Halong Bay is three hours by car and worlds away from Hanoi. We boarded a boat with 2 other couples and an equal number of crew, received a refreshing cool washcloth and fresh squeezed tangerine juice and set sail (ok, we motored) out into Halong Bay. We raced around the roof deck snapping photos of a few of the 1669 islands that lie within the 1553 square kilometers of Halong Bay for a while, then sat down for a lunchtime feast of fresh seafood. The afternoon brought more relaxing and a kayak tour of one of the many hidden bays within the bay - this one accessible via a low arch. Once inside, the only sounds were of our lone kayak gliding through the water, and a huge horn bill of some kind that was too big for the branches he was hopping around on. We had time for a brief dip in the bay before dinner.
Any concerns over spending the night on a junk were completely unfounded - our room on the boat was more luxurious than our hotel in Hanoi. As our guest blogger pointed out, the place was full of tourist boats but it was still beautiful and we hope that as a World Heritage Site it will stay beautiful. There is a delicate balance between serving the needs of preservation while allowing people to enjoy that which is being preserved and clearly, they're still figuring it out.