The Ha Long Bay region of Vietnam, a sweep of water from which approximately 1,600 limestone karst islands soar, lies in the Gulf of Tonkin just off Vietnam’s northern coastline and is part of the UNESCO world natural heritage. These craggy islands boast a stunning mix of rock blanketed in jungle and steep, exposed faces. Although not all of these walls contain solid rock, there is an overwhelming abundance of magnificent climbable faces. Many of the walls that rise directly from the water are ideal for Deep Water Solo (DWS). Other faces stand over uninhabited sandy beaches, making for a unique and isolated sport climbing paradise. Cat Ba Island also boasts some amazing limestone cliffs to behold and experience.
There are more than 120 sport climbing routes on 13 crags, from 4a to 8a on Cat Ba Island and the beaches of Ha Long Bay. More than 230 deep water solo lines on 24 cliffs, from 4a to 7c+ wait for you in the bay, all in a day trip distance from Cat Ba Town. If you are an independent climber you can explore the crags of the main island Cat Ba on your own, you just need an access pass from Asia Outdoors (see below why) and a motorbike or bicycle. To explore the sport climbing potential of the bay you will need a basketboat with driver and the access passes for the beaches. Both can be easily organised at the Asia Outdoors shop.
If you are interested in DWS the easiest option is to join one of the Asia Outdoors DWS day trips. Going on your own or with an unlicensed basket boat driver can be potentially dangerous. First of all it is not so easy to find the right crags and secondly you cannot start climbing out of the water, since there is a notch at the base of the cliffs: you'll need a boat. Thirdly, you need intimate knowledge of the cliffs to avoid climbing at too low a tide or hitting one of the underwater rocks. If you are a group of experienced climbers Asia Outdoors will be happy to organise taylor made DWS trips for you.
The first climbers to visit Ha Long Bay came in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Americans Lynn Hill, Todd Skinner, Scott Milton, Paul Piana, Greg Child, and Frenchman Arnaud Petit, among others, led climbing expeditions to Vietnam and the Ha Long Bay region, bolting some of the area’s first known sport routes. Greg Child and Andy Parkin established early traditional multi-pitch lines in the bay, documented in the BBC’s The Face, Episode 2. British climbers such as Neil Gresham, Tim Emmett, Seb Grieve, Grant Farquhar, and Chris Lindner also visited, establishing sport and DWS routes. Tim Emmett and Klem Loskot are featured climbing at some of the locations presented in the guidebook in Big Up Productions’ Dosage Vol III, and Chris Lindner is featured in The Players.
Thanks to these pioneers, climbing in Vietnam and Ha Long Bay is growing fast in terms of development and popularity in the eyes of international climbers. Vietnam has since become a popular and inexpensive destination for travellers exploring and experiencing Southeast Asia through sport climbing and DWS.
Getting to Cat Ba from Hanoi is quite easy and usually takes about five hours. You actually don't need to go to Ha Long City if you are mainly interested in climbing. Check www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn for up to date information.
The easiest way to climb in Ha Long Bay is by staying on the southern main island of Cat Ba. In Cat Ba Town there is a wide selection of Hotels from which to choose and good touristic infrastructure. From there you can easily reach the crags on the island and in the bay. Also, Asia Outdoors is located in Cat Ba Town (on the waterfront in front of the big orange arch, second floor of the Noble House restaurant), there you can get the access passes for individual climbing or join one of their climbing trips. If you are with a group of friends and want to live the ultimate Ha Long Bay climbing experience you should rent a junk boat for a few days and take a tour through the bay. Imagine spending as much time as you want on the crags, even the ones farther away, and passing the night in a secluded cove.
When To Go
There are two main factors to consider when planning a climbing trip to Ha Long Bay. First you should know, that the temperatures vary significantly in the course of a year. The winter months are ideal for sport climbing, when the temperatures are cool (15-20 degrees celcius) and there is only moderate precipitation (5-25 mm a month). The downside of the winter are the unfavourable tides, which make DWS less enjoyable and only occasionally possible. A tide of over 2 meters is necessary to safely DWS in the bay and there are much more days with high tide during the daytime in the summer than in the winter.The downside of the summer months is that the weather is very hot and humid and there is a higher percentage of rainy days. While moderate rain is not a problem for DWS, since most cliffs are overhanging, but it obviously lessens the Ha Long Bay experience.
The ideal time to have fun on Ha Long Bay's DWS and sport climbing cliffs are the spring (April - May) and autumn months (September - November). The weather is generally good and there are generally over 15 days a month where you can DWS. It is recommended to send an email to Asia Outdoors to inquire about the current tides and to time your trip accordingly.
External LinksThe local climbing go-to: www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn
Guidebook excerpt: https://issuu.com/degiorgiluca/docs/halongbay-excerpt
Amazon.com link (Also available on Amazon EU and UK): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1523861959/ref=cm_sw_su_dp
Youtube video of dws “Streak of Lightning - 7c+”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U12qM5PZOy8