Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Chinese New Year

When we arrived in Malaysia on our walk through the airport there were a lot of signs up that were ads for the festival in Penang and I noticed that they were happening during when we’d be in Penang. There were two main ones. The Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Chinese New Year. We were going to be in Penang for two days so the idea of seeing these sounded amazing.

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A street that had previously been crammed with people in preparation for Chinese New Year festivities. 

But during our first night in Penang it rained, so both events festivals were cancelled. It was insane how quickly the streets emptied out. Though we also missed watching the streets empty out since we were out on the jetties.

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We decided after visiting the botanical gardens to take a look at the hot air balloon fiesta. We assumed that the hot air balloons would be something happening all day. It turned out when we arrived and looked at a field full of food vendors and things for kids that we’d missed the hot air balloons.

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Time with the balloons had ended at 10:30am and wouldn’t start up again until 6pm. We couldn’t stay long enough to see them since we still had to run back to our hostel and pick up our bags before the office closed, and with the traffic due to all the festivals there was no way we’d make it back easily. So we just wandered around looking at the food stands, trying free samples and some drinks. We tried to find a place to sit for a bit but all of the seats were taken within the tents which was a little frustrating. We did snag one before we left, but most people weren’t sitting and eating they were just sitting at the tables, probably waiting for the rest of their group or the next event.

There also seemed to be events throughout the day for kids, beyond the bouncy house and other games. Like hot air balloon art  towards the back of the field.

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It was really cool to see and I enjoyed the festival vibe that it had. It made me miss Chicago and their summer festivals. It was disappointing that we missed the hot air balloons themselves but we just assumed that they’d be out all day, we should’ve tried to find a schedule. If I return to Penang I would love to see the actual balloons.

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Before returning to our hostel we ran into the Chinese New Year festivities. The streets that had been packed for only a little bit the previous evening before the rain washed it all away. We had some shops we wanted to visit for souvenirs and a snack a friend told me I had to try in Malaysia.  I got the closest thing I could find to it, a small vendor selling ais kacang, which in this form was essentially a snow cone in the shape of a ball.

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grape and kiwi ice (ais) kacang $3

There are different versions of ais kacang, which seem to be more like patbingsu or bean and ice desserts that are popular in Asia. But we had difficulty finding it. The ball of ice kacang we got was good, covered in syrup and refreshing for how hot out it was, but also messy and difficult to eat while moving through a crowd on our way back to the hostel we were staying at which was close.

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We also were able to see some performances on the main street and play a coconut shoe game where we walked around on halves of a coconut with strings to pick up ribbon and exchange it for candy. It was fun and the volunteers working it were very encouraging. There were several other traditional games being played around nearby that anyone could join in on but we sadly were running out of time.

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