TaVan, Vietnam- once again

I previously wrote about TaVan, Vietnam, here. After the story I wrote in 2009, I received a letter commenting on that posting. I wrote about it here

The correspondence with Eddie about Tu, pictured below

led to a friendship, albeit over the internet, with Eddie, who has a homestay home, Lucky Daisy, in TaVan, near SaPa, Vietnam. He also has a delightful coffee house, Buffalo House, in the village of TaVan where he and his beautiful wife provide coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and the warmest, friendliest experience you can imagine.

I stopped there with my group a couple of weeks ago and although Eddie was away, his sweet wife, Hien was a most gracious hostess who offered me a very special surprise…

Tu today

Tu, all grown up, and her precious baby!

Getting ready for China

Although I am currently getting ready for China, I am having the experience I always do when I am getting ready for any of the tours I guide- whether to China, to Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand, or to Ecuador/Galapagos/Peru. There are about a million pieces of data: information, equipment, communication with providers of services, scheduling, purchasing, packing, communicating with the travelers- that swirling around in my head simultaneously. At this point in the preparations, I am unable to think a full thought or make a complete sentence because there is a conference going on in my brain at which the pros and cons of all sorts of things are being discussed: what sights should we add? what food should be bring along? what written materials shall we distribute? how do we get people to meet at the initial gathering of the group as they arrive on 7 different flights on two different days? In discussing these things with my husband, I find myself starting in the middle of a thought and am sometimes so wrapped up in what I am thinking that a solution he offers, no matter how logical and obvious it should have been to me, is something I hadn’t even thought of. Sometimes I wonder why I do this.

Then I remember: I love traveling. I long to see China again. And mostly, I love seeing my travelers being amazed, sometimes astounded, by the sights I show them. For two weeks, my husband and I work harder than one can imagine, day and night, but for two weeks, we are able to provide one incredible experience after another for our people- the sights, the entertainment, the experience of being with a group of people who are there to see and to enjoy something totally new.

So as I prepare, I also remind myself that in under two weeks, a wonderful adventure begins!

Two of our travelers enjoying the Great Wall of China

Famous in Vietnam

Have you ever wondered how my blog posts would sound in Vietnamese?  Me neither.  But you can find out by looking at these two links.


The writer of course asked permission to use my pictures and posts and he sent along this note:

These links include funny and amazing pictures that you took in Vietnam. Thank you very much for your help. I feel really grateful 🙂
Nice weekend for nice couple 🙂 I hope to see you in Lao Cai city one day. Please contact me if you have that plan
Thu Thao

Gate in Forbidden City-- Hue, Vietnam


Coming attractions…

You can read a little about out recent tour to Vietnam and Cambodia here. Once I catch my breath, I will be writing a bit more about the tour and also about our own personal trip to Bangkok. Stay tuned for some awesome pictures, one of which answers a very important fashion question.

Until then, how about some pictures of one of my favorite sights, a rice field! This one is in the village of Pho, not far from Bac Ha.

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 drsavta@gmail.com

Inside the grounds of the Temple of Literature

Traffic in downtown Hanoi

Walking beside rice terraces in the north

Girls talking in the market

Ah, Vietnam

I love traveling. One of my favorite places is Vietnam. I know that I have written in detail about one of our tours, but there is so much more to say. One of the things that makes traveling particularly pleasurable is the learning aspect. Different cultures really are different. The culture of Vietnam is very special. It has all of the modesty and beauty of the Orient combined with French influence. Vietnam has lived through difficult times, but the people are amazingly resilient. And, there are surprises around every corner.

For example, in the lobby of our hotel we saw a lovely arrangement of flowers. It was only as I looked a little more carefully that I saw that among the flowers there were cabbages!

Centerpiece in lobby at Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Leaving the hotel that morning, we came upon the following scene.

Some people thought that we were seeing a parade. There were people in white uniforms who were playing music and there was what looked like a float at the front.

But people were fascinated when we told them that what we were seeing was a funeral. A dignified funeral in Vietnam consists of a parade with music, mourners often wearing cheesecloth over their clothes or faces walking along the route, and an intricately decorated hearse.

We were on our way to the Mekong delta. On the way we stopped at a rest stop. There we encountered another surprise- a beautiful garden.

This garden was not adjacent to the rest stop. It was the rest stop. There were outdoor pavilions where people can eat and a beautiful, elegant shop with reasonable prices as well as clean bathrooms (Western style.)

The garden with a pavilion in the background

Our visit to the Mekong Delta was very lovely. We ended the visit with a delightful boat ride back to our bus.

This is the life!

Where do *you* go?

Many years ago, in faraway lands (the US and Germany), I taught childbirth preparation classes. They consisted of anatomy and physiology and the basics of the birth process and becoming new parents. Most of the time was spent on giving my students techniques for reducing the pain of labor. I was eclectic in my approach and took techniques from several different theories as well as devising some of my own.

One aspect of pain reduction is relaxation and I copied from a book, perhaps Husband Coached Childbirth, an exercise that I read to the couples (yes, I had the husbands relaxing too) while they relaxed on the mats on the floor. It contained images that would help a person focus on another place and experience to distract them from some of the tension in their body.

I am long past the childbirth stage. I have, however, used many of the techniques over the years for uncomfortable medical and dental procedures. Sometimes, I use the images to simply reduce tension. Sometimes I use them just to make me happy.

So here are just some of the places I go– in no particular order:

1. A Chinese garden. Once of my favorites is the “Good Luck” Garden in Hangzhou, China. Not only is it lush and green and with some of the trees decorated with red ribbons, but it contains lovely sculptures and has beautiful Chinese music playing in the background. It’s a first class stress-reliever.

Good Luck Garden

Good Luck Garden

Liu Hai and the Golden Toad

Looking through a doorway

2. Bamboo raft ride on the Martha Brae in Jamaica. Sorry, this was in the days before digital photography! You’ll have to picture nearly still water with trees of all sorts on both banks of the river forming almost a canopy over us and lush vegetation everywhere. Except for the sounds of the birds, and the gentle poling of the gentleman taking us on this ride, there was silence. A fine mist contributed to making the experience magical.

3. Halong Bay in Vietnam. It is beautiful– breathtaking, actually.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

4. The Rice Terraces at YuanYang, China. They are majestic. There’s something very clean and pure about the fresh stalks of rice, planted in rows, sculptured into the landscape.

Rice Terraces

Rice Terraces

5. Austria, just south of Salzburg. It’s just beautiful. I love the snow-capped mountains and this really isn’t a painting. It’s a picture I took myself in the month of May.

So tell me, where do you go??

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 15


After a wonderful shabbat, our group was ready to discover the wonders of the Saigon night market. Now I am sure that in a city the size of Saigon, there are probably tens of markets, but this one just happened to be about 3 blocks from our hotel, across Le Loi Street from Chabad, a very convenient location. It consisted mostly of clothing, shoes, luggage, handbags, and jewelry. The prices were very good.

The night market

The night market

After buying a sufficient number of items, we had to buy a suitcase to put them in… Actually, that really isn’t the truth. We had bought a very cheap suitcase a couple of years ago and by this point on the trip the luggage handlers had pretty much destroyed it, so it was time to get a new suitcase and the one we found was large and not so heavy and seemed practical. However, it does seem to me that you can’t really leave this market without buying a serious amount of stuff, if only T-shirts for souvenirs.

In the morning, after a good night’s sleep and breakfast in the roof garden, bright and early, we made our way through the traffic and the rubber plantations to Cu Chi. Cu Chi is where the Viet Cong had constructed an entire city under the ground. They were able to live there undetected by constructing a series of tunnels at three levels, by directing their cooking smoke through enough conduits that by the time it emerged, it was barely detectable, and by constructing entrances that were invisible to all but those who had placed them there. They had entrances from under the river and through tiny holes in the ground that were completely covered up most of the time.

The opening, in time of war completely covered by leaves

The opening, in time of war completely covered by leaves

The soldier emerges

The soldier emerges

We were treated to a tour of the Viet Cong’s instruments of torture and death. They certainly were innovative. There were any number of traps where if a soldier was caught, he would pray for death. It did eventually come because they made sure that the stinging edges of their spikes were also able to infect or poison the soldiers. Of course, when asked, the Vietnamese will all tell you that the war is over and this is another time and there is no reason for any bad feelings.

What was a bit disconcerting was that from time to time we would hear shots fired. There is a rifle range adjoining the area we were touring. It made for some not so pleasant authenticity.

We made our way from Cu Chi to an amazing place. How can I describe it? Well, perhaps only through pictures. In the 1920s a new relgion was founded called Cao Dai. Here is some information about it. Their main temple in Tay Ninh is quite impressive both outside and inside.

Cao Dai Temple, Tay Ninh, Vietnam

Cao Dai Temple, Tay Ninh, Vietnam

The religion attempts to unite all religions and to emphasize kindness toward people and toward the world. High priests are strict vegetarians, and all adherents must follow a moral code.

Inside the temple

Inside the temple

During the service which includes chanting, playing of bells and gongs and the people prostrating themselves, visitors are asked to watch from the balcony. Wearing shoes in the temple is forbidden and so a large pile of sport shoes and crocs waited for us after the service.

During the service

During the service

Since Cao Dai incorporates several religions, there are priests representing each of the three major contributing religions, they are dressed in red- for Christianity, blue- for Taoism, and yellow- for Buddhism.

Here is another photo of the worship at the Cao Dai Temple.

Worshipers at the Cao Dai Temple

Worshipers at the Cao Dai Temple

Next: What is Angkor Wat? and why is it special? and what is Angkor Thom? and aren’t all Cambodian temples alike? Find out the surprising answers next time…


Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 14


When we returned from the Mekong Delta, we had enough time to get ourselves ready for a relaxing shabbat. What a delight to be wth Rabbi and Mrs. Hartman at Chabad for services and shabbat dinner! It was wonderful seeing that there is a community developing among people who had until recently been isolated. We enjoyed eating and singing and hearing stories about life in Vietnam. Shabbat morning too was enjoyable.

When we returned to the hotel, we put on comfortable shoes and headed out to see some of the sights. First we walked to the post office (fortunately, on a previous tour, we done this excursion during the week, so I have photos)

Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City

Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City

The post office is, of course, from the period that the French were in Vietnam, and so the architecture is European. In fact, the French reproduced the Notre Dame Cathedral just across the street.

Notre Dame, HCMC

Notre Dame, HCMC

We then walked on to the Palace of Reunification. This had been the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam when Vietnam was divided. Inside, now, there are reception rooms and the building is used for ceremonial purposes. However, they have retained the furnishings and equipment that were used in the Palace during the war, including the war maps and communications equipment.

The Palace is very impressive.

The Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Here is the former presidential office

Former presidential office

Former presidential office

Here are some reception rooms. All are decorated in exquisite taste.

Reception room

Reception room

Reception room

Reception room

After our lovely walk, we returned to the hotel to change (those who wanted to) because it was already time to go back to Chabad for Mincha and Seuda Shlishit!

After a wonderful shabbat, we made havdalah and bade farewell to Chabad and went back to the hotel to get our money because Saturday night was just made for shopping!

Next: Come along with us to the Saigon night market, learn how the Viet Cong defeated the US Army, and see for yourself a most colorful and interesting religious group and their Disneyland-like Temple!


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