Why Go: "We've been kayaking Ha Long Bay for 13 years," says John "Caveman" Gray, who pioneered commercial sea kayaking in Vietnam in 1992. "And most of the places we visit remain as untouched today as when we discovered them." Jagged and tide-sculpted, more than a thousand karst islands rise up from Ha Long Bay like bizarre guard towers. Gray's trips focus on 137-square-mile (354-square-kilometer) Cat Ba Island, exploring deep caves and hidden phongs (lagoons) by day and retreating to a Chinese junk (a three-masted sailing ship) to sleep. You'll also search for the rare Cat Ba langur in the interior of Cat Ba National Park, kayak-surf tidal white water in Needle Cave, and, after a week in the salt air, head north to the jungle of Ba Be National Park to meet the Dzao, Tay, and Hmong tribes.
Need to Know: Gray's Vietnam adventures begin in Hanoi, a teeming, picturesque city worth an extra day of exploring. Your best bet? Rise with the sun to join a local tai chi session on Hoan Kiem Lake, then hire a cyclo and head into the stall-packed streets of the Old Quarter, where everything from the latest Blackberry to a dan day (a handmade Vietnamese lute) is for sale.
Outfitter: John Gray's SeaCanoe (www.johngray-seacanoe.com)
Perks: Physical challenge, cultural immersion, wild encounters
Photograph by John "Caveman" Gray
Pick up the October 2005 issue for more great adventure travel ideas!