by Xuan Hiep
|Full of fun: The balloon festival attracted locals and tourists showing that Viet Nam was becoming more adventurous.
|Expert advice: A foreign professional guides a Vietnamese team ready to launch. — VNA/VNS Photos
Thousands of local and foreign visitors flocked to Phan ThietCity in the central province of Binh Thuan early on Friday for the opening of the first Viet Nam International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta which will end on September 3.
The festival was organised by the Binh Thuan Province's People's Committee, Depart-ment of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Chien Thang Ltd. Company.
The festival has attracted more than 50 international balloonists and balloon experts from 12 countries and territories, including the Nether-lands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, UK, the US, India, Malaysia, Spain, Australia and the home team Viet Nam.
At the opening ceremony, attended by State Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan, a total of three balloons took off in the morning, to the delight of local and international onlookers.
Of the three balloons, the first was from Spain flown by Spanish balloonist Joseph Llado. It covered more than 10 kilometres to the Mui Ne sand dunes.
The second balloon was from Viet Nam directed by French balloonist Gael Cardon. The third was from the Netherlands, operated by Swiss and Vietnamese balloonists Adrian Held and Le Trong Nghia. The two balloons flew a short distance after take-off and arrived at the Sea Links Golf Course.
Le Trong Nghia, 29, Viet Nam's yougest balloonist, who has been flying balloons since 2004, said that Viet Nam had potential to develop flying sports like hot-air balloons, especially in tourist cities like Da Nang, Nha Trang and Binh Thuan Province.
Jonas Van Boorsselaere, a balloonist from Belgium, who has been flying balloons for nine years with around 700 hours of flying experience, said only three balloons took off this morning because of windy weather.
"However, we can still fly balloons in this kind of weather if we want to, but we could harm ourselves on landing. So we don't want to take the risk," he said.
The best time to fly is in the early morning and evening.
"It's not dangerous to fly a balloon. It is like driving a car. If you're not careful, you can cause an accident. Balloonists should, in particular, watch out while take-off and landing."
Miriam Jurg, from the Netherlands, one of only two female balloonists at the fiesta, said everything had been well-organised despite several minor problems.
"We are so thankful to the organisation board for making the event as successful as possible. Without help and support from all the people here, we would not be able to fly," she said.
Prof. Duong Trung Quoc, who also attended the opening ceremony, said balloons had been used for military purposes in Viet Nam at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
"The colourful balloons in the sky here at the international fiesta symbolises peace, friendship and cooperation," he told Viet Nam News.
|Ready to go: The balloon festival attracted thousands of local and foreign visitors to Phan Thiet City.
The fiesta is being held in Mui Ne, one of the country's most well-known tourist destinations.
Mohammad Sobri Saad, an experienced balloonist from Malaysia, has flown many times in Southeast Asia and Europe. He said Viet Nam had favourable conditions for hot-air ballooning as well as other flying sports.
The event attracted people from all walks of life, including foreign visitors.
"It is very nice to see all the colours of people from around the world here and watch how the balloon crew prepares to fly their balloons," said Lawson Dixon of Australia.
"The event shows the province is open to new ideas. It also shows that Viet Nam is more welcoming and people are becoming more adventurous," he said.
Huynh Thi Thao Hien, a resident of Phan Thiet City, said she had asked to take off in the morning from her company so that she and her two daughters could attend the event.
"What a shame we could not see the performaces this morning because it was so early. We'll come back here in the evening to watch."
During the festival, there will be 17 balloon performances. The balloons are of various sizes and shapes, including those of a golden cat, golden pig, a shopping bag, an elephant and a Coca-Cola bottle, among others.
Visitors can also view paragliding, paramotor, glider and ultralight aircraft performances at the event.
The fiesta is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of local and international visitors.
If it is deemed successful, the province will try to host it annually, according to Ngo Minh Chinh, director of the Binh Thuan Province's Dep-artment of Culture, Sports and Tourism and deputy chief of the organisation board.
The event, which takes place on Highway 706B in Phu Hai Ward in Phan Thiet City is opposite the Sea Links golf course.
It celebrates the 67th anniversary of National Day, which falls on September 2, and the 20th anniversary of Binh Thuan Province's re-establishment. — VNS