Vietnamese New Year Traditions

By: Lien Nguyen

In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán. It is the most important and popular festival for the Vietnamese people during the year. Tết is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd, according to the lunar calendar. Each year a different sacred animal in the Chinese Zodiac controls the luck and destinies of all people. This year will be the Year of the Dog.

Not only is Tết a celebration of the arrival of spring and an occasion to pay respects to one's ancestors, it is also a great opportunity for family to come together. Family members will return to their homeland for a reunion and to savour the flavours of the holiday.

Here are the few must-dos to celebrate a perfect Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Mâm Ngũ Quả (The Five-Fruit Tray)

The preparation of the five-fruit tray is an essential Tết tradition in every Vietnamese home. The tray symbolises the family’s respect for their ancestors and their wishes for the New Year. Each fruit represents a different prayer for the future. Due to regional differences in climate and customs, people display the Tết fruit in different ways.

new yearImage source: suckhoe.ecomedic.vn

In the North, people believe that the basic elements in oriental philosophy are represented by colours. Metal, wood, water, fire, and earth correlate with white, blue, black, red and yellow respectively. So people carefully choose and organise their fruit according to colour. The northern five-fruit tray often includes, banana, pomelo, peach, mandarin and persimmon.

Due to the weather conditions and red basaltic soil, people in the central areas of Vietnam have a hard time growing many types of produce. These people feel it is more important to show sincere gratitude for their ancestors than to spend too much time making a complicated arrangement. Instead, they use any fruit that they have on hand. Some popular choices for the Central five-fruit tray are dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple, and orange.

The five-fruit tray in the South is themed around the traditional southern wish for a wealthy New Year. The tray has an abundant display and is generally made up of custard apples, figs, coconuts, papayas, and mangos. Families also like to display red watermelons to bring luck for the year.

Normally, in all regions, the tray will be put on the altar in the home, though sometimes people set it up on the table next to a box of candied fruit.

Hoa Đào and Hoa Mai - (The Planting of Peach or Apricot trees)

During Tết people love to look at beautiful flowers because they think certain flowers will bring them happiness and luck in the New Year. People buy peach flowers (in the North) and apricot flowers (in the South) to decorate their homes.

new yearImage source: c2.staticflickr.com

To make these peach and apricot trees even more beautiful, Vietnamese people often hang twinkly LED lights on them, as well as red lucky money envelopes and small plastic figurines representing the gods of wealth.

These plants are placed in the living room or in front of the house. Some companies put them in their offices to enjoy their beauty and to bring hope for good fortune.

Bánh Tét – Bánh Chưng - (Cylindrical Cake – Square Cake)

As Tết approaches you’ll notice a fire burning all night long on the stove in most Vietnamese homes. The families are cooking the traditional cakes for Tết. Vietnam is a country where wet rice is farmed, so it makes sense that there are many traditional Vietnamese cakes made from it. Bánh chưng and bánh tét cakes are made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork and they are essential foods for the Lunar New Year. The colours of the cake symbolise the earth and the sky.

new yearImage source: c2.staticflickr.com

The Northerners prepare bánh chưng, a square cake, while the Southerners prefer bánh tét, which is shaped like a cylinder.

Each region has its own customs, beliefs, and methods, however, both cakes hold equal importance for the families that prepare them.

Video source: Hướng Nghiệp Á Âu

Bánh Mứt - (Candied Fruit)

Like bánh chưng and bánh tét, mứt is a must-have food for every family during Tết, though, it’s really more of a snack than a kind of food. The mứt is traditionally offered to guests when they arrive at a home to give their greetings and hopes for a happy new year. There are many categories of mứt, such as candied fruit, coconut jam, kumquat jam and sugared apples.

new yearImage source: blog.bizweb.vn

Cookies, candy and seeds, such as melon and sunflower seeds are also offered during Tết. The sweets and seeds will be put into a beautiful box and placed on the table in the living room, so that families and their guests can enjoy a cup of tea and something to eat while deepening their relationships with one another.

Lì Xì - (Lucky Money in Red Envelopes)

On the first day of New Year, the whole family will dress up and get together to offer New Year’s greetings and wishes to one another. This is a custom that has been maintained for generations.

The eldest members of the family will give red envelopes to the children and young adults, while advising them about their life, school and work. These red envelopes symbolize wishes of luck and wealth for the youngest in the family. After receiving the envelopes, the youth are expected to give some wishes to their elders for good luck, success and good health in the New Year.

new yearImage source: vietnam-travel.org

Xông Nhà - (The Aura of the Earth)

On the first day of the New Year, Vietnamese families will carefully choose the first guest to step into their home. If the guest has a good Aura, meaning they are good fit with the zodiac of the homeowner, has good education, and is kind and healthy, then the family will receive luck and good fortune for the year. This is especially common among families who work in business.

new yearImage source: vietnam-travel.org

The chosen person may bring some gifts for the children of the house and then he or she will offer his/her sweetest words to the family. The well-wishes will depend on the member of the household. If the person is aging, health and happiness will be hoped for, a businessman might desire luck and wealth, while the children often receive wishes for success with their schoolwork and obedience to their parents.

Bữa Cơm Đầu Năm – (First Meal of the Year)

The Vietnamese believe that Tết is meant for getting together with friends and family. Therefore, the first meal of the year plays an important role in Vietnamese culture. Family members will return to their homelands, even if they’ve been living far away from home for a long time. Tết is a time to enjoy delicious food as a family and to talk about the events of the past year. Normally, the family will cook together and make traditional foods like spring rolls, Vietnamese sausages, bánh tét or bánh chưng.

new yearImage source: channel.vcmedia.vn

Now that you know the proper way to prepare for Tết, let’s enjoy it!

Banner Image source: ibb.co


Mekong Plus: Making a Difference with Bamboo Bikes

By: Keely Burkey

Vietnam and Cambodia are undoubtedly among the most beautiful countries in the world, complete with vibrant cultures and long, interesting histories. However, it’s also undoubtedly true that there’s a lot of room for development. In many of the small villages dotting the countryside, lives are often hard and fraught with anxieties about health and money. In some instances, villagers will subsist on just around .32¢ a day on average.

The Mekong Plus Association, an NGO founded in 1994 by Bernard Kervyn and two friends, Gilberte Do-Huu and Robert Eberhardt, is working to change this statistic. In its 20 years of operation, Mekong Plus has supported a number of projects in over 800 villages spread across three provinces in Vietnam and Cambodia. These projects are ambitious and cover issues as far-reaching as developing village economies, health, hygiene, agriculture and education. So far, Mekong Plus has enjoyed tremendous success, affecting over 200,000 people each year.

Of course, these initiatives do need money to do well, and Mekong Plus has gotten creative with their fundraising efforts. While people can donate on the Mekong Plus website or volunteer their time, one of the most ingenious ways Mekong Plus has been making money has been with their Bamboo Bike tours. For the past four years, this incredible organization has been putting together tours through Vietnam and Cambodia, focusing on the Mekong River Valley. By donating around $100 per day plus living expenses, bikers can tour the many projects Mekong Plus has set in motion, and work with the villagers to produce real sustainable results.

As co-founder Bernard Kervyn said, one of the best parts of these bike tours is the fact that they’re customisable. He knows that not everybody who wants to explore the Vietnamese and Cambodian countrysides will enter the Tour de France, and Mekong Plus has prepared for this accordingly. Depending on experience levels, there are four different routes bikers can sign up for: the Mekong Flowers (a 10-day journey); the Mekong Shoots option, which is best for families; the Mekong Mission, ideal for school groups; and the Mekong Trophy, designed for sporty bikers. Check out these different options here.

While all of these bike tours vary in terms of duration and length, they all provide a stunning tour of the Mekong River Valley and let participants make a difference in Mekong Plus’ developmental projects. And while one might think that participants need to be young and athletic to join a bike tour and make a difference, this is absolutely not the case. Many of the participants have been retired individuals looking for an alternative way to vacation abroad. Bernard also mentioned that a nine-month-old baby was also part of a recent expedition and fared quite well and comfortably on the bike journey. One thing is definitely clear: if you’re looking for a way to support a fantastic NGO while getting personally involved, the Bamboo Bike tours are certainly a great option.


How to Enjoy the Dry Season

By: Keely Burkey

Take a Day Trip

Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels

Not the most original idea in the world, but still worth a visit. Although these tunnels have been slightly repurposed to fit larger frames, you’ll get a closer look at the everyday living conditions of thousands of people during the American War.

How to get there: About 40km from the city centre, there are a few options: take one of the many tours offered through just about every travel agency in Pham Ngu Lao, or do it yourself by motorbike (it’ll take around two hours).

travelImage source: huracars.com

Cruise the Mekong Delta

The Region is more than 40,000 sq km, so you’ll have to make a choice or two about where to go and what to do. For a relaxing bike ride and a leisurely nap in a hammock, check Ben Tre, My Tho and An Binh Island. For small-town city life, there’s no better place than Can Tho.

How to get there: We recommend the Phuong Trang bus line or, for the scenic route, pick a river cruise with the typical Mekong Delta tour package: the floating market, coconut candy factory and set lunch.

travelImage source: baolau.com

Monkey Island (Can Gio)

An underrated spot definitely worth a day visit. About 75km from HCMC, this is doable if you’re confident on your bike; be sure to have some small change on you, as it does involve a ferry ride to Can Gio. The main point of interest here is definitely the mangrove island, which features a recreation of a Viet Minh army station and hundreds of incredibly social monkeys, just waiting to snatch your sunglasses.

How to get there: If a motorbike is not for you, there are several tour companies for about US$50 for the day.

travelImage source: citypassguide.com

Family Fun

Experience Giang Dien Waterfall

Great for a family day with the little ones. Hidden away in Dong Nai, not many people know about this hidden gem. Here you can swim (or wade with a life jacket), kayak, bike, camp, lounge and generally just enjoy life.

How to get there: About 50km from HCMC, it’ll take about an hour-and-a-half by car, two-and-a-half hours by bike. Be sure to save the directions on Google maps, as a lot of the drive is in the countryside, with limited reception.

travelImage source: visavietnam.net.vn

Have fun at a water park

HCMC has water parks aplenty. Head to Binh Duong to enjoy the sun at Dai Nam Van Hien, or slip and slide in District 11 at Dam Sen Water Park. In District 9, check The BCR Club, which features a large pool and a paintball and archery shooting range, or Suoi Tien Park, probably the most established amusement park in the city.

travelImage source: vietnamtravel.co

Give Back to the Community

OK, not strictly an outdoor activity, but admirable nonetheless. Several organisations and institutions are always looking for help; although it certainly helps if you speak Vietnamese, for many it’s not a requirement. Here are some of our top choices:

Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW)

HOW has a Vietnam branch, Free Hugs Vietnam, that does great work with underprivileged children. They’ve been helping out the community since 2007. Check helpinghow.org.

travelImage source: directconnectaid.org

Thien Phuoc Orphanage

All the way out in District 12, gives orphaned children the love and care they need. About 60 children, most with severe disabilities, reside here, and Sister Kim, the organiser, is always looking for people to spend time with them. See their website for more information.

Animal Rescue Service

In District 2 holds two daily dog walks, and would love you to take part! With a morning walk and an afternoon walk, you can play with a pooch and get outside at the same time. Maybe you’ll even find the canine companion of your dreams.

Banner image source: enchantingtravels.com


Vietnam Tourism: Past, Present and Future

By: Mark Gwyther

"Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever." - Anthony Bourdain

The First Generation – Adventure Tourism

If you are reading this article in Vietnam, there is a fair chance it is in part because of Anthony Bourdain. As Vietnam slowly opened its doors to the world during the last few years of the 20th century, celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain epitomised the country’s first generation of tourism: adventurous Westerners with backpacks travelling halfway around the world to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of an exotic country. Only 20 years ago, Vietnam received a meagre 1.5 million international visitors. These early adventure travellers increased in numbers over the next decade and as they explored the country, their favourite places became Vietnam’s first generation of tourist locations. By 2008, arrivals nearly tripled. Of course not all were these adventure travellers: Asian businesspeople, Chinese cross-border shoppers, veterans of the war and Russian oil expats were also in the mix.

tourismImage source: st-christophers.co.uk

It was not all smooth sailing. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, growth was not linear or even a certainty. The SARS scare of 2003 reduced the total inbound visitors nearly 8 percent from the year before, and the Thailand political unrest in 2009 affected the entire region, dropping the number of arrivals to Vietnam in 2009 by more than 10 percent from the year before.

Despite the ups and downs, businesses serving these adventure tourists multiplied as savvy Vietnamese saw the profitability of focusing on foreign visitors. A small number of foreigners fell in love with the country (or someone) and became expats, often opening a business for the adventure travellers who followed. Inside the cities, Pham Ngu Lao (Ho Chi Minh) and the French Quarter (Hanoi) became known as “the backpacker area”. Outside of these two major cities, travel was difficult in the early days and many of the first-generation locations arose because they were accessible. Phan Thiet/Mui Ne was the first spot where Highway 1A meets the ocean. Nha Trang and Danang/Hoi An had military airports converted to civilian airports which increased access.

Adventure tourism is not unique to Vietnam; it is often associated with developing countries and it often comes with problems. Ironically, adventure travellers en masse tend to destroy what they love. First-generation destinations are almost always not prepared for the growth in tourism. Adequate waste disposal, business regulations and security never quite catch up with demand. Once shops, restaurants and hotels are built along the roads, improving transportation infrastructure becomes much more difficult and costly. Many first-generation locations in Vietnam still struggle with these issues.

Vietnam will continue to be an adventure traveller’s dream in the foreseeable future. New locations such as Sapa are being discovered (and ruined) by travellers trying to get off the proverbial beaten path. Infrastructure improvements and a loosening of visa requirements will lower the learning curve, making the country more accessible to more people looking for that once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Video source: Benn TK

The Second Generation – Mass Tourism

In January of this year, Vietnam received nearly as many international visitors as all of 1998, but not because of a huge increase in adventure travellers. A recent seismic shift in the type of visitors changed the industry. To illustrate the point, only eight years ago nearly as many Americans visited Vietnam as Chinese. Now the Chinese visitors outnumber Americans by almost six to one.

tourismImage source: citypassguide.com

The second generation of tourists to Vietnam are the new Asian middle-class from nearby countries. The growth of people with disposable income in Asia is unprecedented in the history of humankind, surpassing post-World War II United States. That leads to interesting questions about where those new American middle-class consumers travelled and what they did. The answer is they overwhelmingly headed south to Mexico, a warm country with beautiful beaches, where Americans had more purchasing power, and the culture was interesting but not too exotic. By the end of the century Mexico was a top-10 international destination with 90 percent of arrivals originating from its northern neighbour. Vietnam is positioned almost exactly the same geographically to China as Mexico is to the United States. Mexico’s tourism industry is an excellent guide for understanding the past, present and future development of tourism in Vietnam.

Tourism in Mexico began with adventure travellers, just like Vietnam. As the numbers increased, Mexico learned from the problems first generation tourism hotspots like Acapulco encountered. Rather than continue to let development occur naturally, it allocated huge tracts of land for large developers in designated locations and provided incentives to build mammoth modern resorts. Mexico invested its oil revenues to develop the infrastructure surrounding these designated tourism locations. Unlike adventure travellers, the new middle-class travellers preferred resorts with walls that kept them inside and the locals outside. This successful strategy resulted in Cancun developing 26,500 hotel rooms and welcoming six million visitors a year by 2005.

Given these developments in Vietnam as well, it might lose some of the less mass-tourism-inclined visitors to less developed neighbouring countries, but many will be motivated to find less-known locations in Vietnam. An indirect benefit could be that tourism revenue may spread to some of the poorer areas of the country.

Vietnam’s second-generation of tourism is just beginning, despite tremendous growth in the last few years. The government is targeting 20 million international arrivals by the end of this decade. It is likely that nearly 30 million visitors will come to Vietnam by 2022. Destinations such as Phu Quoc, Cam Ranh and Danang are turning into Asia’s versions of Cancun and Cabos.

Video source: Hi Hai

Individually, these travellers might not spend as much money as more experienced travellers, but their sheer numbers make up for that and more. Additionally, the environmental and social impact is contained in a proportionately small area. For a developing country like Vietnam, the economic impact might be great enough to push the country towards the top end of the middle-income scale. For that to happen, the government’s proceeds from tourism should be reinvested back into programs that offer a high rate of return such as better infrastructure and education. While that may be uncertain, what is certain is that investors, developers and the Vietnamese government will continue to focus on this growing market segment.

The Third Generation – Sustainable Tourism

Once people travel internationally a few times, they become more adventurous and look for quality experiences outside the resort wall. The third-generation of tourism arises when the experience or activity is integrated into the surrounding environment. Specific cultural, geographic and historic properties are integral to the vacation. Companies engaging in third-generation tourism act in a more sustainable manner since their business model depends on the surrounding environment remaining relatively the same. This is also what industry experts mean when they discuss diversifying tourism products. Rather than focusing on a geographic market, the focus is on people from around the globe interested in some activity. Third generation tourists are searching for specific experiences and thus are willing to pay more. Price becomes less of an issue. This is the holy grail of tourism.

tourismImage source: baodulich.net.vn

How will tourism companies in Vietnam take this next step? Culturally, Vietnamese food is gaining an excellent reputation for being both tasty and healthy. Foodies all over the world might be interested in coming to Vietnam to experience their favourite dishes cooked and served authentically, especially if they know it is safe to eat. While an adventure traveller is comfortable eating on the street without guides, third-generation travellers need value added by a company that understands their needs. They pay more and expect more. Home stays and indigenous villages also offer a view into Vietnam’s unique culture. Vietnam has great potential for medical tourism as a low-cost alternative to Western medical procedures.

Vietnam’s incredible and diverse geography is another advantage companies may use to entice sophisticated travellers. Photography, adventure sports and spelunking are just some of the activities that potentially could bring vacationers from around the world.

Historical tourism will be a tougher road. Vietnam’s recent past damaged or destroyed many of its ancient sites. Although many Cham structures still stand, most could use renovation and support services to make the experience better. While war tourism is not a big market, maybe a small niche might arise for tours focused on the recent past wars. The Cu Chi Tunnels, after all, are a popular attraction.

tourismImage source: huracars.com

The evolution of tourism in Vietnam can and will happen concurrently. Third generation tourism businesses already operate quietly. Examples include the Amano’i Resort in Ninh Thuan Province which offers spa and wellness services to the super rich and famous. Eco-lodges in both the North and South try and co-exist with locals outside of the popular destinations. It will be up to individual businesses like these to move past the mega resort model since the Vietnamese government’s focus should be directed towards the low hanging fruit from the North. But Mexico’s tourism industry learned that as Americans gained more travel experience they eventually desired more than a beach and buffet. The new Asian middle-class travellers will also evolve past mass tourism, and those working in the tourism industry in Vietnam need to be prepared for the shift and get ahead of the curve.

Banner Image source: yenbai.org


July 2014 B2B Newsletter

By: City Pass Guide

 

July, 2014
The City Pass Post: An Insider Look

MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY


YEGA THIYAGARAJAN


This is the first in an occasional series in which we profile a successful industry identity. We find out what makes them tick, how they got to where they are now, and what they learned along the way.

We caught up with Yega Thiyagarajan, the general manager of Villa Song SaigonRead the full article that reveals the path to his success.

If you have an interesting business background and would like to participate in our series, don´t hesitate to contact us: send an email to carlos@citypassguide.com or emilio@citypassguide.com

by Rob van Driesum
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TRAVEL NEWS: INSIDE & OUT

STAY UP TO DATE WITH NEW ONLINE MARKETING TECHNIQUES

 
The latest news in the Travel and Hospitality Business. We've gathered the best articles to keep up to date with the latest Online Marketing practices in our industry:
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MOBILE USAGE CHANGES TRAVEL EXPERIENCE

PLACEABLE RESEARCH


Hoi An Entrance Fee
The rapid move to mobile research and bookings means travelers require easier ways to access content. In 2014, approximately 40% of leisure travelers and 35% of business travelers will use mobile search engines to find hotels, and this number will only grow, with 72% of travelers worldwide saying that the ability to book via mobile device is useful.

Placeable has recently conducted a survey where they surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out about how they research and find businesses before and during their travels. Read the FULL ARTICLE for key findings and nicely illustrated infographic.

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CITY PASS GUIDE DISTRIBUTION

CITY PASS GUIDE INCREASES ITS DISTRIBUTION NETWORK


Julien Robellet, Distribution Manager at City Pass Guide, talks about the quick and high increase of the distribution network.

Lee Starnes - Content Manager
Aiming to reach a larger number of readers and provide useful and meaningful information to travellers and residents, City Pass team has done a great effort on its distribution channels. READ FULL STORY

SEE THE INFOGRAPHIC DISPLAYED ON THE LEFT IN FULL SIZE

If you wish to contact Julien directly, email him at distribution@citypassguide.com





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FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT
FOR CHARITY IN HCMC

SPORT & FUN ON SAT 19TH JULY

 
CityPass Guide is a proud sponsor of the 1st Inter-Company Football Tournament, organized by BBGV. The event will bring 16 teams together to compete for the Championship title. Colleagues, families, sponsors, associates and volunteers will support and cheer on the football teams throughout the day.

Date: Saturday 19th July 2014
Time: 08:30 to 17:30
Where: RMIT University, 702 Nguyen Van Linh, District 7, HCMC
  • Fun and games for adults and children
  • All proceeds go to support local charities in Vietnam
For more info visit the Event Page
Top Three Souvenir Shops in Hanoi

If you´re interested in collaborating with City Pass Guide in the promotion of your Events/Deals, please write an email to carlos@citypassguide.com

For more Events in Vietnam, visit our Deals & Events Calendar

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Kitesurfing Repairs: A Matter of Trust

By: Michael Mahe

Kitesurfing Repairs: A Matter of Trust 

kite repairKitesurfing equipment has become safer and more durable over the last years.  Still, it’s quite possible to damage the kite or the board.  During the high season in Mui Ne, waves can reach two meters height and the wind is strong with 25 knots.   In these conditions, a kite falling into the water might get damaged by the energy from the ocean or the wind. 

When the kite crashes in the water, the fabric may stretch to the point where the seams break.  This is an easy repair, and usually this is done with a old-fashioned sewing machine and special repair tape, called rip-stop.   A kite repaired by a professional, will fly like new.

Sometimes, the “bladder” (inner tube) which holds the air to stabilize the kite, may have problems.   Sometimes bladders leak air due to a small puncture.  This can be fixed with repair tape, not unlike fixing a flat tire on the bicycle.

Other times, the bladder might have more damage, it can even explode when it’s pumped to hard.   There, the only kitesurfsolution is to replace the bladder, and good kite-repair shops will have bladders in many sizes in stock.

The lines and the bar which is used to steer the kite, can also get damaged.  Lines can stretch from, for example, jumping, or simply due to the power of the wind, or they even can break.  Experienced kite-repairers are able to shorten stretched lines, but broken lines have to be replaced.  Other parts of the equipment, like the bar or the “pulleys” (which is the attachment between the lines and the kite) may break, in particular given the salty water in Mui Ne.   In those cases, it’s best to just replace the damaged equipment.

Kiteboards are rarely broken.  In Mui Ne, there are no stones or corals which present a danger for the boards.  The only exception may be “surfboards”, which may break due to high jumps.  Depending on the amount of damage, surfboards may not be suitable for repair.

kite repairIn Mui Ne, there are a number of specialized kite repair shops.  One of the more established kite-repairers is Frenchman Christian Bouillon who works at the Kitesurf Ananda Shop.  Christian is probably the most experienced in this profession: in his his native France a professional sailmaker.  There are also a number of local kitesurfers who have the necessary skills to repair kites.  They usually work at any of the many kiteschools during the day.  It turns out that most damage is done by novices of kitesurfing, and kiteschools are probably the biggest customer of any kite repair shop.

The best prevention for any damage that may occur is to take good care of the equipment (rinse the bar and lines and the board with fresh water after a kite session, for example), and not to leave the kite on the beach in the wind and sun during the entire day, and to be be careful in high waves.

Writer: Michael Mahe

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