The Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival is a completely free event. The only money you’ll spend is getting to the festival grounds. Now even though it’s free, is it worth the time and money to get there from Taipei?
The answer, it depends. It depends if you plan on doing other tourism along the east coast of Taiwan to include in your visit. After going to the Taitung balloon festival, I don’t think I would go to Taitung just for the festival. You’ll need to really make a vacation out of it which is part of the journey. That’s why I’ll explain everything you need to know about the Taiwan’s biggest hot air balloon festival in Taitung.
How long is the Taitung Balloon Festival?
The 2020 Taitung Balloon Festival runs from July 11 to August 30. Each summer, it runs for about the same amount of time so there will be many opportunities to experience the festival. Every day of the festival, there will be a morning event and a night event.
Morning Event: The morning event runs from 05:30 to 07:00. A part of that are the balloons being inflated and deflated so you don’t want to get there too late.
Evening Event: The evening event has the balloons up from 17:00 to 19:00
Night Glow Concert: A very special experience that takes place before dawn with a light show and concert.
The Taitung Balloon Festival Experience
After taking the early morning bus ride to Luye Highland, it was a very beautiful sunrise over the mountains. Seeing this along with some hot air balloons made for a very unique experience. Once we arrived at the festival grounds, it was a very small festival. There were a few snack and drink stalls but the main show were of course the balloons.
We arrived at 05:30 and the unique balloons were still being filled up. The more traditional hot air balloons were ready to go and taking people up and down. I was surprised to see that people were not allowed to ride the novelty balloons, these are only for taking pictures.
After taking the long journey from Taipei and seeing lots of advertisements for this festival, I was a little underwhelmed but sharing that beautiful sunrise with someone you care about will make the trip worth it.
The event also had an announcer who was trying to hype up the crowd with conversation. It worked even though it’s difficult to get people excited about something when they are still waking up.
Riding the Hot Air Balloons in Taitung, Taiwan
For some reason, I always forget that festivals will have a lot of people. I thought anyone could just show up and get a ride on a hot air balloon. That is not how it works. If you want to ride one of the hot air balloons in Taitung, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance. You can buy the tickets only in person for the same day.
Hot Air Balloon Ticket Sales:
To get on the hot air balloon for the morning session, they begin selling tickets (only for that morning) at 5am. For the evening events, they start selling tickets at 4pm. So if you want to get on a hot air balloon, you’ll have to show up early and wait in line.
Hot Air Balloon Prices:
For hot air balloon ride in Taitung on the tethered balloons, you’ll need to be at least 110cm tall.
- Weekdays NT$500 (US$17)/person
- Weekends NT$600 (US$20)/person
For non-tethered hot air balloons, you can make a reservation in advance. It depends on the group that’s running the rides so you’ll need to find more info on the festival website. Rides on non-tethered balloons start at NT$9000 (US$300). For reference, the hot air balloons in Turkey will cost you US$6000 to experience. This is a heck of a value to fly where the wind takes you.
Tethered Hot Air Balloon Riding Times:
- Mornings: 05:30 – 07:30
- Evenings: 17:00 – 19:00
Getting To Taitung from Taipei
This guide is for visitors to Taiwan that aren’t driving so it will involve the average prices and travel times for public transportation. You should know what to expect before spending the time and money to travel to the Taitung, Taiwan hot air balloon festival.
I’m writing this guide in July 2020, in the age of “safer” travel. Even though Taiwan has not had a locally transmitted case in over 3 months and the borders are still closed to tourists, masks are mandatory for all public transportation. When the borders open up, I can only imagine that they get more cautious. So mentally prepare yourself for wearing a mask (even in the hot weather), it’s not that bad.
The fastest train from Taipei to Taitung is the Taroko Express 426. It takes you just 3 hours and 30 minutes for the entire journey for NT$783 (US$27). That’s the one-way travel time and price. Throughout the day, there will be other [Puyuma Express] and [Taroko Express] which takes just a little more than 4 hours each way for the exact same price.
You can book your Taiwan Train tickets at the TRA Website (https://tip.railway.gov.tw/tra-tip-web/tip). Train tickets are only available 2 weeks before your desired travel date. So when that window opens up, be ready to book ASAP! The fastest express trains are the ones that sell out immediately.
Taking the bus to Taitung is not recommended, although it is possible. There is no direct bus from Taipei to Taitung, you’ll have to switch in Hualien. The entire journey will probably take 7 hours for a similar cost to the train. It’s possible for the journey to take even longer in the event that there’s traffic on the highway.
Taking the flight from Taipei to Taitung is absolutely the most convenient option. The entire flight takes only 50-minutes and they serve drinks on-board the flight. Masks are still mandatory on-board. Flights can be as low as NT$1888 (US$67) each way. This happens to be the peak pricing during the hot air balloon festival season.
I was very impressed by how easy it is to take a domestic flight in Taiwan. The airport security is very efficient so waiting in line isn’t really a thing. You will be able to walk right on board. Pretty much you can make your flight even if you show up 30-minutes before departure (if you have no check-in luggage).
The best part is that you are flying out of Taipei Songshan airport which is a 10-minute taxi ride from most of central Taipei. If you decide on taking a flight, I highly recommend getting to Songshan airport early and hanging out on the landside (before security) because the whole airport is like a lounge. In fact, many locals go to Songshan airport just to hangout. Free electricity, Wi-Fi and air conditioning while also having a very comfortable space.
Getting To The Taitung Balloon Festival
If you aren’t driving or renting a scooter, your best option is to take the shuttle bus or hire a car/taxi. Be warned, it will be challenging to get to the Taitung Balloon Festival without the right planning.
Taking the Shuttle Bus from Taitung Train station to the Luye Highland festival grounds will take about an hour (with no traffic). The shuttle bus begins its route at Taitung Bus Station with Taitung Train Station as the 2nd stop.
I boarded the very first bus at Taitung Train Station at 04:25am and it was almost full! Since I knew hotels were sold out and taxis/private cars were all booked up for the morning, I knew the transportation would be in high demand and went for the earliest possible bus. If you want to make sure you get a seat on the balloon festival shuttle bus, you should probably stay by Taitung Bus Station and start the bus from there.
Shuttle Bus Payments
You can pay in cash (no change given) or use your EasyCard. I completely forgot my EasyCard but was lucky enough to have exact change with me. If your funds are low on your EasyCard, remember you can reload funds at convenience stores.
When planning to take a taxi or private car to the Taitung Balloon Festival, you’ll need to make arrangements in advance. We tried calling several car services but they were completely booked. All taxis at the time were already reserved. This happened to be on the first weekend of the Taitung Taiwan Hot Air Balloon festival, so things might be different when you go.
When taking the taxi, there are two options. There is a flat rate price or a meter price. If there’s going to be traffic, the driver will demand the meter price which could be very high. Remember, it’s about an hour drive from Taitung to the hot air balloon festival when there’s no traffic. That price can be very high if there’s traffic.
Getting Out of the Taitung Balloon Festival
People started lining up 40 minutes before the shuttle bus was scheduled to leave. I know this because I was one of those people. After looking at the Taitung festival shuttle bus schedule, I noticed that there were 3 buses that took transported people to the festival BUT only 2 buses that took people back to the city. I have no idea why or if this was some kind of misprint on the schedule. With the limited availability, I knew I would rather leave the festival early and make sure I have a seat on that shuttle bus.
This was only for the morning shuttle bus service. At the recommendation of our B&B host, we went for the morning festival experience…which was just okay. I think evening would have probably been better even though it’s going to be much hotter.
For the evening event, there are 3 buses to/from the Taiwan hot air balloon festival grounds. There are more listed on the official Taitung balloon festival website, but those alternate based on the calendar dates.
How To Get Around Taitung
Taitung is a small city so don’t expect Uber, UberEats or FoodPanda to be available. To get around Taitung, you’ll need to use the bus or taxi. Buses from Taitung station to downtown Taitung tend to run every hour and isn’t as convenient as the big cities. Taxis from Taitung Station to downtown Taitung will cost you about NT$200 and will take 10 to 15-minutes. From downtown Taitung to Taitung airport it will cost you about NT$200 for the 10 to 15-minute ride.
Since Taitung is not a big city, we found it difficult to find available taxis on the street. If you want to order a taxi, your best bet is to order one from the service kiosks at 7-Eleven. It will print you out a ticket with the taxi driver’s license plate and shows up within minutes. Unfortunately, the kiosk will only be available in Chinese. But lucky for you, the people of Taiwan are amazingly nice. You can ask for help from the 7-Eleven employees to help order you a taxi.
Where to stay in Taitung
There are two areas I recommend staying if you plan on going to the Taitung Balloon Festival. Downtown Taitung (as close to Taitung Bus Station as possible) and by Luye Railway Station. For my trip, I stayed by Taitung Railway station and there’s not much to do by there. It was kind of a burn too because even though it’s the 2nd stop of the shuttle bus, the bus was almost full. That’s why I recommend staying in an area where you position yourself better for the festival and an all-around better time.
Okay, I don’t think it’s officially called downtown Taitung, but this is where you can find all the restaurants and things to do in Taitung. The Taitung Bus Station happens to be right next to all the cool places you’d want to be anyway, so focus on getting a hotel, Airbnb or BNB in that area.
Personally, I wanted to stay at the Sheraton Taitung but it was sold out. As a miles/point nerd, I look out for these promotions a lot. The Sheraton Taitung is a category 2 hotel and it’s very difficult to book on points. Most hotel rates will cost you between US$50-100 during the balloon festival. See: Taitung Hotels on Agoda
Besides being able to experience the local food and art exhibits in Taitung, you’ll also be positioning yourself at the starting point for the Taitung Balloon Festival Shuttle Bus. The bus FILLS up on weekends so to guarantee yourself a seat, I recommend staying at the first stop.
I booked my trip to Taitung 2 weeks before going and all the hotels in downtown Taitung were fully booked. That’s why I ended up staying by Taitung train station. If you’re taking a taxi, that’s only a 10-minute ride and will cost you about NT$200 (US$7).
Luye Railway Station
In terms of hotels, you’ll probably find none in this area. You will however find some local B&B’s that will have rooms for rent. I only recommend staying by Luye Railway station if you plan on going to just the festival. It’s a 15-minute ride from Luye Railway station to Luye Highlands (Taitung Hot Air balloon festival grounds). If you plan on taking the shuttle bus, you’ll be able to stand for the 15-minute ride.
Taitung Train Station
I know I said I only recommend two places when looking for where to stay in Taitung, but the chances of places selling out in downtown Taitung are very high. The rooms available at the time of my booking were overpriced and of low quality. That’s why I ended up staying by Taitung train station at a local B&B. The benefit of staying by the train station is that you have immediate access to taxis so you can get around the city.
There are some camping grounds right next to the festival grounds. If you want to camp, this is a pretty interesting option to get the full hot air balloon experience.
Should you go to the Taitung Balloon Festival? It depends. If you were going to see Hualien and Taitung anyway, then absolutely add the Taitung hot air balloon festival to your itinerary. Personally, I don’t plan to go again unless there is other tourism I plan to do in the area. I’m sure it would have been a different experience if I was able to book a ride on one of the hot air balloons. That’s a very unique experience that I plan on doing at one point in my life.
The balloon festival is a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be. I mean the balloons are big, but half of them are for display purposes anyway and don’t take on any riders. The festival part is also pretty small. There are a few food stalls and a mini convenience store.