Extreme sports, like traveling have been a big part of my life. As a rock climbing instructor, a snowboarder and surfer, I usually travel somewhere I can practice at least one of the activities I like.
Over the years I have climbed various places around the world including Southeast Asia and Oceania. For me one of the most exciting parts of rock climbing in another country is meeting other local climbers and traveling to places that I normally wouldn't go.
I have traveled through Southeast Asia with my climbing shoes in my backpack, trying to find new places to climb. I went to the beautiful beaches of Ton Sai and Railay. I traveled north to the mountains around Chiang Mai. All of these places are well known to rock climbers around the world, and famous for the dry, hot weather, the Limestone Mountains and the beautiful scenery. There are other destinations in Southeast Asia that are lesser known for rock climbing, small towns in Laos and Vietnam with mountains and caves just ready to be explored. I found my favorite place in one of the most beautiful places on earth; Cat Ba Island in Vietnam. This place is perfect for rock climbing and over the last decade it has slowly become a popular destination for adventure travelers.
Cat Ba Island is the largest of 2000 limestone islands situated in The Gulf of Tonkin. These beautiful shaped islands rice up from the blue green ocean and form the famous Halong Bay. Halong Bay receives more than two million tourists per year. It was recently awarded with the prestigious new 7 wonders of nature and it has been on the UNESCO world heritage site list since 1994. Halong Bay is located on the northeast side of Vietnam, a three and a half hour drive outside of Hanoi.
Many years ago two American rock climbers cofounded a company called Slo Pony Adventures in the city center of Cat Ba Island. This was the first licensed rock climbing company in Vietnam. The company has been renamed Asia Outdoor, and their office is located in a nice hotel in the city center. They rent out climbing gear, teach various levels of climbing courses, and offer trips and packages that involve climbing around the area. The instructors working at Asia Outdoor are both local Vietnamese climbers as well as international. They know the places on the island very well and they are talented, nice people.
I stayed at this hotel for two weeks and tried both their courses and their trips. My favorite package was the full day boat trip. The boat would leave the harbor early in the morning, and slowly make its way out to Lan Ha Bay, a more quiet and less touristy are of Halong Bay. We had kayaks on the boat that we used to paddle into caves and onto beautiful small beaches. On these trips we would also use the kayaks to paddle towards the pillars and Deep Water Solo. Deep Water Soloing basically means climbing up from the ocean, without rope, as far up as you are able to and then jumping off the cliff into the ocean. This was so much fun!
On the boat we had a wonderful lunch with authentic, Vietnamese dishes and it was without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip. What I loved about this experience was meeting so many wonderful people from all over the world. On the boat we were always 6-10 people and we would spend the whole day together talking about out travels and listen to stories from all over the world.
Some days a group of us staying at the hotel would rent scooters and drive to a place called Butterfly Valley. Butterfly Valley is this beautiful lush, green area in the middle of the island, with a huge mountain wall perfect for rock climbing. This wall has routes for both beginners and advanced climbers and you can climb as high as 30 meters.
If you are not into rock climbing, don’t worry. Cat Ba Island has a lot to offer. There are pristine beaches around the island, perfect for relaxing, reading a book or going for a swim. I really liked the atmosphere on these beaches. Not to touristy, not to crowded. Just calm, quiet and beautiful.
If you want to be more active you can go on hiking trips in Cat Ba Islands National park. Asia Outdoor offers guided trips around the island that are well worth your time and money.
How much does this cost?
There are many hotels in the area to choose from, we payed around 70-80 kroner per night at the "climbers hotel". They also had an amazing dinner buffet for around 50 kroner per person.
The climbing trips and courses vary in price but expect somewhere between 200-300 kroner for a whole day, food and climbing gear included.
If you want to learn how to rock climb and experience one of the most beautiful places in the world at the same time, I really recommend making your way to Cat Ba Island. My plan was to stay in Halong Bay for a couple of days, and I ended up staying for two weeks.