We left Hanoi by bus to visit Halong Bay. It was only about 100 miles away, but took 4 hours because you can't travel very fast on the roads, which are shared by bicycles and many, many motor bikes.
Since tourism is so new to Vietnam, Halong Bay is just starting to be busy. There were quite a few junks on the water, and a few hotels in the town, but I can envision in a few years this will be a very popular tourism site. Halong Bay is in competition to be named by Unesco as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.
The highlight for me was a visit to a "floating village". We took a tender there, then boarded a floating platform and waited for small fishing boats to arrive. We carefully boarded the fishing boats, only 2-4 of us in each boat, and were paddled around the village by a local person.
It is a fishing village, where Vietnamese people have lived for generations - fishing and selling the fish at market. It was hard to imagine living like that- yet after the kids go away to school, many choose to return and continue their life of fishing.
As we waited on the floating platform, I was shocked to see Chinese police monitoring the process. Apparently, the Chinese have decided that the ocean to the east of Vietnam is Chinese owned - obviously a concern and ongoing threat to Vietnam.
We visited another island and a woman paddled her boat in the rain to try to sell us pearls while we were on the tender. Since my middle name is Pearl, I couldn't resist, so I bought a string of pinkish pearls for $15. About an hour later we were in our cabin packing, and she was outside our window, trying to make another sale. TanMan decided to buy some for his daughter, so once again we tried to negotiate a sale with a non-English speaking person -I think he ended up with a longer string for $25 or so.
Halong Bay was a haunting place to visit, feeling like a place from times gone by. I loved it there and loved the experience of staying on a wooden junk.
Next: back to Hanoi airport and a flight on Vietnam Airlines to Siem Reap, Cambodia.