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Int'l hot air balloon festival takes off in Taitung County

TAIPEI--An hot air balloon festival that attracted 880,000 visitors last year got off the ground in Taitung County on Saturday, with 20 balloons from different countries participating.

On the opening day, balloons with special designs took to the skies, including one depicting the Darth Vader character from the blockbuster Star Wars movie series and another featuring Angry Birds from the popular video game by the same name.

During the free festival, which lasts until Aug. 11, balloon pilots from countries such as the United States, Italy, Thailand and Lithuania are scheduled to demonstrate their skills.

In addition, free-fly passenger excursions are being allowed in Taiwan for the first time. The balloon flights must be booked in advance and the fee is NT$8,000 per person for a 30-minute ride, the organizers said.

Alternatively, for a fee of NT$500 passengers can float aloft in a tethered hot-air balloon that goes straight up, the organizers said. This service is being offered every day from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The festival, centered in Taitung's Luye Township, also features music concerts, camping and running events, as well as lectures and courses on balloons, according to the county.

It is the third year in a row that Taitung is hosting the balloon fiesta, which attracted 880,000 visitors in 2012 and helped inject NT$2 billion (US$66.6 million) into the county's economy.

More information on the festival is available at http://balloontaiwan.taitung.gov.tw/index.asp

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An Angry Bird hot air balloon is lit and launched to kick off the 2013 Taitung International Balloon Fiesta on the night of Friday, May 31. The event officially began yesterday and will run for 72 days until Aug. 11.

(CNA)

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