Vietnam & Cambodia this August!!

We are very excited about our upcoming tour of Vietnam and Cambodia. Traveling to this magnificent part of the world is a treat to the senses from the beautiful sights to the lovely music and the amazing landscapes. All this and kosher too!!!

You can find our itinerary here

and read about the tour here and here

Vietnam and Cambodia are photographers’ paradises. I am including just a few more photos, but I could have easily added another 50. Please come and join us on this fantastic tour!

My email is

Inside the grounds of the Temple of Literature

Traffic in downtown Hanoi

Walking beside rice terraces in the north

Girls talking in the market

It’s a small, small world

In April of 2009 I published a blog entry about TaVan, Vietnam. The blog entry is located here. You can find TaVan on this map

SaPa map

SaPa map

You can see the railroad tracks that come from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then you can follow the road southwest to SaPa. South of SaPa is the village of TaVan.
In the blog post, I wrote about a young girl who I had met in the village who surprisingly greeted me in Hebrew! Living as far away as she does, in a small village in the mountains of north Vietnam, I imagined that she would always be nameless to me.

Well, last night I received an email from someone in SaPa who gave me her name and email! Looking at the village, one might be surprised that anyone there has email. But actually, it shouldn’t have surprised me because the children of TaVan were very impressive and it was clear that the adults charged with educating them were doing an excellent job.

So hello to Tu and to her classmates and friends and warm wishes to all of them!

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 12


Yes, folks, we are back for our next adventure, but first let’s carry on with this one and then I will tell you about the next one.

We drove through the Hai Van Pass, a very impressive ride when the weather is clear. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and foggy, so all we saw was the condensation on our windows and the fog in front of the bus which made us gasp from time to time.

By the time we got to Hue, it was already time for me to go to the restaurant to supervise dinner. My husband went on with the group to the Perfume River and the Thien Mu Pagoda, both of them very lovely.

The kitchen staff was wonderful, anxious to please. Of course, having no common language offered a bit of a challenge, but how could I become frustrated when they took me to the special room they had set up for us with Israeli flags on the tables?

So, I watched carefully and as usual, checked every item that was used in the preparation of the food. One man sat for over an hour sculpting carrots and this was the result:

Artistry in food

Artistry in food

When served at the table, it looked like this:

Pineapple, carrot, and garlic creation

Pineapple, carrot, and garlic creation

The next morning, the light rain continued and we took a walk through the wet and slippery, but very beautiful Forbidden City in Hue, dated from 1804. The city is reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty Forbidden City in Beijing, China, but the architecture is more delicate and understated. Here is one of the gates:

A gate in the Forbidden City, Hue

A gate in the Forbidden City, Hue

We walked through gardens and saw beautiful buildings.

The Forbidden City, Hue

The Forbidden City, Hue

The Forbidden City, Hue

The Forbidden City, Hue

And then before we knew it, we were on our way to the big, bustling city of Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Next stop: The Mekong Delta as you never imagined it.


Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 5

For what happened previously go here

It is Thursday night. Hanoi. A porter laden with suitcases and boxes arrives at the door of the train and as my travelers settle into their cabins, two at a time, he delivers three large and two small suitcases to my cabin. In addition, there is my coat, my backpack, and a couple of plastic bags that somehow accumulated in my hands. It took some time to put everything either up on the bed opposite me, on either side of the table between the beds, or under the bed opposite mine.

Once people were settled in and the train began to move, I am able to heave a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I am off duty until about 4:30 a.m. at which time I am to wake people in anticipation of our arrival in Lao Cai.

The train was clean and attractive and the train ride lulled me to sleep. Although I had set my alarm, one of the workers on the train came by to wake us before the alarm went off.

In a few minutes, everyone was up and moving.

The train stopped and I was the last off of our car with all of the suitcases etc. We walked along the length of the train, looking into the cars as we passed. Some had flower arrangements on the tables between the beds. One had lotus-shaped lamps. Some had six beds per cabin and not four. We finally emerged from the station to a dark parking lot in which were two mini-buses that had come for us and our luggage. My husband went with about half the travelers and our local guide who had come with us from Hanoi and held our train tickets in one of them and I got into the other with the rest of the travelers. As we began to pull out of the parking lot, one of the travelers said, “Where is my money belt?” In a second or two it became clear that it was not on the bus with us. I called to the bus driver to stop the bus, which he did. He and the others remained on the bus and I went with the traveler back to the station.

Lao Cai, 5 a.m.

Lao Cai, 5 a.m.

The station was dark. I did not have the tickets, hence no proof we had been on the train nor proof as to which cars we had occupied. In addition, I do not speak Vietnamese. At all. Fortunately, Lao Cai is the last stop of the train, so it was still in the station.

We walked past an office where there were several uniformed men. In one of my winning charades gestures, I gestured that the man’s money (rub finger tips with thumb) belt (point around waist) was on the train (point to the train.)

Apparently they understood me and a couple of the men walked with us to the train. We started down the length of it. It must have had twenty cars or more. We started at car number twenty and walked looking into the now darkened train. Fortunately, I had a sense of the variations in the cars and when I saw the car with the lotus-shaped lamps, I knew we were not too far. We finally reached two cars that were identical just as ours were, cars 5 and 6. I hadn’t realized that one of the men had a cell phone with him. To make sure, I gave him the number of our local guide’s cell phone. He called her and I asked her what number cars we had been in. She told us and we were right. Only one problem— the train was locked.

I think that Vietnamese people are truly kind because they did not want to give up. Apparently the same person who built the mini-hotel with only one key per room and no pass key had designed the train system in such a way that when all of the cars are locked, no one at the station has a key. Our heroes did what was necessary.

No, they did not saw through the wall of the train. They stood at the side of the door and put all of their weight on it and pushed and pushed, each time getting the door wider and wider open. It must have opened by just a couple of degrees and then one of the men was able to slip in. He went to the cabin that had been occupied by my traveler and he brought the money belt to the door. Aha, but he couldn’t get out. He had squeezed into something that was angled in, but getting out, he was confronting the edge of the door. Another, slimmer man then squeezed himself in. He then pushed the first man out and then he himself came out. My traveler was thrilled to receive the money belt. The Vietnamese were very happy to point from one to the other as to who deserved the reward money. In all, I think around $60 were distributed and all of us left the train very happy.

Those waiting on the bus were also happy and we quickly proceeded onward to SaPa.

The weather in the north of Vietnam, just at the China border, is cold in the winter and although the heat was on in the bus, the driver’s open window was blowing an unpleasant breeze into the bus. After a while I asked him to roll up the window. Once again, my ignorance of Vietnamese was all too frustrating. He thought I asked him to stop the bus.

As I looked outside at the landscape just a short time after dawn, I saw about 5 little pigs by the side of the road. I asked “would anyone want to photograph piglets?” A few people got out of the bus, took some photos and then returned to the bus. He started the bus and off we went.

Piglets along the road

Piglets along the road

But it was still cold.

This time I put held my hands on the opposite upper arms and made a shivering motion. He closed his window. We were warming up and on our way to SaPa. The rain began to fall.

Uh Oh… Our itinerary called for us to walk through one of the local minority villages this morning. They get awfully muddy. But there was still check-in and breakfast and cholent to get started. My worries about that could wait for an hour or two.

At last we arrived at the hotel.

Chau Long Hotel, SaPa

Chau Long Hotel, SaPa

Next time: What we did about the new hotel rules on using our plata (hotplate) and how “Slip sliding away” is a great song, but not the way one would want to describe a walk through a village.

To continue the adventure go here

Fireworks in Hanoi

The last time I visited Hanoi, we had come back from a side trip to Halong Bay, a most magnificent place that I will post about in the future. We spent the day touring the Temple of Literature, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum area, seeing the homes he lived in and the One Pillar Pagoda. After a cyclo ride around the old town,

Two cyclos in Hanoi

Two cyclos in Hanoi

we transported our people to a small hotel to have a chance for a shower and change of clothes before dinner and the overnight train to Lao Cai. After everyone was settled in their rooms or decided to take walks, I stayed in the lobby to get the address of the restaurant where we were to eat that night. I was then to take all of our equipment (pots, woks, cooking implements, knives, cutting boards, dishes, silverware, etc.) to the restaurant and work on the cooking of dinner.

As I stood in the lobby, all of a sudden, I saw a flash of sparks. It was already getting dark and it looked like nothing so much as fireworks. I looked to see where it was coming from. It was coming from the top of a utility pole down the block from the hotel. It was sparking like a giant cake decoration sparkler. I turned to the desk clerk and said, “Maybe you ought to call the electric company.” She just stood there. I said to my English speaking Vietnamese guide (we always have a local English speaking guide with us), “Perhaps she didn’t understand; the electric pole is sparking (everyone could see that– people in the street had stopped to watch) and if someone doesn’t come, it could make all of the power in the area go out.” He went to the desk clerk and she again did nothing.

By then, it was time for me to go to the restaurant, about a fifteen minute drive away. My guide stayed to load people onto the bus and bring them later to the restaurant.

The people at the restaurant were lovely and cooperative, something that we found to be true of every place we prepared food in Vietnam and Cambodia. They had the fresh fruits and vegetables waiting for me and the whole fish ready for my inspection. Although it was a busy kitchen, they set aside an adequate area covered with tinfoil for preparation of our food completely separate from the other food that was being prepared that evening.

When our people arrived about an hour later, they came with their story of an adventure: they had just gotten to the lobby and were about to leave when all of the lights went out– in the hotel, in the shops nearby, in the streets. Fortunately, they just proceeded to the bus, but they left the entire neighborhood in the dark.

Just outside of SaPa

When we travel to Vietnam, one of the highlights of the trip is our visit to SaPa. We leave from Hanoi in the evening and take a sleeper train north to Lao Cai. Lao Cai is not far from the border with China and as we make our way from Lao Cai to SaPa, the landscape is magnificent. There are majestic mountains and many of them are terraced to grow rice.

Rice is produced in several areas of Vietnam. There are two main river deltas: the Red River Delta and the Mekong Delta. Both of these have fertile soil in which rice is grown. In fact, one way of conceptualizing Vietnam is as one of those poles with buckets on both sides. In the northeast, the rice bucket is the Red River Delta and in the south, it is the Mekong Delta. However, in addition to those two regions, rice is also grown in the mountainous areas of the north. As in China, the terraces are carved into the mountains as if by artists. These terraces are planted by hand and then flooded with water until the rice is sufficiently mature to be picked. In Vietnam, as in China, rice production is not yet mechanized.

Here is one picture:

Rice Terraces near SaPa

Rice Terraces near SaPa

This picture was taken in the morning as the valley was filled with sun. On this tour, we had two groups traveling together, mine, an English speaking group and Rita’s, a French speaking group. In this picture you see me and Rita– what she lacks in height, she more than makes up for in personality and warmth!

Rita and Rona near SaPa

Rita and Rona near SaPa

Coming up: Some pictures from villages of minority groups in the SaPa area.

Pin It on Pinterest