The 17th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is scheduled from the 9th to 12th February 2012 at the Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga, Philippines. For the past three (03) years in-a-row, my family and I became part of this annual event. Let me just share with you my very own version of a Newbies Guide to the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta to ensure that you will be able to maximize enjoyment visiting the event.
Going to the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta
The Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is held at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga (around 85 kms from Manila). The public activity and viewing area is actually around the two (02) Philippine Air Force maintenance hangars (starred in the aerial view below), which are located at the far end of DMIA’s left side runway.
TRIVIA: Did you know that when Clark Freeport Zone was still a United States Air Force Base, it was designated as one of the alternate landing runways for NASA’s Space Shuttle Program? That is how long its runways are!
You may opt to bring your own vehicle and drive all the way from Metro Manila to Pampanga as early as 0300H to catch the hot air balloons preparation and eventual lift off, which normally starts at 0500H. Expect MODERATE to HEAVY TRAFFIC along the hi-way leading to the entrance of the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta – most especially during the weekend of the event. The vast land along Manuel A. Roxas Hi-way in the aerial shot above is turned into a parking area during the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Be prepared to walk for almost a kilometer during the Saturday & Sunday run of the event, as hundreds if not thousands of vehicles will be parked towards the entrance of the venue.
Last year, we opted to leave the family car at home and took the public transport to Clark Freeport Zone. Victory Liner in Pasay City dispatches their first bus off to Dau, Pampanga (route is to Dagupan, actually) as early as 0320H and every 40 minutes thereafter. Fare is just less than PHP300 per pax. If you can catch the first bus trip, the better as you will be arriving at Dau some 90 minutes after.
From the Dau Bus Terminal, you may take a jeepney or a tricycle ride to the entrance of the Clark Freeport Zone (SM City Clark will be the landmark). I suggest that you take the jeepney ride, as some tricycle drivers charges quadruple the normal trip faire during the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta days (last year, a tricycle driver was asking for PHP500 to bring us up to the gate of the Clark Freeport from the Dau Bus Terminal; jeepney ride is something like PHP10 per pax only). You will then have to transfer to another jeepney, the one that shuttles to/from the Clark Freeport Gate up to the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta grounds.
Another option is for you to get there the afternoon before the morning when you intend to go inside the Hot Air Balloon grounds. There are a lot of inns, motels, and hotels around the Angeles, Pampanga area – which is basically just outside of the Clark Freeport Zone. Two (02) years ago, this is what we did – we stayed at a nearby inn then checked-out at around 0430H.
Where to Get the Tickets?
Entrance Ticket to the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta is normally pegged at PHP150 per head. It can be purchased ahead of time at the Air Ads Office (hangar) along Andrews Avenue (near the Domestic Airport), Ticketnet, or during the event day itself at the gate.
For the past two (02) years, I was lucky enough (with a few connections) to secure an All Access Pass (or sometimes called as Photographer’s Pass) to the event. So what is an All Access Pass? The pictures (of my son and his nanny) below will somewhat explain the difference between a Regular Ticket (pass) and an All Access Pass:
Having an All Access Pass will give you the chance to be up-close and personal with the Hot Air Balloons, the crew, and the pilots. You may actually go beyond the cordoned off area. And since I had an All Access Pass and my son is just a kid (3 years old then), I was able to snatch him in beyond the cordoned area. Last year, the All Access Pass I got was courtesy of the Digital Photographer Philippines team (though I had to shell out PHP1,000 per ID). Still no word on how to get an All Access Pass as of post time (will update this blog post as soon as I have more info). This was how the All Access (Photographer’s Pass) looked like last year:
Mind you, these passes are color-coded and can only be used during the specified day.
What to Do Inside the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Grounds?
If you will be there early and on time for the hot air balloon launch, you will see how the chase crew prepares …
Such an awesome sight to see the hot air balloons rising against the sunrise from the horizon …
Photo-ops with vintage and current fleets of the Philippine Air Force …
This is my favorite part: watch aerobatics demonstration after the hot air balloons had landed. The name to watch out for: Capt. Meynard Halili – idol!
Inside the hangars, there are displays and activities you and your family will surely enjoy – bonding moments …
Also, get a chance to see airborne jumpers up-close and personal …
Do not forget to take your pics in front of the planes in display … yes, you may actually touch them and if you’re lucky enough, the pilots or even the ground crew will let you sit inside the aircrafts … and be sure to bring home that miniature hot air balloon souvenir!
What to Bring to the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta?
Remember that it is almost summer already during the period of the Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in February, so better make sure that you will bring/wear with you:
Lots and lots of fluids – water! Last year, I experimented in bringing Gatorade instead of bottled water, and indeed it worked! Avoid sodas (softdrinks) and any drink that has caffeine – it will dry your system out.
Be there in your summer outfit. Wear a hat/cap if you can to avoid being a victim of heatstroke.
- Bring at least a set of extra clothes.
- Bring your best digital camera with extra batteries! It is such an awesome sight to see colorful balloons being prepped and eventually flying.