Trip Report
A Mixed Bag From The North Of Vietnam

by fgw
Tuesday January 15, 2019 2:17pm
A two week trip to the north of Vietnam with about 50% of that spent on climbing. I think that many climbers think of Vietnam as a deep water solo and sport climbing destination. We find neither of those that interesting (too scared, too weak) and prefer some longer routes that ideally top out on some summits. While not really long, we did manage to find information on a handful of multi-pitch climbs there many of which to our surprise were trad and, fortunately for us, were not too hard. We visited two climbing venues: the famous (& pretty touristy) Ha Long Bay and the less famous (& totally un-touristy) Huu Lung Valley located some 2.5 hrs drive north of Hanoi. Given our tight timeline and the lack of Vietnamese language skills, we prearranged local “fixers” to smooth out the logistics for us in both places: a Kiwi named Andrew and a Ukrainian girl named Lena (both probably spoke like 10 words of Vietnamese between them – which was still 8 more than we had at our disposal). Still, things worked smoothly and we got to do what we had planned. Like most of SE Asia, Vietnam is a place to pursue our other interests as well: eating and drinking. Lots of beer and some happy water kept our minds supple and able to absorb all the sightseeing we did during the remaining half of the trip. For more pics, video clips, and voluminous bullsh#t, you can check out our site at

Let’s party. Actually, did not get sick despite not holding back on pretty much anything:

Welcome to Hanoi:

By the following afternoon we were in Cat Ba Town:

Welcome to Ha Long Bay and its numerous floating settlements:

The arduous approach to some climbing on day one:

Random views:

Shuttling over from the junk boat to the tower. Mr. Chu Bien was our basket boat driver for the 5 days on the island. He’s well familiar with the climbs and the climbers coming through:

And there she is. Our first objective called Hon Dua which I think is Vietnamese for “not long for this world”:

Shirley belaying me from the boat. This was only possible in calm seas:

It’s a one pitch route but on a pretty sweet looking tower. French 5c and trad which, dollar per dollar, always seems a little more exciting to me on limestone:

Shirley topping out on the summit which is composed of razor sharp fins of limestone:

Rapping back to the boat:

What’s next?

In the afternoon we climbed the classic (& bolted) Screw Loose route. Shirley belaying me from the boat again:

A giant stalactite:

Pitch 2 crux. Photo by our fixer Andrew taken from the boat below:

Views from the route:

Shirley topping out on the 4th and final pitch:

Rapping back to the boat. Name of the game was to not dunk the ropes. But we’d have other games later on too, like boat-assisted rope pull for example. And they’d get dunked plenty.

Back in town:

Next day it was a long and choppy ride in Chu Bien’s basket boat. Came close to tossing breakfast:


First objective for day two was this ~85 meter tall Big Ben Tower and its 4 pitch trad line (up the bushy corner, just right of overhanging face):

Choppy seas & no more boat belays. Instead it was a well timed jump over to the rock followed by a quick departure of the boat:

Shirley on pitch 1. Photo by boat-side Andrew:

Sport climbing Ha Long Bay. We got some inaccurate beta. It mentioned scary wide unless you brought some 5s and 6s (which we did – couldn’t even find a place to unload them for Shirley to carry them up):

Same pitch:

Chu Bien and Andrew waiting for us below:

Razor-like. After dissecting my knee, I learned to respect the sharp:

Summit views were pretty cool:

After some happy water (& lunch) we moved over to a formation called The Black Slab to climb its 2 pitch crack line. Easy but very nice. Establishing a foot hold on the slab in some heavy chop:

And it’s on (with the boat safely away):

Shirley on pitch 1:

Leading the very aesthetic pitch 2:



Chu Bien kicking back on the boat:

And so the days went. A ride to a climb:

First pitch (spelunking) on Chu Bien Tower:

From the waterline up via the cave and out through a window:

A nice 3-pitch tower route:

Look, a concrete boat:

A floating settlement. Their happy water had this corrugated iron and diesel finish to it (not saying it’s a bad thing):

A happy puppy on the island:

A stick insect:

Our final climb in the Bay was a 2 pitch thing on a prow called Tiger’s Corner:

A nice line:

Views from pitch 1 belay:

Back to the boat:

Then we left Cat Ba and after one evening in Hanoi:

Drove 2.5 hrs north to a place called Huu Lung Valley. Farms and no tourists – outsiders are still very much a novelty item:

Did some long-ish jungle hike on day one:

But the goal was a route advertised as Vietnam’s longest (as of 2018); 105 meters and 5 pitches of tightly bolted sport climbing. Leading pitch 1:

We got up it but it was far from clean (sustained 6c with bursts of harder climbing required):

Views were nice though:

And that was it climbing-wise. We did everything that interested us and that we could get up. Rest of the time was spent on some touristy sightseeing (and eating).
Back to Hanoi to catch an overnight sleeper train to Sa Pa next to the Chinese border:

Rice paddies:

And wildlife around Sa Pa:

Black Hmong wedding party:

We did a 16km hike with an overnighter in a farmer’s house:

And a visit to a weekly village market the following day.

Where I managed to get a great haircut for 2 USD:

After that we went back to Hanoi & flew down to Da Nang to check out Hoi An just to the south. Pretty nice but very touristy and rainy (we were not complaining as we had perfect weather for the climbing parts of the trip):

Most of the interesting fruits were out of season. Got some scraps of mangosteen:

And some dried up durian – not great:

A farmer showing off his puppy:

Lots of eating – but that’s really 50% of the reason of going to SE Asia for us:

Went to check out Hue for a day:

Finished off the trip with a full day scooter tour of Hanoi. If you really want to get in there and literally taste that city (smog and all), this is the way to do it. Took me two weeks to cough up all the smog particles. Long Bien Bridge:

Our scooter guide Andy about to leave the tea party for some 5-10 minutes:


Old Quarter:

Remnants of the downed B52:

And then it was time go home.

The end.

  Trip Report Views: 1,412
About the Author
fgw is a trad climber from portland, or.

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Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jan 15, 2019 - 02:27pm PT
Nice! Thanks for putting all of that effort into your tr.

  Jan 15, 2019 - 02:57pm PT
Wow! Thank you for the effort to share y’all’s trip.

Mountain climber
Redmond, Oregon
  Jan 16, 2019 - 03:06pm PT
Great!!! My climbing partner speaks fluent Vietnamese...I should go there with him some day.

Jingus Newroutaineer
  Jan 15, 2019 - 03:05pm PT

okay, whatever

  Jan 15, 2019 - 03:35pm PT
Thanks... very interesting!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Jan 15, 2019 - 03:54pm PT
Fun report! Thanks for taking the time to post both prose & photos. It was much appreciated.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Jan 15, 2019 - 04:03pm PT
Thanks for the great trip report. I really liked the combination of climbing and sightseeing with so many photos too.

  Jan 15, 2019 - 04:07pm PT


Trad climber
  Jan 15, 2019 - 04:50pm PT
Congrats on a good trip. Places are always better with good food. Best food I ever had was in Laos.

A long way from where I started
  Jan 15, 2019 - 04:57pm PT
A really great TR. Thanks for showing us more than just the climbing.
Timid TopRope

Social climber
the land of Pale Ale
  Jan 15, 2019 - 05:08pm PT
Amazing and spellbound come to mind. Thanks for taking the time to share this. I can almost feel that limestone, smell the good and bad air and taste that food. Me wanna.


Social climber
portland, oregon
  Jan 15, 2019 - 05:26pm PT
thank you. glad u had a good time.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jan 15, 2019 - 07:43pm PT
Thank you! That has awesome beta, beautiful photos, beautiful climbing photos, foodie-content, stoke: effing good TR.

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Jan 15, 2019 - 08:39pm PT
"Magical" is the first word that popped into my head seeing photos of those climbing environs. Overall looks like a spectacular vacation. Thanks for sharing.

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Jan 15, 2019 - 08:42pm PT
Thanks so much!

A fascinating place . . . what are those guys smoking in those beautiful bongs?

  Jan 15, 2019 - 10:01pm PT
You are going to run out world soon Radek and Shirley!!
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:20am PT
Wow...great TR!

Delhi Dog

Good Question...
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:23am PT
Having spent time in that area your TR brought back some great memories. Thanks for the share!

Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:37am PT
Thanks for that fine TR. A little different perspective than my experience there 1968-70.

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:43am PT
Great read. Thanks for posting.

Sport climber
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:48am PT

An excellent TR, leaving a feeling of having been there...
Jim Clipper

  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:51am PT
Great photography! Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Nor Cal
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:58am PT
Amazing!! Do you have any idea what the salinity of the water is around there?

Mountain climber
Anchorage, AK
  Jan 16, 2019 - 09:59am PT

Thanks for the trip report

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Jan 16, 2019 - 10:03am PT
Wow! What an amazing adventure. Thanks for all the effort put into the TR.

portland, or
Author's Reply  Jan 16, 2019 - 10:39am PT
Thanks for kind words guys.

I think it’s just tobacco in the big bongs but must be pretty potent as our youthful scooter guide passed out for a minute or two after a nice big hit.

Sorry not sure about salinity but didn’t taste too far off from the home brew (OR coast). the food was good.

Sport climber
Vacaville, CA
  Jan 16, 2019 - 12:30pm PT
Awesome! I'll be there in 2 months :)

Trad climber
  Jan 16, 2019 - 12:40pm PT
I have been following along on for along time. Thanks for letting me virtually tag along on your adventures.

Trad climber
  Jan 16, 2019 - 01:17pm PT
Wow what a trip , climbing looks awesome, bong looks like fun , water looks great how are the people and how's the food
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Jan 16, 2019 - 01:49pm PT
Bump this thing for some genuine climbing content--and general awesomeness. Thanks for putting this together. Looked like a great time.

Sredni Vashtar

Social climber
  Jan 16, 2019 - 01:54pm PT
Looks beautiful! once the sprog is older, i think Vietnam is a must
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jan 16, 2019 - 05:59pm PT
Looks like a great way to experience another culture,
Thank you for your contribution
This made my day!

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 16, 2019 - 10:50pm PT
I would like to get back there someday now that a few decades have passed since the war...
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
  Jan 17, 2019 - 04:58am PT
Thanks for posting, amazing on so many levels - appreciate it.
Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Jan 17, 2019 - 06:14am PT
That is just a spectacular tr, thanks for sharing your photos and adventure. It never ceases to amaze me just how razor sharp weathered limestone can be.
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
  Jan 17, 2019 - 07:02am PT
Excellent TR. Here in redding ca. looking at another long day of cold rain i am trying to recall the good reason my wife and i are here and not thailand

Social climber
Butterfly Town
  Jan 17, 2019 - 10:54am PT
Fabulous TR!!! Beautiful location and photos! Great weather!!

Lisa and I spent 6 weeks in Viet Nam and Cambodia in Jan. and Feb. of 2016. I took lots of pictures, but I just don't get around to writing stuff up. Here are 4 pix of our trip to Ha Long Bay.

Kayaking from the larger boat where we stayed.
Kayaking from the larger boat where we stayed.
Credit: BooDawg

Sea caves accessible only from kayaks.
Sea caves accessible only from kayaks.
Credit: BooDawg

Very lovely and calm cruising...
Very lovely and calm cruising...
Credit: BooDawg

Secluded Beaches...
Secluded Beaches...
Credit: BooDawg

Had the weather been as nice as these folks found it, we'd have enjoyed it even more. Plus with all the misty rain, my camera froze up. Fortunately, there was someone in Hanoi who actually FIXES cameras! We still talk about going back...

portland, or
Author's Reply  Jan 17, 2019 - 08:55am PT
Thanks again guys!

Touque – all the interactions with people were great. Surprising on one or two occasions but in a positive way. If you’re thinking about our shared history, the older generation folks are likely too polite to bring up the war and the younger people tend to look towards the future and not the past (or just don’t care very much). Food was excellent though less excellent in Ha Long Bay (geared too much to the presumed tourist tastes?).

BooDawg – yeah, most of the photos of the Bay that we saw on the web showed weather similar to what you’re showing. Unlike many other times, we got very lucky this time I think.

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Jan 17, 2019 - 11:01am PT
Thank you, great report, question, I love ocean swimming, I was wondering about the cleanliness and safety of the waters there for swimming

Social climber
Butterfly Town
  Jan 17, 2019 - 11:06am PT
If you look closely at or into some of the "huts" on the floating villages, you'll find that their raw sewage goes untreated into the water. Sanitary?

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jan 17, 2019 - 12:21pm PT
I don't know, this seems more like an unmixed bag of pure awesome.

Oakland, CA
  Jan 17, 2019 - 03:56pm PT
Really loved this. Those sea towers are mesmerizing. I wonder how deep the bay is, how far those tower bases go down to seafloor?

I'm imagining what those blades of limestone could do to my knee, or rope, or jugular - that's climbing with real stakes.

fgw: a person who doesn't often post, but when he does, we're all in for something special. first came on my radar with this photo, which still slips into my daydreams all these years later:

Some of us fancy ourselves obscurists when we climb something not in the Reid guide. fgw and partner take obscurity several dimensions further! This TR was an all-time obscurity wonder:

Thanks as always for sharing, and cheers to you fgw!

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
  Jan 17, 2019 - 05:36pm PT
I remember that TR! A real adventurer who inspired me enough to think a trip to the Lena Pillars in Yakutsk might not be as outlandish as it seems at first blush...

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Jan 18, 2019 - 02:38pm PT
Very cool!
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