Here are some 10 things that will come in handy for those who are going to this year’s hot air balloon festivity at Clark in Pampanga. Those who went in their own private vehicles or as a group whose transport had been pre-arranged sure had it great. Going to Clark, Pampanga via public transport, however, is an entirely different level of adventure, more so when none of the people with you know how to get to the event venue, hahaha. Talk about hard core! Enough of the blah and on with my definitive guide, owing to our personal experience during the 15th Hot Air Balloon Festival. Bookmark this page for future reference, dear backpacker/day-traveller.
1. The Commute: there were five of us who decided on taking a bus for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. Take the Victory Liner or Dagupan Bus Lines from Cubao. Bus fare is P102.00 (2010 rate) for Dau, Pampanga via Dagupan Bus Lines. It’s a good thing that we left our homes at 2:00 a.m. because there were no Victory Liner buses scheduled to leave before 4:30. Get off at the Dau stop over and take a jeepney along the highway (will take a short walk from the stop over spot) for the “Main Gate.” At the Main Gate, take another jeepney that will take you to the festival grounds. People in Angeles are very helpful. Ask if you feel lost or if you are not sure where you are.
2. Event Ticket: if you can, buy tickets before going to Clark via ticket outlets scattered around the Metro. Now be sure to bring those tickets because I know some people who forgot to bring theirs LOL. You can always buy them from the gate but prepared to fall in line because the Hot Air Balloon Festival is a BIG event and it will never fail to draw more and more tourists every year.
3. Start Time and Program Schedule: check the schedule from the event’s official website prior to going to Clark. During the Saturday event last year, the balloon flight was slated at 5:20 a.m. but the first balloons only started inflating at around 6:00 a.m. While the balloons were being set up, at around 6:19 a.m. a person in parachute came descending from the skies carrying with him the Philippine Flag as the speakers played the National Anthem. Everything has already flown at around 7:00 a.m. and right on schedule, too. There are things happening all day long but, next time, I’ll make sure I leave after the balloons. The scheduled re-flight at around dusk did not happen because the winds were too strong that they can’t even be inflated! I’ll explain more about this in a bit.
4. Vantage Point: only those with media badges are allowed in the field area where the balloons are being inflated. The rest of the spectators get to stay behind a gated area around 30 meters (or so) from the nearest hot air balloon. Those who came in early had the chance to stay right in front of the fence surrounding the main activity area.
5. Photographers Galore: as mentioned, people who get inside the venue earlier usually choose to stay very close to the fenced area. As there are also LOTS of photographers wielding huge-ass lenses on standby in that perimeter, it’s gonna be a feat get to have a better position than most others. Usually, the really very early guests reign supreme: a usual perk enjoyed by the sleepless but deserving. Remember, you are shooting opposite the sunrise. It’s challenging enough to get a good shot of the balloons, and then this lighting problem! Caltex held a contest for each of the days during the festival last year, selecting 5 best shots from submissions. Winners could get to win gas cards and a year’s subscription to a locally published photography mag. Winson, who was with us that time, submitted a photograph and won the grand prize! Woot! Lastly, bring extra batteries for your camera. I can’t stress this important little reminder enough. For what use are 32Gb memory cards when your camera’s in a temporary coma.
6. Weather: I suggest that you bring a jacket for the bus trip. I never thought the early pre-Valentine’s Day morning in Pampanga can still be chilly. The event venue is an open field with several hangars that organizers managed to convert to covered activity areas. At noon, and thankfully, it got a bit cloudy so everyone had heavenly protection from harsh UV rays, so to speak. The wind picked up late in the afternoon, much to the kite flyers’ enjoyment. As a drawback, the commentator explained, the balloons that were supposed to fly that night had a hard time inflating because the wind speed rose to around 7-8 knots (8 to 9.2 miles per hour) at the open field. In the event that the balloons did get to inflate, there’s also the risk of endangering the onlookers. They still tried inflating the balloons and it was evident from where we were looking that they were all having a hard time.
7. Food: there were trailers where Burger King, Jollibee, and McDonalds sold freshly prepared food (megots Burger King Chicken Sandwich! WIN!). There were also hotdog stands, carinderia-style meals, dimsum, ice cream, water, Halo-Halo courtesy of Kabigting Halo-Halo at the Marquee Mall booth (with pastillas as a main ingredient), and Yellow Cab Pizza, among others. Some brought food but, IMO, that’s too much of a hassle since arrangements for food stalls were well taken cared of by the organizers. Just bring cash since there are no ATMs inside the event area.
8. Mall-Access: Speaking of Marquee Mall, they offered free shuttle service to spectators that left every thirty minutes for the Mall. We left for Marquee Mall at around 8:30 only to find out that the mall opens at 10. Major bummer! Good thing Starbucks opened earlier than everybody else. We went around, having nothing else to do, and found ourselves inside Saizen (a Japanese store that sells anything for P85) where we spent a good hour getting awed at the littlest things. It is only here that I saw the most expansive CDR King branch ever! There we also traces of concepts stores, one for each of Microsoft, Lenovo, Toshiba, Logitech, and Dell, the likes of which we’ve never seen anywhere in the Metro. We had lunch in the mall before heading back for more Hot Air Balloon festivities via the way we came: free shuttle!
9. Stay all day: Next year, I’d rather leave for home after the early morning balloon flight. Don’t get me wrong, staying there the entire day will get you your money’s worth for all P150 of it (still the same price as in 2010). There are portalets in strategic areas that would have been easy to use in the mornings but got filthy-gross at dusk. The emcee was outstanding. I was not able to get his name but kudos to you, whoever you are. That guy was talking all day, talking sense of what the “plane acrobatic pilots” (the actual name they’re called escapes me) were doing or are about to do as the flying exhibition happened, helping children find their lost parents (LOL), explaining about the balloons and the science behind the flights, and taking good care that the program remains interesting even for those who are not facing the stage or field area. It must be exhausting doing all that for four straight days in a row! *hat tip* I would not dare stay later than 3PM again because of my next and last learning…
10. Going home on commute: We had a hell of a hard time going back home at around 7:30 p.m. There was traffic everywhere and it seemed that every commuter from the festival decided to go home at exactly the same time. Jeepneys heading back to the “Main Gate” were scarce and the traffic congested. Terrific! Outstanding! When we finally reached the Dau bus terminal, getting a Manila-bound bus proved to be the hardest task for the day. Oh boy, never again. It’s either I’ll take my own ride going to Pampanga for next year’s festival or I’m leaving the venue earlier and forego the afternoon program.
There you have it folks, 10 thinks you should know and prepare for when going to your next Hot Air Balloon Festival. Thanks to Marquee Mall for the Event Pass!