This year marked the 20th Philippine International Annual Balloon Fiesta; a weekend of celebrating everything that flies. This festival is held annually in Pampanga, just 3 hours away from Manila, but I never had a chance to attend it until now.
The event, which started as a passion project evolved into the longest-running sports aviation in Asia, with some of the best aviators from the world for participants. Its goal is to instill discipline in participating young pilots so they can develop into safe aviators, as well as to impart the spirit volunteerism and cooperation to the whole community.
I read from some blogs that it’s always a jampack event as it is attended by thousands of people, so I expected to meet some heavy traffic on my way there. Likewise, I knew then I’d have to wait in the long queue to the ticketing booth. Despite knowing this, I didn’t prepare anything because I’m unsure about attending the balloon fiesta in the first place.
Until the day before the event, I told my friends in Pampanga, Ivy and Anna that I’d go there alone. I initially planned to leave Manila (Cubao) at 3:00 a. m., but it didn’t happen because of work. I only had a few hours of sleep so I was feeling lethargic. Anyway, I still went ahead and arrived in Cubao before 5:00 a. m., immediately I went to Victory Liner. I was shocked to discover that there were so many people waiting in line. So I walked away and thankfully, I found a bus from Dominion Line that is bound to Vigan. It stops over at Dau Bus terminal, which is the gateway to this event. Travel time from Cubao to Dau Bus terminal was just 2 hours; the fare was 116php.
How to get to Hot Air Balloon Fiesta venue?
From Dau Bus Terminal, I walked my way to McArthur Highway and looked for a jeep bound to Clark Main Gate. Travel time was less than 15 minutes and the fare was 7php. From Clark Main gate, I took a jeep/shuttle route 2 and took off at The North Walk Mall. I walked hurriedly, hoping to catch those hot air balloons. Because I was in a hurry I willingly paid 50php for a tricycle. Unfortunately, the traffic was so bad, riding the trike didn’t really help. Eventually, I decided to just take off at Jollibee along friendship highway and from there, walked all the way to the main gate.
I had a glimpse of the venue at 7:15 a.m. and hoped that I could still witness the flying hot air balloons. Regrettably, they are were all gone by the time I got there. I felt so devastated because I honestly thought they’d be up in the sky for at least an hour. I learned however that they don’t stay up in the sky that long, that once they go up they just go over to Porac.
I decided not to buy a ticket because most of the people were already leaving the venue and when I saw the queue at the ticket booth and entrance, I wanted to vanish and be transported in an air-conditioned place. It was really hot and dusty in the venue so I recommend wearing a breathable shirt.
North Walk Clark is the only mall I saw outside the Airforce City complex and this is where most of the people eat after the show. I stayed for a few minutes in a coffee shop while waiting for my friends’ advice on where we would be meeting. I had a chance to talk to someone about the event and she told me that instead of buying a ticket, which costs 350php, why not go on the roof deck of North Walk Building and just pay 30php. She said it would save me a lot of money but I’d still be able to see the balloons. I looked at her photos and thought that maybe she was onto something; I could say she got awesome shots from just staying on the viewing deck.
Where to Eat in Angeles?
While waiting for the next Hot Air Balloon Show, my friends invited me to have lunch at Robertos Coffee and Tea located inside SM City Clark. From the name itself, I thought that it was just a typical coffee and tea house; I was wrong. Robertos is, in fact, a sophisticated restaurant, offering not just coffee and tea but also meals for lunch and dinner. I was impressed upon learning that the meat that they use for their food were from the animals that they grow from their own farm.
As I entered the resto, I immediately noticed the impressive chairs near the door. Upon closer look, I was surprised to see that those were made by none other than Kenneth Cobonpue, a multi-awarded and globally recognized Filipino industrial designer. Now, it’s clear to me that this is not just your normal coffee and tea shop.
I had the chance to meet Mr. Roberto and I was amazed that like most of us, he is also a traveler. He has been to many local and international destinations, as a matter of fact, some items that he bought during his travel are displayed at his restaurant. Even the backpacker logo of Roberto’s somehow looks like my logo. I felt like entering inside my dream restaurant. I actually have a dream of someday, after traveling and collecting memories around the world, I would also establish my own coffee and tea shop business. It is designed in such a way that it will showcase my love for traveling.
Anyway, some of you might think that this place is expensive, but with the quality of the taste, service, and the interiors, I could say that the price is reasonable. I ordered a Baby back ribs for 380php. I can’t remember the last time I had a good steak and I can attest that Roberto’s champion this one. The meat is tender and juicy and I didn’t have a hard time cutting and chewing the meat. The flavor wasn’t too strong or blunt; cooked exactly as I want it. And I loved the idea of eating on a chopping board, that’s something unusual and cool. If you love green tea frappe, then you should try theirs for only 180php. Its taste is at par with those that you can buy from some of the leading cafes in the country but for the same price.
The next day, I was fortunate to have a free ticket inside the event courtesy of my friends so I was able to witness closely the flying of Balloons and planes. At first, I was skeptical if the event would be worth it. Imagine, we woke up as early as 2:00 a.m. to fall in line and to ensure a good spot close to the balloons. The queue was unbelievably long, I mean seriously, there were thousands of people lining up at the entrance gate waiting for the gate to open before 6:00 a.m. It could have been better if the organizer let the people get in and camp inside the venue since it was so huge and can accommodate everyone instead of letting us stand in line for hours outside, which was quite uncomfortable.
t didn’t help that there were some people arguing because the lines were so disorganized. I didn’t see any event’s staff who tried to fix the line, I just think it was truly unfair to the people who waited there for hours just to get in first. I hope that the event organizer would read this and do something to make it more organized for the next year’s festival.
Below are some photos from the last 20th Hot air Balloon Fiesta and I hope you wouldn’t regret that you were not there.
- The first orange-hued rays of sunrise kissed the grayish sky with the breathtaking view of skydivers playing on air. Photo Credited to @mhelowsssss on Instagram.
- The event started with the singing of our National Anthem while our Philippine Flag was dramatically flying from the sky. I wish I could watch it for longer, happily lost in a trance of patriotism. Photo Credited to Mark Evans on Facebook.
- The most awaited part, the flying of Hot Air Balloons. The feeling was magical. I feel like the pixies threw a dust into the morning cold air. Photo Credited to Jenny Gutierrez on Facebook
- This brings back the child in me.
- There was a sound from above whispering from my ear. FREEDOM! I am proud to stand behind watching it move, almost in slow motion. Photo credit to Allan Paul on Facebook.
- Riding inside this plane is Five-star experience. No seats cramped together and no economy class. Photo Credit to Roman Angelo and Mark Evans on Facebook
- I can’t remember the last time I fly a kite. But I’m sure that flying it requires control. The way it moves to the sky will depend on your hands. Photo Credit to @twinkie4lyf on Instagram
- The view was so serene, kites are the reflection of our way of thinking. If we are successful in flying, it means our mind have graceful thought. Photo Credit to @blu3inblu3 on Instagram
- The glowing fires leaped in a fiery dance, twinkling like stars bringing the whole place alive – Photo Credit to Roman Angelo on Facebook.
I hope these photos inspire and excite you to attend the next Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. See you next year!