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We arrived in Hanoi on the night train from Lao Cai. It was still dark when we arrived at a mini-hotel where our people fell into bed for a couple of hours of sleep before breakfast and departure from Hanoi. That morning, unlike others, I made the omelets in the kitchen rather than on the portable burners that are all but ubiquitous. I had no idea of how many omelets I had made and so twice, at least, I thought I had finished, but hadn’t. What made this task more arduous than usual was that I was cooking on a stove top that was fairly short. At 5’6″ I am taller than most Vietnamese people, so leaning over to cook wasn’t that much fun, but in addition, there was a huge range hood that started at about the level of my nose. So, each time I found out that I had more omelets to make, it was pretty disappointing.
However, breakfast was good and soon we were on the road to Halong Bay. Along the way we stopped and bought everyone pineapples. Yes, each person got a pineapple, peeled and on a stick and the taste was fabulous. Better than ice cream. From me, that is high praise.
Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is known for its magnificent rock outcroppings. There are about 1600 huge rocks, some the size of mountains and others only a few meters long and a few meters tall. They are the result of a process that is termed “Karst.” Karst is the name of an area in what is now Slovenia where these types of structures were first identified and explained. They are the result of the receding of the ocean floor and erosion that took place over thousands of years. The limestone has been worn away leaving only the core area resulting in beautiful formations.
Halong Bay has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although most of these rocks are not large enough for people to live on, the bay has a large number of residents who live on floating homes. Their food is delivered to their porches by boat and their children are collected by boat to go to school.
On our tours of Vietnam, one of the loveliest experiences we have is lunch on board a boat as it cruises along Halong Bay. Because our tours are strictly kosher, we bring with us, of course, all of our own kitchen equipment (woks, knives, cutting boards, stirring implements, foil trays, foil for surfaces) and disposable utensils to eat with.
Here is a picture of the kitchen on the ship set up with our utensils (over to the right, on the towel), our salt and pepper shakers (behind the utensils), the serving plates (their own that they wrapped in aluminum foil), spices (“Shufersol” brand, all of which I brought from Israel) and the fresh vegetables that they would be cutting on our blue vinyl cutting boards with the knives we had brought. The kitchen was immaculate.
By the way, we had brought 3 brand new knives from Israel. They are like normal western kitchen knives. Because of our late arrival and our luggage having gotten stuck in Hong Kong, our guide had bought us a new Vietnamese knife which is more like a cleaver. When we unpacked out utensils, the chef immediately chose the Vietnamese knife and began cutting with it. As he was cutting one of the fish, a piece of the knife blade broke off.. an area maybe a half inch long was now missing from knife edge about a quarter of the way from the top of the blade. He continued using that knife anyway because he preferred it. As we continued to travel, every chef chose the broken knife over our new western knives!
On the other side of the kitchen was the cooking area which they also had completely emptied of all of their equipment and had only our pots and wok.
While the men were working in the kitchen, the chef asked me where I was from. I must say
– for all that Israelis think that the world pays attention to news about us, from the reactions I got in Vietnam– not so much. He had no idea. Sometimes people will respond, “Near Egypt?” and that’s not bad. This man waited a couple of minutes and said, “Cities in your country?” I answered “Tel Aviv, Jerusalem…” He stopped and closed his eyes, and put his hands together and said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” almost as if he knew the song we sing “Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim.” He had a smile on his face and kept repeating “Jerusalem.” I wish he had been able to tell me his associations with Jerusalem, but his English was fairly rudimentary and my Vietnamese, well, I can say “Pho?”
How long to stay on Halong Bay? The answer is: as long as you can. It is simply paradise and as the boat moves, one after another view is even more breathtaking. The best time to arrive is shortly after noon, so you can see it in full sunlight and return as the sun is setting.
Next time: Visiting a fishing port in Halong Bay, visiting Japanese and Chinese vestiges in HoiAn and answering the question: what’s in style on the streets of HoiAn?
Continue the adventure here