Ha Long Bay (see pictures above) is a remarkably beautiful place. Enormous outcrops of limestone, known as karsks, I believe, everywhere emerge from the sea. There seem to be hundreds of them. In the three days we were on the bay, in the EcoBoat, they became our familiar companions so you almost forgot how stupendous they were. Almost.
The area is touristy, very. There are always a lot of boats on the bay, but the guys running our boat knew the waters well and were able to escape the well-worn routes. When we went kayaking we were quite alone, and similarly in the second cave we visited, though the first was a tourist hot spot. Of course, our mangrove planting took place in an annex to nowhere, with our team having trekked over a kind of mud trail to get to a coastal area at low tide. One problem with planting in the mud is that it's not wise to stand still for too long, otherwise at least one leg will sink into the mud and once it's sucked in getting free is quite a struggle.
We slept (sixteen students & two teachers) on a covered deck of the boat, on simple mattresses. It was too hot to consider any form of blankets. In the mornings we'd usually find one of the local ladies in a small boat alongside selling all sorts of snacks & drinks. We did our part to fuel the local economy. We had two primitive toilets-cum-showers to share with the crew, with a couple more taps on deck where you could also wash, so getting clean was a struggle. Having said that, everyone cooperated so we were able to make the situation work.
On two evenings we watched videos related to environmental issues - an episode of the BBC's Blue Planet about polluting the sea, and the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth. Consideration of what our species is doing to this world was more than a little depressing. I think one or two of the students also felt a bit that way. The simple hopelessness of a beach clean-up we attempted (styrofoam being the number one culprit) was a particularly poignant reminder of how we're drowning in our packaging. Still, somehow what was beautiful had survived. For now.