frozen desserts. Do as the natives do and make a slushie, or make yourself a fruity frappe like Mom did back home.
Come July, Taitung’s earliest sunrises come. Being woken up at 5:30 AM by a sunbeam striking your face at the crack of dawn is sort of an unofficial initiation that all new Taitung residents will go through. Humor aside, summer can be unforgiving with its near 5 AM sunrises.
Fret not, play it smart, let the gorgeous landscapes and scenes of noon time pass you by in the interim, lest you be burned to crisp, and learn from the local Taiwanese around us.
Your first instinct might be: “Sunscreen?” Nah, that’s an afterthought. What you really need is some long sleeves, long pants, gloves and a hat that covers down to your neck. While you’re at it, go ahead and attach some oven mitts to your scooter handlebars—don’t want those little fingers getting fried. Oh, I forgot! Umbrellas! Sunshine, overcast, or rain, bring an umbrella. It helps block those harmful UVs.
Shade is your daytime lifeline, whether it be trees or buildings. Bunker down inside and behind buildings, or sit under a big oak or palm, just remember to play keep-away from those dangerous rays of the sun.
Now for those who can’t contain our enthusiasm, engaging in all-day outdoor escapades outdoors to quench our thirst for mother nature, you’re now armed with knowledge. Avoid the sun like the plague, deck yourself in from head-to-toe like it’s wintertime, and get out exploring—ending the day with a nice subtropical frozen fruit blast.
Shanyuan Bay - Our little Seed
of Beach Culture
Taitung, at first glance, what do you think of? Indigenous cultures, slow and leisurely, lifestyle, rice fields, or maybe even the great outdoors. Taitung has garnered a reputation for being a place that is for nature lovers. For some, exploring completely unadulterated nature is perfect, no outside human interference; you’re just one with the great outdoors. For others, however, they desire a more social outdoor experience—especially during the summertime.
Shanyuan Bay is a little hidden gem tucked away on Provincial Highway 11. The 1-mile sandy stretch of beach was relatively unknown before Magistrate April Yao got involved and brought attention to it by providing a number of beachside activities for residents and out-of-county folk to enjoy free-of-charge.
Yao has shown a keen interest in revitalizing the Shanyuan Bay area. Up until this year, Shanyuan Bay looked like nothing more than a vacant parking lot that would easily be overlooked. Now, with the new parking lot, shower stalls and set of stairs, the area is bustling with families coming to enjoy some summer fun.
The parking lot is almost always filled beyond its capacity causing a line of cars to form looking for parking—this is in fact a nice subtle way to attract even more people and we haven’t even discussed the plethora of beach activities on offer! This social phenomenon, unique to many of Taiwan’s inhabitants, is when Taiwanese sees another Taiwanese—taking pictures, checking-in their location via Instagram Stories, or forming a line—they instinctively flock to where many have gone before. Interesting strategy, one that is quite effective, I might add.
As such, locals and people from out-of-town are visiting the natural-occurring sandy stretch of beachline. This past year to meet the new interest and demand of the bay, in addition to the aforementioned amenities being installed, Yao hosted the East Wave Festival for the first time in May, bringing 15 days to kick-off summer of action-packed outdoor beach activities including SUP, snorkeling and kayaking and maybe most surprisingly, a beach volleyball tournament—only the second time ever a beach volley tournament was held within the county.
You could even confuse the scenes of Shanyuan Bay with some Californian beach—beach volleyball, ATV’s and plenty of sun umbrellas and blankets all laid nicely out on the sand. It really is a sight to behold, and for those expats looking to satisfy their fix for some beach time fun, there’s really no better choice than Shanyuan Bay in Taitung County.
Taitung offers a bit of everything, for everyone. For those who love to be with one with nature, you have access to endless untampered with nature. For others looking for some beach fun you have that—even if you have to wait for a parking space now.
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