VBH Guide to Vietnamese TET New Year & The Year of the Rooster…

2017 represents the Year of the Rooster according to the zodiac. rooster

To the Vietnamese, the Rooster is one of the most important animals that govern human life. It’s an essential protein for nourishment but is also often used as an offering for festivals, funerals or any occasion of worship. They are also the perfect alarm clock (although this depends on who you ask!). Roosters naturally coo every two hours in the night reminding people when to sleep and also when to wake up for work!

Personalities of those born in the Rooster year are said to be quite flamboyant, feisty and tenacious! Roosters tend to strut their stuff and are quite proud. They put great stock into their appearance and often surround themselves with beautiful people. With that said, Roosters are incredibly friendly and like meeting new people. They are also hardworking and trustworthy!

The Lunar New Year is almost upon us here in Vietnam. If you’re planning a visit in Vietnam during the New Year/TET, keep reading on for our guide on what TET is, traditions/customs and how it affects your travels.

What is TET?

Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet) is considered the biggest and most popular festival of the year in Vietnam. Celebrated on the first day of the first month in Lunar Calendar, it’s Vietnam’s longest holiday, lasting up to seven days. TET is the occasion for the Vietnamese to express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors while also welcoming the New Year with their beloved family members – think of it like a combination of Christmas & New Years! Also, the Vietnamese consider what they do on the dawn of TET will determine their fate for the whole year!

When is TET?

Vietnamese New Year occurs somewhere in the last ten days of January or the first twenty days of February, nearly halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. This year TET falls on January 28th, with celebrations starting on January 26th and continuing until February 1st.

Vietnamese New Year Customs

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  • Clean and decorate the home – It is a common belief that cleaning the house will get rid of the bad fortunes associated with the old year.
  • Getting new clothes – This is typically the most exciting part of celebrations for the children. Parents will often purchase clothes & shoes for their children prior to New Year, however the children should wait until the first day of the New Year to wear them.
  • Starting the New Year debt and argument free – The Vietnamese try to pay all their pending debts and resolve all the arguments among colleagues, friends or members of family.
  • Apricot and Peach flowers – Flower buds and blossoms are the symbols for new beginnings and a result these distinctive flowers are widely sold and purchased in the lead up and during TET.
  • Giving away red envelopes (filled with lucky money!) – A cultural practice that has been maintained for generations, these red envelopes symbolise luck and wealth.

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Special Foods

Some local foods that are eaten during TET include traditional food such as Red sticky rice (Xôi Gấc), Vietnamese Sauage (giò chả), Square Cake, (Banh Chung/ Banh Tet).

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How this affects you?

Prices do increase due to TET and surcharges may be added on top of the original prices. You should work out your travel plans carefully and apply for visas as soon as possible to avoid the unnecessary delay of flights, bus or train travel. Vietnamese embassies, visa-issuing authorities, consultants and immigration offices will be closed from January 25th to February 2nd.

Places to avoid during TET

Even though it would be tempting to go to say the Perfume Pagoda, a famous Buddhist shrine in Vietnam, these kinds of places can become extremely busy and travel can be a complete nightmare.

It’s also very important to note that some restaurants, museums, art galleries, and everything else in between will be closed during Tet, so it can be a difficult time of year to do anything. Stock up whenever you can, go with the flow and enjoy the atmosphere!

Chúc mừng năm mới/Happy New Year from all the crew at VBH 🙂

Tet Flyer_for facebook

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Vietnam Backpacker Hostels Grateful of No Serious Injuries in recent Public Ferry Collision

On 1 January 2017, a scheduled public ferry carrying passengers from Cat Ba Island to Hai Phong Harbor, Vietnam made contact with a bridge pylon. The accident resulted in damage to the ferry’s bow, and several seats inside the passenger compartment became dislodged.

77 Vietnam Backpacker Hostels customers en route from the Original Castaways Island Halong Bay back to Hanoi were among the passengers. Fortunately, no one aboard the ferry reported serious injuries, and no passengers were hospitalized.

Shortly after the accident occurred, the public ferry continued to a nearby dock where passengers transferred onto another boat. Here, all passengers were accounted for, and all were returned safely to Hanoi.

We are extremely grateful that no one was seriously injured. Nevertheless, we take this incident very seriously, and we have requested that the ferry operator and local police undertake a thorough investigation into how it occurred. Further information on the current status of the investigation is provided further below.

Vietnam Backpacker Hostels is committed to delivering the best backpacker experiences in Vietnam; and our customers and the quality of their experience is very important to us.

With that in mind, and to make sure our customers have the best Castaways Island experience possible, we have provided partial refunds to all customers who were on board the public ferry at the time of the incident.

We also thank our customers for their patience and understanding over the last few days during the early stages of our investigation.

Investigation update

Soon following the incident, Vietnam Backpacker Hostels demanded a full account of what occurred from the public ferry operator. Local police are investigating the incident and we have been counseled that such inquiries are typically completed within 60 days.

Vietnam Backpacker Hostels are actively assisting the authorities with this investigation by collecting witness statements and photographs of the incident.

The ferry company and local authorities have confirmed that passenger numbers were at or below rated capacity and that sufficient life jackets were on board the ferry. We have however requested specific information regarding:

● The possibility of pilot error
● The condition of life jackets aboard the public ferry and specifically whether life jackets might have been difficult to access or improperly sized.

We understand some of our customers were disappointed in our level of communication at the time of the incident and upon their arrival in Hanoi. We acknowledge our communication could have been better and we are keeping our customers updated as more information comes to hand.

The safety of our customers is important to us

Vietnam Backpacker Hostels has numerous measures in place to ensure the safety and comfort of our customers travelling to Original Castaways Island Halong Bay. For example, we insist our buses travel on a tollway to avoid the dangerous and less expensive roads commonly used for tourist transport to and from Hai Phong. The public ferry operator which we use for journeys from Cat Ba Island to Hai Phong Harbor has a record of safe operation and compliance with local safety standards.

We have safety procedures for all aspects of the Original Castaways Island, Halong Bay both in English and Vietnamese, and we take measures to ensure our staff and customers comply.

Our existing safety measures, as well as our relationship with the public ferry company involved, will of course be thoroughly reviewed in light of this incident.

Customer Service Protocols Being Updated

We understand some customers were disappointed in our service and communication at the time of the incident and upon arrival in Hanoi. We are committed to improving communications and customer service protocols in light of this incident to ensure we would be better prepared in the future.

Once again, we recognize that this has been a difficult time for everyone involved and we thank our customers for their continued patience as we work with the ferry operator and relevant authorities to reach an official account of events.

Vietnam Backpacker Hostels
www.vietnambackpackerhostels.com

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It’s Mid-Autumn Festival Time… What is it?

Today marks the beginning of the Mid-Autumn Festival!

Named Têt Trung Thu in Vietnamese, it is also known as the Children’s festival. It is said that name came about, as it’s a way for parents to make up for the lost time with their children during the busy harvesting season. So as well as celebrating the end of the harvest season, parents use this time to do something special with their children, all under the full moon, which represents fullness and prosperity of life! ruocden2

Têt Trung Thu is like a combination of our Halloween and Thanksgiving. Children parade on the streets wearing costumes, while singing and carrying colourful lanterns of different sizes.

The dragon dance is a very prominent feature of the festival. Children will travel in groups, going from door to door and asking owners for their permission to perform the dance. If it is agreed, the children will put on a show, which includes colourful red and yellow dragons dancing around as well as drums that echo throughout the streets. Many believe this brings luck and fortune and the children will receive ‘li xi’ or lucky money as gratitude.

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It is also customary to give Banh Trung Thu, moon cakes, which are traditionally very rich in taste. The cakes are filled with lotus seeds, ground beans and orange peels and have a bright yoke in the center to represent the moon.

To help children get ready, parents will help make lanterns, customs as well as teaching them about the history and culture of Vietnam. loi-bai-hat-tet-trung-thu-ruoc-den-di-choi-5

This festival is definitely one of the favourites among Vietnamese families.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival Everyone!!

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The Hungry Ghost Festival…What is it??

Today marks an important event in the Lunar Calendar – The Ghost Festival or Hungry Ghost Festival! This festival typically starts from the 7th month in the Lunar Calendar and on the 15th Day, and lasts for a month.

Why the 7th month? Legend states that this is the month in which the realms of Heaven and Hell open up and the ghost or spirits of those passed supposedly wander the streets and drop into some houses. The ghosts are hungry and they want entertainment so 940054676_mduring this time, Vietnamese will often be seen making special practices such as offering food or burning joss paper. It is said that ghosts later use the burnt paper, and why also special bank notes, houses and paper-mâché clothes, gold and other goods are burned.

An entertainment show is sometimes also organised for the ghosts at night. It usually includes opera, drama plays and even burlesque shows! The shows are very loud because it is believed that sound attracts the ghosts. And the end of the festivalcms_f012ed74ed274451af12ceb10c60f127 people float water lanterns or set them outside of their houses to help the ghosts find their way back home.

There are many taboos of dos and donts to observe during the month.

Here are the Top 5:

Don’t hang the washing at night – A ghost may notice it and borrow your clothes! When they return it, it’s likely to have a ghost’s scent which may cause the next wearer to suffer from a bad headache, flu or an even worse illness!

  • Tip: Get your stuff in a tumble-dryer or to the local dry cleaners! It’ll save you having to hang your clothes out!

desktop-1428345167Don’t take photos of people at night, especially in dark places, unless you want to have an unsolicited photo-bomber standing beside them in the printed image. For you selfie-lovers: If you notice a mysterious presence beside you, well we think you can guess what that is. If you have managed to capture a creepy pic – send it to us and we’ll post it on Instagram!

Never shout out another person’s name at midnight because ghosts will remember the name and later trick the person into follow them.

  • Tip: If there is someone you don’t like such as your ex, invite him or her to hang out and shout their name at midnight 😉skull_boneswhite_tshirt-1

Don’t wear clothes with skull and bones images because the ghosts could mistake you for one of their own and take you back with them after their short visit to earth. There has been no mention against elephant pants or Bintang singlets – so those of you who have only packed these – you’re safe!

Don’t pick up any currency bills you see on the street. Chances are, this is money that has been offered to the ghosts, who will come after you later to claim it back! What if it is a large bill? Then you are probably okay picking it up since some poor traveller must have dropped it; people generally do not offer ghosts big bills.

  • Tip: Apparently massive wads of Vietnamese Dong and US dollars are safe!
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THE BEST MONTH TO VISIT VIETNAM? SEPTEMBER!

Yes, Vietnam is a great country to travel all year round depending on the region – but if you ask us which time of the year we like to travel most, it’s definitely the month of September!

Here’s why:
It’s low season. During the summer, many domestic tourists are travelling to Vietnam’s top destinations, mountains and beaches to escape the heat. Also many international travellers on their long summer holidays come to Vietnam during this time. But by September, schools everywhere have started again and there are noticeably less tourists throughout the country.

That means prices get lower and many places offer great discounts for travellers during early autumn. You are less likely to be faced with booked out hostels/hotels, tours and transport including flights. You can travel cheaper and in a more relaxed way. In November/December, prices tend to increase again when high season starts with Western tourists spending Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia. Around February, it’s the season for domestic tourists again when during the usual week-long Hoan-Kiem-Lake-HanoiLunar New Year (TET) celebrations many hostels/hotels are fully booked and prices can even double.

The weather is great in September. Overall, it’s one of the best times to travel the whole country from North to South with its different weather patterns. The North has four distinctive seasons; while in the South temperatures remain constant all year round, with heavy (but mostly short lasting) rainfalls especially from June to August.

Take the capital Hanoi in the North for instance, in summer it can get quite hot and humid, in autumn you get the most enjoyable temperatures with mostly blue skies, before the city gets fresh and cold during December and January.

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Sapa and other destinations in the Northern Highlands are perfect for trekking tours in September, with less rain, sunny days and the nights are cool but not too cold. September is also rice-harvesting season in Sapa, so perfect photo ops of the beautiful views over golden rice terraced fields!

September and October offer good chances for nice, warm days and clear skies in Halong Bay. Autumn is also a great time for outdoor and adventure activities, whetIMG_8863her it be hiking, cycling, climbing or kayaking. It’s also one of the best times for motorbike tours.

September is also an enjoyable month to visit the old capital Hue and its surroundings in Central Vietnam, the crowds are going and so is the intense summer heat!

In September, you will also have the chance to experience the Mid-Autumn-Festival (Tet Trung Thu), a harvest festival during the full moon, which falls on 15 September in 2016. You will get to see lion dances in the streets and children carrying colourful star-shaped lanterns.

hinh-nen-trung-thu-dep-nhat-cho-ban (8)During this time you’ll get a chance to sample some mooncake (banh trung thu), a pastry which is traditionally eaten during the festival! September 2nd is a National holiday in Vietnam; it’s when the country commemorates the declaration of independence in 1945 so the atmosphere everywhere is particularly joyous during this time.

So here’s our tip: If you want to avoid the crowds, the heat and heavy rains and pay less – come visit Vietnam in September!

 

Use Discount Code: 9CF81D8026A9 to get 20% off! September keeps getting better, doesn’t it? 

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A Fun Stay At Vietnam Backpacker Hostel: The Downtown Hostel (Hanoi)

Written by Huong on Jul 13, 2016

The experience of backpacking through Southeast Asia would not be fulfilling without spending a night at a backpackers’ hostel. Among all the experiences I have had so far in Southeast Asia, one of the best was in Vietnam at the Downtown Hostel – a branch of Vietnam Backpacker Hostel in Hanoi. It was fun, memorable and safe to spend the night there, and I would definitely recommend the place to any backpacker planning to visit the city. Here are the reasons why…

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Summer Special Offer! The Hanoi to Saigon Buffalo Run

 

IMG_0162We couldn’t be prouder of our Hanoi to Saigon Buffalo Run. Taking you to everywhere that makes Vietnam so damn great, many years of hard work have gone into designing this adventure. And this summer we are offering an extra 10% off for all tours starting in June, July and August!

Legendary Hanoi to Saigon 17 days 16 nights: 1120USD  1008USD 

 

Hanoi to Saigon + our original Castaways Island 20 days 19 nights: 1299USD 1169USD 

 

Think about Vietnam. What do you picture?

IMG_9212_1Our guess is that you’re envisaging ladies in conical hats working brilliant green rice paddies, tropical rainforests ripe for adventuring, and white sand beaches that stretch for as far as the eye can see.

Throw in a couple thousand motorbikes, some weird (but delicious!) food, and a couple of picturesque rivers and that’s Vietnam, right? Well… not exactly. Vietnam is definitely all of this, but believe us when we say that it is also so much more.

The French impressed their urban stamp on Vietnam like nowhere else, and the towns and cities will occasionally trick you into thinking that you’re strolling around Western Europe. You’ll find elephant experiences that easily rival those of neighbouring Thailand and underground villages equipped with meeting rooms, drinking holes and maternity wards. And did you know that Vietnam is home to the world’s largest caves?

IMG_0588Most underrated of all might be the Vietnamese themselves. Dynamic, youthful and fun-loving, you’ll also find that the Vietnamese are Asia’s most outrageous comedians… and give them the chance and they’ll effortlessly drink you under the table.

Getting to the typical highlights – rice paddies, rainforests and beaches – is easy enough. But getting to know Vietnam for what it really is and making the most out of your trip is more challenging. But why come to Vietnam if you’re not going to go to see all those great places that most people miss?

We’ve travelled up and down this country more times than we can count. We’ve explored each and every corner, no matter how hidden or inaccessible. And then we came up with the Hanoi to Saigon Buffalo Run, taking in the undeniable best of this country whether it is considered a ‘highlight’ or remains hidden and off the beaten track.

IMG_9654Remember those elephants, caves and underground villages we mentioned? We bring you to all those places, while still taking in the beaches and rainforests that have made Vietnam so famous. We test your limits with a motorcycle ride up Vietnam’s most spectacular mountain pass before white water rafting to the backdrop of cascading waterfalls. And those wanting an atypical Halong Bay cruise can add on an extra two days for our legendary Castaways experience!

Oh and worried about going at it alone? Well don’t be. Whether you are a solo adventurer looking to make some likeminded mates along the way or you already have your group assembled, this trip is guaranteed to be a fun-filled adventure of epic proportions!

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Castaways Island: Living the Dream in Vietnam’s Halong Bay

By Kirstie Jeffries May 5, 2016

Castaways, Castaways, where to begin? I write this several days after returning, still trying to digest it all…and still trying to get the sand out of my hair. For backpackers in Vietnam, Vietnam Backpacker Hostels’ Castaways Island trip to Halong Bay is legendary. You’ll be hard-pressed to meet a young traveler who hasn’t been on the trip or at least hasn’t considered it. And, as I found out this week, there’s good reason for that.

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Castaways Island sunset, Halong Bay, Vietnam
Sunset in paradise

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Sapa has broken our hearts…

We first fell in love with the place years and years ago, when it was little more than a dusty crossroads in the mountains. You could start your treks right off the bus, and there was no feeling more glorious than wandering the peaks and valleys alone, discovering and exploring and meeting people along the way.

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But as sometimes happens in relationships, Sapa changed. Let us be clear: not all change is bad. Both the new expressway from Hanoi and the new cable car to the top of Fansipan Mountain have made what used to be arduous journeys short and easy, allowing more people to experience the wonders of northern Vietnam, especially those who otherwise could not (the elderly, families with children, etc.)IMG_7929

With this accessibility comes huge increases in tourism, which brings in a lot of money for a region that used to be extremely poor. More tourists also means more infrastructure, and we’ve witnessed Sapa change from a dusty little village to a burgeoning town, with more hotels going up and roads being built almost daily. To support all this development, new hydroelectric dams are being built in the valley. Again, this is not necessarily bad. The residents of Sapa can benefit from having higher incomes, better roads, and a stable supply of electricity.

While still beautiful, Sapa is no longer the place we fell in love with. Back in our heyday what we loved most about Sapa was its authenticity and the sense of adventure. We used to challenge visitors to walk up Fansipan Mountain and back down in one day—a doable feat, but a tough one! After ten hours of solid hiking, the exhaustion was evident on people’s faces, but so were the smiles—fatigue was always trumped by the sense of accomplishment as they signed their names on our Fansipan wall of Fame.

fansipan-400x300Recently we saw a video showing a man surrounded by fast-motion crowds of people walking around, taking photos and waving flags. You think he’s in a parade, until the frame gradually moves out and you realise he’s on the top of Fansipan Mountain. Now that the new cable car has been constructed, it could be a busy Hanoi street. The last name was signed on our wall of fame the day before the cable car opened.

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We don’t blame Sapa for changing. It isn’t Sapa, it’s us. We’re looking for something else; the quiet content, the sense of awe when faced with the beauty of nature. We want to meet locals who aren’t just trying to sell. Just like our guests, we’re looking for rewarding hikes and impromptu meals with friendly local families. We are looking for authenticity and adventure. And Sapa is no longer the place for us.

And as sorry as we are to say this, we’ve already met someone else. Mu Cang Chai is everything that Sapa used to be: a rural valley with spectacular mountains laced with rice-paddy terraces, where the ethnic minority population still gawp at the foreigners instead of pestering them to buy their goods, and where you can actually be alone to enjoy the stunning landscapes in peace and quiet.

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On the way from Hanoi to Lao Cai, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Mu Cang Chai is actually closer to Hanoi than Sapa is. It is easily accessed by bus and it is breathtakingly gorgeous, with many of the same ethnic minorities that drew visitors to Sapa, and none of the trash dropped by all of the other tourists (because there are no other tourists).

If it doesn’t work out with Mu Cang Chai, there is also Mai Chau whom we already have strong feelings for, a lovely traditional village surrounded by rice paddies and mountains, only a four-hour drive from Hanoi. As much as we cherished Sapa, there are plenty more fish in the sea, and there are plenty of undiscovered gems in the mountains of Northern Vietnam.

Sapa, we hope that we can still be friends.

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The Hunger Pains…

The whole Western world has gone food crazy. These days we seem to spend more time talking about it than we do eating it. And more than eating and talking about it, we love watching it even more. With Masterchef and a flurry of other food TV shows now dominating our airwaves, it’s fair to say that food is probably the most watched subject of our time right now! This is, of course, is much to the dismay of actual real professional chefs who now speak frustratingly of the subsequent epidemic of the ‘foodie’ complainant in their restaurants. Now in the travel world we’re seeing the rise of the foodie traveller. We love the foodie traveller, we really like to eat too, and being in Vietnam, we’re in a pretty good place to do it!

So I was talking to a bunch of our guests the other day and decided to ask them what was on their local food hit list, where they’ve been and what they had tried. After a quick chat and checking out their Instagrams and Facebook feeds, it was pretty clear they were getting it all wrong.

In search of a plan to remedy future foodie misdirection, we came up with an elaborate plan to steer our guests in the right direction. I gathered a group of our most trusted crew here at Vietnam Backpacker Hostels, ranging in age from 18-39, all Hanoian born and raised,for their input. This list is made up from people who have been eating street food in Hanoi every day of their lives, not for food tourism, but just simply for the common love of the good food they grew up with. I did get a few dishes involving ingredients that might make you go ‘ewwww’, but I decided to save those for a whole other list 🙂

bun_dau Bun Dau – Tofu chunks in hot soup with rice noodles and shrimp paste. Ma May street

Pho Sau – Stir fried beef noodle. Nguyen Sieu street

Bun Rieu – Crab Vermicelli Tomato Soup. Hang Chinh street

 

Banh Cuon – Rice Noodle rolls filled with various meats. Hang Ga

Vietnamese Beef Noodle SoupPho Bo – Famous beef rice noodle broth. Trung Yen

Bun Cha – BBQ’d pork with rice noodles, fresh herbs and sweet and sour broth. Dao Duy Tu

 

Bun Doc Mung – Pork chop meat, mushrooms and rice vermicelli in a tomato broth. Bat Dan street

Nem Ran – Famous Vietnamese spring Rolls. Thanh Ha Market

NemEven when you know where to go, it’s still not quite that easy. The language barrier drives travellers into tourist restaurants that are more expensive and aren’t near as worthy an Instagram or post to friends back home!

Everyday from our Hanoi hostels, after our free city walking tour at 10.30am, our local English speaking guide will take all those willing, to one of our staff’s favourite street food places, departing the hostel at 12.30pm. It’s absolutely free to come along, you’ll just be asked to pay local prices for your meal and drinks.

We think it’s a great way to experience real local food and eating spots, meet other food loving travellers and have a chance to chat with our friendly local staff.

Many of these places are quite small so look out in the morning for the sign up sheet at our travel desks. Here’s to real local street food!!

Happy Eating!

Jase & the VBH Crew

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Hanoi

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"The Original"

Hanoi

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"Downtown"

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A magic sunset on an awesome Ha Long Bay and Castaways Island tour. The people maketh the good times!
Ha Long Bay and Castaways Island Tour
OUR NEW AWESOME MAI CHAU TOUR & HOMESTAY STARTS TODAY!!! Wishing our first guests a great trip!
Crazy fun in Ha Long Bay!!!!! — at Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Never a dull moment @ HBH!!!
The Buffalo Run
The Buffalo Run
This photo was taken in the World's Largest Dry Cave. The same area is home to the Worlds Largest Cave, Son Doong Cave.