Ban Gioc Waterfall: An Illustrated Guide

Last updated November 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle


Ban Gioc Waterfall is one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights. Located in the northeastern province of Cao Bang, the falls are 30 metres high and 300 metres across, making Ban Gioc the widest – but not the highest – waterfall in the country. The falls occur on the Quay Son River, a beautiful jade-blue body of water, flowing through a pastoral landscape of rice fields and bamboo groves, surrounded by limestone pinnacles.

An awesome sight, Ban Gioc FallsBan Gioc Waterfall: one of Vietnam’s most impressive natural sights

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My Illustrated Guide to one of Vietnam’s most Impressive Natural Sights

At Ban Gioc, the Quay Son River forms the border between Vietnam and China. Consequently, the falls are half in Vietnam and half in China. Both countries have bamboo rafts that punt visitors around the base of the falls for better views of the cascade: you can literally shake hands with Chinese tourists on the other rafts. Ban Gioc Waterfall is 350km from Hanoi. It’s reached via a good national highway to Cao Bang City, and then several recently upgraded provincial roads, leading through fantastic countryside to the falls. It’s now easier than ever to visit Ban Gioc, but still very few people, especially foreign travellers, make it here. A perfect destination if you’re on a motorbike road trip around northern Vietnam, or an independent traveller looking to get off the beaten track, this waterfall is a favourite destination of mine.

MAP: Ban Gioc Waterfall and the surrounding area, Cao Bang Province


Before reaching Ban Gioc Falls, the Quay Son River ambles through a sumptuous valley, studded with limestone karsts. I warm to this gentle landscape, and it’s been one of my favourite corners of the country ever since I first visited the area in 2009. On a trip in 2014, I was lucky enough to camp on the river bank here during the night of a lunar eclipse.

Quay Son River Valley, Cao Bang ProvinceSumptuous scenery: the Quay Son River Valley, Cao Bang Province

The best time to visit the falls is from September to October, when the summer rains that feed the waterfall are less frequent and harvest is in full swing. Farming techniques can’t have changed much here in centuries: save for some mechanized rice threshers, most of the work is done by hand. One piece of ‘technology’ you’ll see along the banks of the river is the bamboo water wheel. This attractive, medieval-looking device scoops up water from the river, carries it up to the level of the fields, and drops it into earth gutters, which channel the water into the fields to irrigate the crops. It’s a hypnotic, peaceful and timeless sight.

Bamboo water wheel on the Quay Son RiverA hypnotic sight: bamboo water wheels line the Quay Son River

The serenity of this valley is dramatically broken when the Quay Son River reaches a 300 metre-wide limestone ledge, and drops sharply down several terraces, creating Ban Gioc Waterfall. Some brave (or foolhardy) fishermen stand in precarious positions, casting their lines into the cascade.

The cascade, Ban Gioc WaterfallPrecarious: a fisherman casts his line atop Ban Gioc Fals

Because the falls are located right on the Chinese border, foreign travellers used to require a special permit to visit the area. But today (2015) you can just turn up and buy a ticket (25,000vnđ [$1]) at the kiosk without any documents at all, before walking down a gravel path to the waterfall. The path threads through rice fields, over wooden bridges above gurgling creeks, and onto an exposed grassy bank at the bottom of the falls. The wide, white cascade is fringed with foliage and framed by sharp tooth-like limestone mountains, which are partly obscured by drifting clouds of vapour from all the spray generated by the waterfall.

Ban Gioc Falls from the ticket kioskA panorama of Ban Gioc falls, seen from the ticket entrance on the Vietnamese side

On the Chinese side of the river there’s a hotel on the hill, but the Vietnamese side has yet to see any significant development. A resort, run by Saigon Tourist, is under construction by the ticket entrance, but won’t be completed for some time. For now, the only tourist infrastructure here are a few unattractive wooden shacks covered by blue tarpaulins, selling snacks and trinkets. Almost all visitors to Ban Gioc stay in one of the dozens of good-value hotels in Cao Bang City, 90km west of the falls. However, there are two local guest houses (called ‘nhà nghỉ’ in Vietnamese) on either side of the road, about two kilometres before reaching the falls. Dinh Van II Hotel (Tel: 0263 602 789) and Nha Nghi Tung Duong (Tel: 0915 660 688) both offer basic but clean and inexpensive accommodation for a night at around 200-300.000vnđ ($10-15).

There are also a couple of nhà nghỉ in Trung Khanh, the nearest town to Ban Gioc Falls, 25km to the west. This is a good option for intrepid travellers as Trung Khanh is a dusty, rustic border town with a wild west edge. There are several crumbling pastel-coloured shophouses and an interesting daily market with various imported goods from China. You’re guaranteed to be the only foreign traveller in town. Quang Uyen, a town halfway between Cao Bang and Ban Gioc Falls, also has a good guest house, called Duy Huong Hotel on Hoa Trung Street (Tel: 0266 266 888) for around 250,000vnđ ($12) a night. (Read more about ‘nhà nghỉ’ HERE).

Shophouse in Trung Khanh townPastel-coloured shophouse on the dusty streets of Trung Khanh, a possible overnight option

There are lots of beautiful spots around the base of the falls on which to sit and take in the spectacle. Find a place on a pebbly beach or grassy bank, perch on a boulder in a stream or lay in the curving trunk of a tropical tree, and gaze in awe at one of Vietnam’s most romantic sights. Providing you don’t visit on a weekend or public holiday, you may have it almost all to yourself.

Taking in itTaking in the views: there are plenty of spots to idle the day away

Bamboo rafts (50,000vnđ [$2.50] per person) punt visitors closer to the cascade for better views. The ‘ride’ lasts about 10 minutes and you’ll definitely get wet. In some areas, signs in Vietnamese read ‘No Swimming!’ But it’s difficult to resist taking a plunge in one of the blue pools of water, especially around the smaller falls to the left of the central waterfall. There’s no one there to stop you bathing, and I’ve never encountered any resistance. But, of course, you should be very careful: stick to the placid rock pools and stay well away from the main cascade.

Punting on bamboo raftsGetting wet: bamboo rafts punt visitors around the base of the falls.

There’s a treacherous path leading up through jungle to the first and second tiers of the falls. Not for the faint-hearted – or for those without proper footwear – this track climbs steeply among vines and roots to several gorgeous pools of blue running water. Tread carefully because the rocks are slippery and soon you’ll reach the edge of a ledge, from where the water drops straight down into a giant limestone bowl below.

View from the 'treacherous path'Take the treacherous path up the side of the waterfall and be rewarded with fabulous views

It’s possible to wander further and higher up the side of the falls for even more spectacular views of the deluge from above. It’s an awesome sight – in the true sense of the word – but be extremely careful, and don’t even think about attempting it if it’s been raining. There are no handrails so if you slip there’s nothing to hold onto except exposed roots. You can find the start of the path at the bottom of the falls behind a milestone marking the Vietnamese border, located over a rickety wooden bridge.

View from the top of the pathClimb even higher – at your own risk – for a bird’s-eye view of the entire waterfall

Considering the waterfall’s proximity to China, and the frosty history (both ancient and recent) between the two countries, the atmosphere at Ban Gioc is very relaxed. Official presence on either side of the falls is minimal and, as seen in the photo below, Vietnamese floating vendors often approach Chinese rafts to sell their wares to Chinese tourists.

A Vietnamese floating vendor approaches a raft of Chinese touristsA Vietnamese vendor approaches a raft of Chinese tourists to sell her wares

It’s easy to forget that this province was one of several points along the Vietnamese border where, in February 1979, Chinese forces entered Vietnam under the orders of Deng Xiaoping. There were many reasons for the invasion, but ultimately it was an extension of tensions between the Soviet Union and China (Vietnam having signed a treaty with the USSR in 1978). Thousands of Vietnamese and Chinese were killed and, when the Chinese army departed (or retreated, depending on whose version of events you believe), they laid waste to the land they had briefly occupied. Along the road that follows the border just beyond the falls, there are memorial shrines dedicated to local Vietnamese who died during the 1979 war.

Border disputes continued into the 1980s, and included the historic Nam Quan Gate, an ancient gateway between the two countries, which ultimately ended up on the Chinese side. The photo below shows a border marker on the Vietnamese side of the Quay Son River; just 20 metres away, across the river, is China. At some points along this road, the distance between the two countries is as little as 5 metres.

Border: Vietnam in the foreground, China across the riverA border marker on the Vietnamese side of the Quay Son River; China is on the other side

The easiest and most enjoyable way to reach Ban Gioc Waterfall is by motorbike, which are available for rent from some hotels and guest houses in Cao Bang City for around $10 per day. Alternatively, many accommodations in Cao Bang can arrange a day trip to the falls. There’s an impressive limestone cave system – called Nguom Ngao Caves – just a few kilometres on the right before reaching Ban Gioc Waterfall. The caves are nicely lit, and most travellers spend a couple of hours exploring them on their way to or from Ban Gioc Falls.

The road to Ban Gioc Waterfall, VietnamThe road to Ban Gioc Falls is scenic indeed

Getting to Cao Bang City from Hanoi is straightforward: Either take a bus from Hanoi’s My Dinh Bus Station (8 hours) or, if you have your own wheels, take Highway QL3 – which is in excellent condition for most of the way – from Hanoi to Cao Bang. From Cao Bang to the falls stay on Highway QL3 east to Quang Uyen, then turn left (due north) on Road TL206, which veers east at the town of Trung Khanh before reaching Ban Gioc Waterfall. Although there are plenty of good places to eat in Cao Bang City, food at and around the falls is not so readily available. At meal times you’ll find decent local rice eateries  (‘quán cơm’ in Vietnamese) in most small towns in the area, like Trung Khanh and Quang Uyen (read more about ‘quán cơm HERE). For much more travel information about this beautiful corner of Vietnam see my Related Posts.

Ban Gioc WaterfallBan Gioc Waterfall, seen from the jetty on the Vietnamese side

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Ride along pastoral pathways in a bucolic and rarely travelled corner of Vietnam……read more

The Northeast Motorbike Loop

Harvest time in this northern region is a spectacular show of light and colour……read more

Rice harvest, Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam

A colourful ethnic minority market in the mountains……read more

Bac Ha Sunday Market, Vietnam

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Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats:  What's this?

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42 Responses to Ban Gioc Waterfall: An Illustrated Guide

  1. Jeff says:

    Hey Tom,

    Thanks for another great post. I saw that you went camping in this area :). I have all my camping gear with me and am wondering if you suggest any spots near the waterfalls? Would be great!

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  4. Danyelle says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’m going to post this on my FB page, it’s so great and looks so beautiful. Thanks for this great blog and sharing.


  5. Mili says:

    Im a photographer who really look forward to visit this water fall. I had this idea to visit this after seen a photograph(bird view) taken by national geographic. Sadly got to know that it was taken from china side. I really need to take the same photograph. Please tell me is there any option for me to go to china side and take the photo without china visa (its bit hard to get china visa for Srilamkan). Or is there any place to have a birds eye view from forward from Vietnam side. Please help me.

    Image URL

    • Hi Mili,

      Some people say that you can get across to the Chinese side, but I really wouldn’t risk it without a visa, and also because this is not an official border crossing.

      The falls are very beautiful from the Vietnamese side anyway and there are lots of different angles from which to photograph it: from the main entrance there is a good panorama of the entire falls; from the boats you can get a good view from below the falls; and from the path leading up above the falls (which I have described in this article) there are good aerial views down over the waterfall.

      I hope this helps,


  6. Caroline says:

    Xin chào, Tom!
    Just letting you know that there is a nice ngà nghỉ (Nhà Nghỉ Kiều Thanh Nguyệt, ĐT: 0969 661 992, 0978 596 415) 3 km from Ban Gioc waterfalls which is run by a really nice woman for 200,000 VND a night. Rooms are clean and cosy and the gate is locked at night so motorbikes are safely parked inside. It is on the road towards Đông Ngươm Ngao.

    Dich Van 2 Hotel was slightly more expensive and the rooms looked dilapidated and grubby for the price quoted.

    Hope that helps other “phươt” and travellers making their way around the northeast who would like a quiet, little neighbourhood to stay at close to Ban Gioc. 🙂


    • Hi Caroline,

      Thanks for the update! That’s a great little bit off info for anyone travelling to Ban Gioc and wanting to stay the night.

      Enjoy the rest of your road trip! 🙂


    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for the hotel recommendation, Caroline! We’re here now and it’s great. I think we’re paying 250,000 vnd for 2 people. The Saigon tourist resort is complete, but rooms are 1.2 million dong.

      It took us 6 hours to get to the waterfall from Cao Bang going the longer way around Tom’s lollipop loop. Road conditions are poor for much of the drive. Sections have large piles of rock covering most of the road. Other sections are super muddy and torn up.

      • Hi Amanda,

        Thanks for sharing your experience of the area. Great to hear the hotel is good. Shame about the condition of the roads, but I hope the beautiful scenery made it worthwhile.

        Enjoy the rest of your trip,


  7. Sally Emilia says:

    Hi Tom.
    I have plan going to Ban gioc waterfall on first week of May 2016. Its a good time to see the view
    n how about the safety because we will traveling with my sister n nephew ( 3 women).
    we are family from Indonesia. n can you tell me which way better travel from Hanoi or nanning .China
    n where we can find travel agent going to the area
    Thanks very much for informations in your blog

    • Hi Sally,

      Yes, I think May is a good time to see the waterfall.

      You should be very careful if you attempt to climb the path next to the waterfall which goes to the top of the falls, because it is very steep and can get very slippery.

      From Hanoi you can take a bus to Cao Bang City. From Cao Bang you can either arrange a taxi to the waterfall or organize transport through your hotel. I don’t know about travel information from the Chinese side. If you want to arrange a tour to Ban Gioc Waterfall from Hanoi you can ask about it at the reception of your hotel in Hanoi.

      I hope this helps,


  8. Stefan says:

    Hi Tom,

    I am currently considering to spend some time in the north coming May. My first plan was to do the Ha Giang Loop for 5 days, and then head to Ba Be lake for some relaxation time. Seeing the pictures I really would like to visit the falls as well now. Initially I thought spending 9 full days there (excluding ravelling to and from Hanoi), but might add 1 or 2 days. Would this be sufficient to explore the area, with some time to sit back, relaxing, reading a book and enjoying the atmosphere?
    I want to do it by bike. Initially I though I would it riding pillion (as I did in Vietnam a few times already). But now I would be tempted to ride on my own. I have no licence, and rode a motorbike a few times (done the Thakhke Loop and Bolaven Plateau lop in Laos) and would take a few lessons back home (or even doing a licence beforehand). Do you think it is safe to do so?

    Also, how is the weather in My? Dry? I know I will miss the harvest time of the rice fields, but cannot travel any other time this year.
    Sorry for all the questions.

    BTW – I love your website. It really is inspiring.

    • Hi Stefan,

      9 days is plenty of time to explore the area, but obviously the more time you have the better it will be.

      I think it’s a good idea to ride by yourself on a bike – it sounds like you have enough experience. Just take it easy because the roads in that area are very mountainous.

      The weather in May should be pretty good – warm and dry with some rain. There should already be a lot of colours in the fields by that time of year.

      I hope this helps,


      • Stefan says:

        Thanks Tom,

        the more I read the more I really want to visit and spend as much time there as possible.
        I assume you travelled alone on your bike. So when you went for a little walk, what did you do with your bag? I think you cannot just leave it on the bike, right?

        Also, one logistical issue is if I rent a bike in Ha Gaing I need to return it there. I would actually prefer to stop at Ba Be lake, and not returning to Ha Giang. Do you think the woner would send someone to pick you up for a fee? or is that just not possible ,and I would need either ride pillion or bite the bullet and ride back to Ha Giang?

        Sorry for all the questions, just trying to get a plan formed in my head.

        Thanks again,


        • Hi Stefan,

          Yes, that’s right, if you rent a bike from Ha Giang then you would probably have to return it to Ha Giang yourself. You can still ride the Ha Giang Extreme North Loop and on to Ba Be and then loop back to Ha Giang on the lower route (Road 34) which is more direct.

          Yes, when you stop for a walk or a swim etc then you’ll need to take your stuff with you – although you only really need to take your valuable things with you which you’ll probably be carrying in a small backpack on the front of your bike, so it’s not really that inconvenient. You’ll work out a system after a couple of days on the bike – everyone has their own way.


  9. marco says:

    Hey Tom

    Do you know if it is possible to visit the chinese part of the falls as well? And from which side do you get the best overview, like the one on this picture

    Thanks for the good info!

    • Hi Marco,

      That image is taken from the Chinese side. You can view the waterfall from the Chinese side, but you will have to enter China at one of the border gates in Vietnam – the nearest is Dong Dang near Lang Son to the south of Ban Gioc Falls. Note that Chinese visas must be arranged in advance.


  10. Muri says:

    I absolutely loved that waterfall and in general the countryside around Cao Bang in general – absolutely amazing limestone scenery!

    But I still think that the Nguo Ngao cave you mentioned above represented the climax for me personally – I even liked it better than the overcrowded Phong Nha caves. Absolutely mindblowing!

    The only negative aspect of my daytrip back then was the to ride back to Cao Bang City – in complete darkness and without working lights on my Honda Win. 😀 You have to be really careful with water buffaloes and other dark obstacles in the night…

  11. Zdenek says:

    Hi Tom,

    at what point can I find bamboo water wheel?
    Thanks for posting this blog.

    • Hi Zdenek,

      There are several bamboo water wheels along the Quay Son River between Trung Khanh and Ban Gioc Waterfall. I’ve written about the route in more detail in my guide to the Northeast Loop here.

      I hope you find them.


  12. Marc says:

    Hey Tom!
    congratulations on a most excellent blog. I sincerely appreciate your efforts to educate those of us that would otherwise never find some of these gems you have posted. My trip to Ban Gioc waterfall would happen around mid-November. Is there still good flow in the waterfall in mid November? Are the colors still high in the area and would this trip be your top recommendation for N.E. Vietnam for that time of year? Lastly, is there anywhere near the falls at a homestay perhaps to rent a motor bike for touring the area? If not, what would be the last place on the way to the falls to rent a motorbike? Thanks for your guidance Tom.

    • Hi Marc,

      I would think November is probably still OK for weather and water flow at Ban Gioc Falls. However, if you’re travelling toward the end of November you should be prepared for some fairly chilly temperatures.

      There’s still very little infrastructure around the falls, so finding a motorbike to rent in the immediate vicinity might be a bit difficult. Most people choose to rent their motorbike from Cao Bang, 80km to the west. It’s a beautiful ride from Cao Bang to the falls and back. If you leave early in the morning then you can do it in one day, if not then just stay the night somewhere, such as Quang Uyen. You can read more about Cao Bang and that area in my guide to the Northeast Loop.

      I hope this helps,


  13. Vitaly says:

    Thanks a lot for your info about this area!

  14. Josiah Crum says:

    Hi Tom,

    My wife and I are in Vietnam for one month and Ban Gioc is on our list. We have had a hard time organizing out plans and are starting to wonder if it is worth it. We like going off the beaten path and I think the falls look stunning. We have the time but are wondering if it is worth it? What is the water flow like at the end of April? How would a 2-night trip work. Train to Cao Bang, stay there one night, the falls on day 2, and then stay one more night, return to Hanoi the next day. Does this sound reasonable. What type of lodging and or transportation should be arranged before hand. Thanks for the help!


    • Hi Josiah,

      Personally, I think the falls and the area in general are worth a trip. But it’s quite a distance for such a short trip. I would recommend spending an extra 2 nights and combining the falls with a trip to Ba Be Lake either on the way to or from the falls. I’ve written extensively about that whole area in this article about the Northeast.

      I would imagine that the flow should be enough to render the falls an impressive sight. However, I would check with a reputable travel agent that’s based in the north of Vietnam for more info – try emailing Flamingo Travel and asking them about the flow in April.

      Cao Bang is not connected by train. Buses (including night buses) leave Hanoi for Cao Bang daily. From Cao Bang it should be easy to arrange private transport to the falls through your hotel. Or you could rent a motorbike and drive there.

      There’s plenty of accommodation in Cao Bang. You can do the falls as a day trip from Cao Bang if you leave early in the morning. Travel time from Cao Bang to the falls is about 2 hours but the scenery is marvellous so you might want to take it slow.

      There are a handful of local nhà nghỉ (guesthouses) around the falls, including some in Khanh and Quang Uyen. Again there’s more about that in the Northeast article.

      I hope you have a great trip.


  15. Abby says:

    I am looking to go to ba be lake, ban gioc waterfal, and the surrounding cao bang province for several days at the end of my time here in Vietnam. I may not have a lot of time (3-5 days). I was wondering what you think the minimal amount of time spent here should be, and how you think you should spend those days (how many days at each place)? Thanks!


    • Hi Abby,

      Around 4 days is probably sufficient. Cao Bang City is a good base from which to visit the surrounding countryside. A day trip to Ban Gioc Waterfall is good. And a couple of days spent exploring Ba Be Lakes on foot, bike, boat – whatever takes your fancy. Staying in a homestay there is nice. So 2 days Ba Be Lakes, 1 day Cao Bang City, 1 day Ban Gioc Waterfall, plus a ‘lost day’ – 4-5 days should be fine.


  16. Svetlana says:

    Dear Tom, I’m currently planning my trip (which is in 6 days) according to places you describe and recommend. Your webside is the best I saw to help travellers get most of their trips away from the beaten paths. Thank very much!

    I have and urgent question for you: Does it make sense to visit the waterfall in the end of December – beginning of January as the wet season is over and there is a risk that I would find the waterfall with little water and far not as picturesque as on your pictures?

    • Hi Svetlana,
      Apologies for the late reply.
      I think the water flow at Ban Gioc Waterfall in December will be significantly less than in my photos, which were taken in early October. However, there’s still plenty of rain around in that region during the winter months, so I think the falls would still look good enough to justify a visit. But, it’s worth remembering that the weather can be rather cold and grey at that time of year, and the harvest colours will be long gone. Perhaps it’s better to save Ban Gioc Waterfall for another trip during the warmer, brighter summer/autumn months.
      Have a great trip,

  17. Nguyen says:

    Tom, thanks for posting this blog. I travelled to Ban Gioc fall in 1999 a long time ago but it is amazing to see the fall is still very much under develop (which is a good thing). I did also swim in the river and that was a great memory.

  18. Alan Murray says:

    Another great in-depth travelogue – you obviously had more time than when I visited earlier in the year on a whistle-stop tour of Cao Bang and Ha Giang provinces.
    The impression I got was that all the photogenic parts of the waterfall are actually in China; Vietnam having just some very unspectacular falls up which you climbed – perhaps I’m wrong?
    The main thing that struck me was how run down the whole place was; having walked down the gravel path, the rest of the route was just a muddy track which led to two rickety bridges which, even by Vietnamese standards of ‘elf and safety, were dangerous. A few million Dong spent on maintenance would make all the difference! In sharp contrast was the millions of Dollars being spent on the tourist resort being carved out of the nearby hillside. Will all the tourists be obliged to use the same unsafe bridges?
    Vietnam is surely a land full of contrasts but even more fascinating for that fact.

    • Hi Alan,

      The falls seemed pretty photogenic to me – no matter what side of the border you view them from. If anything I would say that Vietnam has more of the waterfall than China because it has half of the main falls plus the other smaller falls, which while not on such a grand scale, are very pretty indeed.

      As regards the condition of the site, I was relieved to see that litter had been kept to a minimum, despite groups of Vietnamese picnickers, which I’m sorry to say is usually a catalyst for trash. Personally, I like the rickety bridges and muddy paths, it makes the whole experience all the more rustic and ‘real’. One day the path to the falls will be paved, there will be steps up to the higher cascades, the resort will be finished, and with this ease of access this natural site will inevitably lose some of its magic. Of course it’s great that more people will be able to see it, and health and safety will be enforced, but I’m glad I got to see Ban Gioc waterfall before the infrastructure for mass tourism is put in place. The ‘run-down’ look holds a certain charm for me.


  19. Tuc says:

    Thanks Tom for taking me to this part of Viet Nam where I only heard of. My mother was born in Cao Bang many moons ago before move to the South in 1954. We never have a chance to make a homage trip. I can only hope to make a trip there one day.
    I enjoy your nice photos and history lesson.
    Happy travel!!!

  20. Jim Ellis says:

    Tom I sure am glad to have found this. Your pictures are so inspiring that it makes me want to return which I swore to never do. I lost many good friends at Vung Ro Bay. Why should I blame a country for a time that was not only confusing for them but for us also. You are a great photographer.

    Thank you again for this site.
    Jim Ellis
    Major retired Army.

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