Just back from third visit and loved it more than ever. Hanoi felt like home...we had no problems at all in the whole two weeks. Arrived in Hanoi for a couple of days and pleased to see its charm hasn't diminished at all since 2009. Spent 3 days on Halong Bay expecting to see rubbish everywhere and hundreds of boats. Saw very little rubbish, and once out of the port we were almost alone. Dragons Pearl was everything we needed.
After Halong, we took the night train down to Dong Hoi for three nights at the Phong Nha Farmstay which was superb in every way. The Paradise Cave is spectacular and we loved cycling in the local villages despite being called " fat westerners" a lot and being chased by schoolchildren into the paddy fields!
Then took another night train to Ninh Binh and managed to get up to Mua Cave despite boiling heat and 500 steps. The view was worth every painful step. We hired mopeds with riders for the day courtesy of the Ngoc Anh hotel (which was excellent) and had many laughs going through flooded roads and back lanes.
Last 4 days we headed back to Hanoi and soaked up the vibrancy in the Old Quarter. We booked everything independently and apart from the usual minor incidents everything was trouble free. We were never hassled, ripped off or made to feel anything other than welcome. Thanks to everyone for their advice and information on the forum. Beautiful country, beautiful people, we will see you again soon xxEdited: 23 September 2012, 18:07