Where was I?

On Thursday morning, we woke up to a beautiful day in HaLong. HaLong is a bay east of Hanoi that has in it more than 3000 karst islands. People live on the water in homes that have front decks and they get all of their supplies via boat. The bay is dotted by boats laden with fruits and vegetables. The children are picked up by boat to get to school. Besides being interesting, it is very beautiful. We cruised on the bay and enjoyed a delicious lunch (kosher, of course) on deck.

We returned to Hanoi in the evening in time to take a night train to Lao Cai. We divided into 4 person cabins, all men and all women… two on the bottom bunks and two on the tops. Surprisingly, the train was modern and attractive and clean. I actually was able to get a good night’s sleep and there was the added treat of getting to know three really nice women!

In the pre-dawn hours we arrived in Lao Cai and then made our way by bus to Sapa. At the hotel, we had two rooms each for men and women to shower and change and after breakfast, we were ready to start a day in Sapa. Imagine a place that is very beautiful, almost looking like Switzerland (only without the snow) and then imagine it is so covered with clouds that you can only see a bit beyond the hand in front of you. Well, in fact, that was Sapa yesterday! It was only today that we saw how beautiful it is. Yesterday we were in a dreamscape. The clouds kept wafting by and every once in a while we would get a glimpse of the landscape and then it went back into hiding. We were able to drive to a village nearby called TaVan where we walked and slipped and slid along paths through the village. The village is inhabited by members of three different minority groups and has a regional school. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a classroom and a little girl asked me in English where I was from. When I answered “Israel” she said, “Shalom Chamuda!” (“Hello Cutie” in Hebrew). I couldn’t believe it! These children are living in a poor village in Vietnam, all the way north, close to the Chinese border. They speak English and have developed a repertoire of responses to tourists in Spanish, Italian, French, and Hebrew, among others!

Today we climbed a mountain that is a nature reserve. It was lush, full of flowers. The first cherry blossoms, harbingers of spring here, were on the trees. We heard beautiful music as we walked. Unlike yesterday which was cold and cloudy, today it was sunny and warm.

Tonight I am sitting in a lovely spot in the hotel with not only free computer access, but free tea being served to us!

We are pleasantly surprised by a couple of things here in Vietnam — at least so far. All of our rooms have had huge bigger-than-king-sized beds! and I have not yet come across an Asian toilet (those of you who have been to China with me know how very nice that is). All in all, so far, so good. Tomorrow we will tour in the area and then leave on a night train to Hanoi.

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