Bright garish birds trying to take flight. Huge jewel coloured balloons jostling for space. The sudden whoosh of a flame behind you. A shout to move in a foreign tongue as a basket heads your way. We are like a couple of kids, heads back, mouths gapping open not knowing where to look next. I send up a quick prayer of thanks to whoever invented digital cameras because mine is working overtime. This is the opening night of the 2018 Chiang Rai International Balloon Fiesta and we are well and truly in the thick of it.
We expect at any moment to be moved on, but we never are. The competitors negotiate around the spectators as they roll out their balloons and begin the inflation process. We watch in fascination as these giant sails begin to take shape. And what shapes. There is a dashing pirate parrot, a scholarly owl, a heart, a space ship, every time I turn I see another new and wonderful balloon emerging.
After they are inflated the ground crew must steer the basket along the edge of the lake to the top. There, a queue of balloons form ready for the competition to begin. The competition, from what we can see, is for the pilot to fly the balloon over the lake. Low enough to enable the co-pilot (or whatever they are called) to drop a ball into a basket, a hoop on a pole amongst other trials. This might sound easy but with giant hot air balloons anything can happen.
I would like to say it is organised chaos on the ground but I don’t think there is anything organised about it. Everyone is smiling and enjoying themselves, there are no accidents. But, I do think an Aussie Health and Safety officer would be on oxygen by now!
Who won the competition? we have absolutely no idea, we were far too busy enjoying the balloons!