Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of global tourism, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and Vietnam is riding the wave, with a plethora of options.
Climbing, caving and trekking are regarded as the most physically and mentally challenging, and therefore the most dangerous, in the adventure tourism spectrum. These hard-core options are becoming increasingly popular in Vietnam, but the industry remains largely unregulated.
There is no Vietnamese national climbing federation, even though 20 of the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s 87 member federations are in Asia.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t climb in Vietnam, says climbing expert Romain Garrigue, also known as AsiaLIFE’s photo editor. It just means you have to shoulder some of the responsibility for your own safety.
“In Vietnam it’s really easy to plan things at the last minute,” Romain says. “But when it comes to climbing and hiking, if you plan at the last minute, things could turn into a nightmare.”
Most commercial climbing trips are in Vietnam’s north: in Mai Chau in Hoa Binh Province, Vu Linh in Yen Bai Province, Quoc Oai in Hanoi’s west, Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay, and Huu Lung in Lang Son Province. Hiking and trekking tours are popular in the mountainous areas around Sapa, as well as Dalat and Vung Tau.
Romain, a certified climbing instructor with France’s Formation Cordiste, advises everyone planning a hiking or climbing trip in Vietnam adhere to the the following basic safety advice:
1: Make sure you know where you’re going when you plan your trip.
2: Check the company has some form of international certification.
Guiding and belaying staff should have internationally recognised training in climbing or guiding and, most importantly, first aid.
3: Check the weather.
Don’t just rely on your tour company to do this, check the forecast yourself, says Romain, who has been climbing for more than 20 years. “If there’s an electrical storm, it’s not a great idea to be up high with lots of metal on your body,” he says, adding that outdoor climbing can also be especially dangerous in the rainy season.
4: Never climb alone.
This is basic safety advice for any form of adventure activity, from ocean swimming to climbing.
5: Tell someone where you’re going, even if it’s an organised trip. “Even it’s just sending a text to a friend, saying `hey I’m going here, if I’m not back by 6pm, let someone know’.”
6: Carefully check all equipment.
Even if you’re not an expert, you should be able to spot any areas that look worn or rusty. Get your gear double-checked by the climbing support staff.
“Even if you think you’re a super-climber, if you haven’t done it for a while you might forget something,” Romain says.
7: Make sure you can communicate with your guides.
Guides can have varying levels of English, so make sure you can understand them well enough in case there’s an emergency.
8: Don’t mix alcohol and adventure.
You need to be alert and aware when you’re climbing and hiking, so setting out with a hangover isn’t a good idea. Also, wait until the adventure is over and everyone is back safely before you celebrate with a beer.
Romain’s list of essential equipment
Sunscreen – Mosquito repellant – Insurance – Mobile phone – Photocopy of your passport (this means you can be easily identified in the event of an accident) – Water – Pocket knife – Torch/flashlight – Swterproof bag – Appropriate clothing – Basic first aid kit, containing: Steri-Strips – Bandages – Antiseptic – Cotton swabs – Medical tape – Painkillers.