We started with a long flight to Hanoi, the same night boarding a sleeper train to the mountains along the Chinese Border and specifically the tourist resort town of Sapa. From Sapa, half the group at a time went on an overnight trek to the mixed Dzao and Tai village of Ban Ho to homestay with a Tai family. Sapa turned it on for us with two days of fantastic weather for the trekking. A marked contrast to two months earlier, when it was only two degrees and I could barely see an arms length through the wet fog. Instead of huddling to get warm like in February, we were trekking between patches of shade and swimming in the river.
Like the dramatic change in the weather, the pace of change in Vietnam is phenomenal! Tourist numbers, construction projects, and inflation, are booming, along with almost every other measure! I read somewhere a comment, that Vietnam had changed more in the last ten years than the last one hundred. I believe it. The country is transformed from when I first visited in 1997. As a visitor it is easy to look at this pace of change negatively but the reality is not that black and white and there are tangible benefits for the majority of people in this country. A lot of visitors feel that change will ruin that which makes Vietnam special but I think the Vietnamese culture is far too strong to be eroded in this fashion.
Banging doors and laughing along the corridor is audible above the music and sound of water lapping against the hull. It's time to end this and join the others jumping off the top of the boat into the ocean. Everyone is ecstatic because we've been upgraded onto possibly the best boat in Halong Bay. Attentive staff, fantastic food and acres of space are ours for the next two nights.