The Boat, The Bath of Ha Long BayMajestic. Limestone jutting out from the green East Sea, a mist draped over a low gray sky as our Chinese junk sails slowly towards the caverns of Ha Long Bay. So... yeah, what did you do this Thurs.?
Sure, this is a well-worn tourist path. Perhaps Ha Long is considered the Alcatraz of North Vietnam. Nevertheless, taking a boat ride along Ha Long Bay and swimming in ~80 F salt water is an amazing experience and one I can't recommend highly enough.
Some tourist notes: We went with a Handspan tour, which we recommend. One of our hotels in Hanoi was the Ngoc Minh, which is extremely nice and friendly - air con, large rooms, balconies all for only $13 USD / day and beat the other places we looked at (about 5). It's not mentioned in LonelyPlanet so I thought, hey here's some food for the Googlebot. We decided to forego hotels that advertised internet access - this usually means dial-up and there's a DSL-based Internet Cafe on nearly every block. We didn't need breakfast-serving hotels either, there are far too many other interesting places to eat.
Mai is blogging this, too. Neat. But she's a terrible writer, so bear with her spare style and stilted prose. (Ow! Why'd you pinch me?)
Some other recommendations: The homemade apple / ginger juice at the Excel cafe is great. Don't take a taxi without a meter. See the rooms in hotels before paying for them. Don't ever walk behind bus stalls. (Trust me.)
Funny stuff: Wearing my Google T-Shirt at SFO. The bag checker said, "Google, eh? Hmm, guess I'll have to search you."
Comedians take note. Your new competition works in the travel sector.