I dithered around trying to decide if Halong Bay was too touristy, if i should go to other islands, if I should take a trip (aka booze cruise) with the hostel or go it alone. In the end I booked a trip with a company called ethnic travel which was perfect. Halong bay is so beautiful and I was travelling with some lovely people; English teachers in South Korea and a couple on a retirement gap year as well as a french family doing a round the world trip with their 5 and 10 year olds and three Aussie uni students. Our guide, Sunny was a little eccentric, loved a story about romance and giggled manically when recounting any Vietnamese history where they won battles over oppressors. We cruised around Halong bay for a few hours and then stopped at a beautiful bay between some of the 2000 limestone karsts that make up the area. Cue kayaking. One of the Aussie students had the dubious pleasure of sharing a kayak with me. After a few beers that evening he told me unequivocally that I was rubbish. It's to be expected, I have no upper body strength. We slept on the boat, stars above, the karsts of halong bay surrounding us. So peaceful and beautiful. I woke up at 6am to see the sun rise from the window of my cabin. La dolce vita. Day two and we kayaked ( poor Aussie bloke had to endure me again) to some caves where I spent most of the time scrambling around on my bum in a giant life saving jacket. Nothing but class. We then sailed to the Bai Tu Long islands North of halong bay. There are no tourists here and the sand is so pristine and white, they export it to other beaches around the world. We cycled to a deserted beach and then made our way to a tiny village where we stayed with a Vietnamese family. It was a pretty cool experience and I got the vibe that Ethnic Travel works hard to make sure the family are happy. On the way back I chatted to the french kids and played cards. You'll be pleased to hear I didn't hold back and beat a 5 year old. Sad side to the trip was the crazy pollution in halong bay. There was so much rubbish in the sea it was depressing. It must come from the tourist boats but I struggle to believe many tourists would throw rubbish directly into the water? Perhaps from the boats' crew? Who knows, but it's a unesco heritage site and frankly they need to pick their game up. Off to Hue on the sleeper train in a couple of hours. 14 hours on a miniscule bunk. Wish me luck!