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Colour in the skies

The Thailand International Balloon Festival in Chiang Mai adds sound on the ground with musical guests

Cartoon-character balloons will bring colour to the skies over Chiang Mai later this month during the Thailand International Balloon Festival.

While festival-goers gaze mesmerised at a panda, fox and ladybug vying for space above their hands, remote-controlled balloons will whirr around closer to the ground and at night there will be live music.

"The format's changed completely," says Yut Wanichanond, founder of the event's organiser Earth, Wind and Fire. "We usually develop our festival so that it's bigger and better each year. This time, we've taken it to another level with a greater variety of activities."

The main change is the location, which moves to Chiang Mai Gymkhana, a sports club founded in 1898 by teak-logging tycoons and British expatriates and is considered Thailand's oldest.

"I'm personally very fond of this golf course," says Wiwatchai Boonyapak, events department director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. "The Gymkhana was Thailand's first real golf course. It was established during the reign of King Rama V on 102-rai of land shaded by magnificent rain trees."

Yut agrees. "This golf course is very beautiful and more than large enough to embrace all our activities, which will be set on the broad fairway. It's easy to get there too as it's only one kilometre from Nawarat Bridge."

Along with balloons from all over the world, the festival is playing host to a number of big-name Thai and foreign musical acts.

Among the headliners will the UK reggae and dance-music artist Aruba Red. She is best known for her collaborations with reggae star Jah Mason on "Struggling" and with Jamaican star Jah Cure on "Light Up Light Up".

Thai names include singer-songwriter Chulachak "Hugo" Chakrabongse and pianist Nueng Jakkawal. Supporting them will such local outfits as the Louis Trio, Del Ritmo, Three for You, Project Mayhem, G&L Group, the Skiss Band and Malang Pleng.

"In the past, the crowds came just to see the balloons. But that's a little like going to a firework display. You're enthralled by the pyrotechnics but afterwards there's nothing to do. Last year, people came to me and said they'd like to spend more time at the festival but they were bored in the evenings. That's why we're having concerts.

"I didn't know Aruba Red until a staff member presented her to me. After watching her shows on YouTube, I discovered that her 'rebel soul' sound is very popular in Europe. Having Aruba and Hugo at this festival will help promote Thailand. Hugo has already put this festival on his Facebook wall, which has gained us a lot of publicity while Aruba has written on her website that this is her first tour out of Europe. And Nueng Jakkawal needs no introduction," says Yut.

Two-wheel fans will also get their thrills thanks to a parade of big bikes led by Panadda Wongphudee, Worawut Niyomsap and Puri Hiranpruk, which will also include Vespa scooters and vintage bicycles.

But the balloons will be the stars and this year there are coming in several fun shapes. Pilots will hold workshops for youngsters who are interested in the science of ballooning. There are two workshops per day with places for around 100 people.

Yut says the number of foreign balloons is likely to be down from previous years, though the organisers are bringing in six remote-control balloons from Germany.

"They're rather like remote control planes and a lot of fun," he says. "And I am sure our night balloon show will be popular too."

Festival-goers can eat, drink and be merry with catering provided by more than 15 hotels and leading restaurants. The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is offering roasted ham, the Rati Lanna Riverside Spa Resort will be featuring barbecue items while the Dusit D2 is handling the bakery goods.

"And all at reasonable prices too," says Yut.

UP, UP AND AWAY

- The Thailand International Balloon Festival is on from 6am to midnightfrom November 23 to 25 at Chiang Mai Gymkhama.

- Entry is Bt100 (Bt50 for students) with tickets available at Rim Ping Supermarket.

- For more information, visit www.ThailandBalloonFestival.com.




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