Climbing in Vietnam: A Journey through South East Asia

Vietnam was a major stop on our trip in South East Asia and somewhere we had looked forward to visiting for a long time. It certainly didn’t disappoint, we loved the country and Hữu Lũng is a very strong contender for our favourite climbing area of the entire trip. We began our time in Vietnam by crossing the border from Cambodia at Mộc Bài and made the long and interesting journey all the way up to the north with the excellent train line, enjoying a few stops along the way. While we didn’t climb in the south, we really enjoyed experiencing the different culture and landscape on our way north, Vietnam is a country of great contrast. During our month in Vietnam we had a genuinely great time, not only was the climbing superb, the places, people and history were equally good and it was a definite highlight in every sense.

Large limestone mogotes, covered in white limestone cliffs and green vegetation rising up steeply from the flat flooded rice fields. There are many of them rising up in the distance. They are also in the reflection of the rectangular flooded rice fields.
Surreal beauty in Hữu Lũng

Guidebooks for Climbing in Vietnam

‘Vietnam Climbing’ by Luca De Giorgio & Gavi Piper is the only comprehensive guidebook for the climbing in Vietnam. This builds upon ‘Ha Long Bay Climbing (2016)’ by Luca De Giorgio and Asia Outdoors as well as Erik Ferjentsik’s ‘Vietnam: a Climber’s Guide’. The latest guide was published in November 2018 and covers pretty much everything you would want to know about climbing in Vietnam as a visitor.

Grey and white limestone cliff rising out of the water. In front of the cliff is a classic Vietnamese fishing boat common in Lan Ha Bay with a person at the back in a traditional Vietnamese conical hat and waterproof clothes. There is a Vietnamese red flag with a yellow star flying at the front of the boat.
A fishing boat next to some beautiful rock in Lan Ha Bay

As we wanted to look at the climbing areas before arriving in Vietnam (you can’t buy the book in Cambodia), we purchased the Vertical Life subscription (€4.99 / month) which gives you access to a digitalised version of the ‘Vietnam Climbing’ guidebook. This covers Cát Bà island (including deep water soloing), Hữu Lũng, Quoc Oai and Mai Chau. The guidebook is really good, the topos are high quality and the descriptions are accurate and easy to use. We noticed that the Vertical Life version was updated after we left, with a few new sectors for Hữu Lũng added on. It is incredibly useful to have the guide updated like this, particularly for expanding areas like Hữu Lũng.

Limestone mogotes covered in lush vegetation rising from the completely flat, green rice paddies forming a valley in the Hữu Lũng area. The mist sits in the valley floor and in the background are more cliffs.
Amazing views from Núi Thánh Gióng in Hữu Lũng

theCrag also contained a lot of information and some topos. The ‘Vietnam Climbing’ guide is definitely a better resource than theCrag. However, theCrag has some good detail about areas not in the guide, like the granite bouldering at Suoi Da, close to Ho Chi Minh City. Whilst we didn’t visit this particular area (mostly due to weather), the information on The Crag is up to date and really useful for helping to plan your trip.

Weather and Climbing season in Vietnam

Vietnam is a big country, spanning 1,650 km from the most northernly point to the most southernly point, with two distinct climate zones. The southern half of the country is tropical, with the typical hot, humid and wet weather of the region. The northern half of Vietnam is sub tropical and the weather is very notably different. When we were in Ho Chi Minh City the skies were clear, the sun baking down and ambient temperatures were 35°, which would make pretty tough climbing conditions. However, in Hanoi it was overcast and slightly breezy with an ambient temperature of 15°.

Steep limestone cliff overlooking a valley comprising of limestone mogote cliffs. A small paved road cuts through the rice fields on the valley floor.
The secluded valley home to the Arch sector, Hữu Lũng

This weather difference, along with the distribution of the majority of the crags, meant we decided to stick to sightseeing in southern and central Vietnam, and focus all of our climbing efforts in the north. Because of this, we will only discuss the climbing seasons in northern Vietnam in more detail.

The north has two main seasons, but can be characterised as having four vague seasons. May to August is the hottest and wettest period. March to April and September to November are the spring/autumn like periods. They aren’t strongly defined, but generally have dry and sunny weather. These are the most popular months for tourists to visit.

Three wooden houses built upon blue barrels floating in Lan Ha Bay. In front of each house is a fish farm built from wood with nets into the sea. On the closest house is a dog guarding its territory. Behind the houses there are the famous limestone cliffs which rise up from the water.
The school run for children of the Cái Bèo floating village

The coldest period is from late November until early March, the weather is normally cloudy, foggy and dry, with the average temperature generally under 20°. We did experience some wet weather, but this isn’t typical. December, January and February are the best months for climbers, and also have the great advantage of being some of the quietest months of the year for tourists. We spent a month in Vietnam spilt between January and February and it seemed like a perfect time to visit, even for the DWS water temperatures.

Climber free falling into the sea after deep water soloing on white limestone cliff
In flight

Climbing Recommendations

Cát Bà

Cát Bà is quite famous in Vietnam as a popular place to visit for both domestic and international tourists. However, unlike Krabi in Thailand, the climbing season in Cát Bà doesn’t coincide with the tourist season, so the island is likely to be very quiet if you visit in the cooler months of the year. As well as being on the doorstep of the renowned Hạ Long Bay, Cát Bà is one of the oldest and most popular sport climbing areas in Vietnam. In this section we’ll discuss the sport climbing on Cát Bà, we will talk about the deep water soloing further down.

Wooden bridge lined with Vietnamese five colour religious flags. The bridge over the water leads to a temple out of sight.
The bridge to the Thien Quoc Mother Ha Gia Luan Temple on Cát Bà

Butterfly Valley

Butterfly valley is probably the best crag on Cát Bà, with a combination of quality, quantity and location making it the premier venue of choice for most climbers. Butterfly valley has 66 routes, from 5 to 8a+. The rock quality is generally very high and the routes often have technical and sequencey moves atypical of the classic South East Asian limestone style. We found the routes here quite memorable, with some awesome sections of climbing that really made the crag stick out above the rest on Cát Bà. Although it is split into several sectors, butterfly valley is essentially one continuous wall and it is in the shade during the afternoon.

Climber pinching a tufa on the grey limestone wall at Butterfly Valley, Cát Bà.
The tricky crux of ‘Obama 101’, 7a

Fisher Valley

Fisher valley is another popular crag, close to Butterfly as the crow flies, but it is actually about 9km away in practice. Fisher valley has 22 routes from 5 to 7c+ and it isn’t as good quality as Butterfly. The best routes at fisher are some really long and absorbing routes in the high 6s to low 7s, they feel like a real trip, although the rock isn’t the nicest in area. Fisher gets the shade during the morning, so is a good companion to Butterfly Valley if you want a big day out always in the shade. A visit is definitely worthwhile if you’re on Cát Bà for a while, but if you’re time scarce then there are better crags on the island.

Sunset turning the skying an orange colour at a reservoir at Fisher Valley. Behind the reservoir is the cliff of Fisher Valley and some tree covered hills which have a reflection on the water.
Fisher Valley at sunset

Buddha Cave

Buddha cave is one of the coolest and most surprising sectors on Cát Bà. The guidebook undersells Buddha cave and we weren’t expecting much when we went. As it turned out, the routes were great and also have the benefit of being rainproof & shaded. The rock is quite interesting, it doesn’t look solid but is actually quite compact. The routes often have bouldery cruxes and are memorable beyond their size. Buddha cave has 8 routes from 5 to 7a+, a 7a and 7a+ route are the standout lines of the crag. The only real flaw we found with Buddha cave was that there were only 8 routes, if it was a bigger sector it would easily be one of the best on Cát Bà.

Climber flighting gravity through the steep white limestone of Buddha Cave. The cave is dripping with large tufas.
Making a strenuous clip on ‘Chó Cái For Life’, 7a

Hidden Valley

Hidden valley is one of the biggest crags on Cát Bà, and probably has the nicest and most peaceful location of all the crags on the island. Hidden valley feels like it was once much more popular than it is now. While the routes at Butterfly valley were clean and well chalked, that wasn’t the case at Hidden valley. Some of the bolts are old and rusty, however they are being gradually replaced with glue ins. The rock at Hidden valley is heavily featured, and there is a lot here for climbers in the lower grades. In total there are 33 routes from 5 to 7b.

Climber on a steep but short limestone route  at Hidden Valley.
The desperately bouldery ‘Power & Good Vibes’, 7b

Ben Beo

Ben Beo is an interesting crag, in a pretty unique location in a harbour, overlooking the start of Lan Ha bay and some nearby floating fishing villages. The area is a bustling hive of activity, with the crag sitting there in amongst it all. Ben Beo is actually one of the hardest crags on Cát Bà, with 7 routes from 6c+ to 7c+. While it might be good for pulling hard, it isn’t the place to go for peace and solitude.

On the water looking towards the harbour which is filled with docked boats. There are some large buildings and a grey black limestone crag which has some climbing routes on.
Ben Beo crag and harbour

Deep Water Soloing

The deep water soloing (DWS) in Vietnam is world class, combining the quality, quantity and stunning location that few places can match. The DWS is in the world famous Hạ Long Bay, which is arbitrarily split between 2 provinces, meaning you may technically be in Lan Ha Bay. The two provinces dispute who the islands in these bays belong to, and as such you can’t cross from one to the other by boat. Instead you must leave from and stay within one province, which is a bit irritating, but not too restrictive. Cát Bà sits on the side of Lan Ha Bay, and the majority of DWS and sport routes in the bay are on the Lan Ha side, so this is the obvious choice to base yourself on the island of Cát Bà. Climbing aside, Lan Ha is known for being less busy and has smaller tourist boats, whereas as Hạ Long has large cruise ships and more visitors. You could of course visit both, but I’d be very surprised if anyone runs out of rock to climb in Lan Ha and Cát Bà!

Climber using a long span to reach a hold while deep water soloing above the water near Cát Bà.
Awesome climbing on ‘Could Be Good’, 6b+, at Tung Thit

The rock is absolutely stunning, the most beautiful karst limestone with all sorts of amazing tufas, pillars, arches and caves. There is a great variety of difficulties on offer, with everything from easy graded low height problems to massive exposed routes in the high 7s. The crags are massively spread out and cover a huge area, you could climb 10 minutes from the harbour or hours away where very few people venture. We were climbing in February, with overcast and cool weather, and enjoyed those conditions. A few people thought it would be too cold, but that is only by South East Asian standards! We were just thankful to not be sweating or worrying about sunburn.

Climber traversing along a cliff, deep water soloing above the water near Cát Bà. In the background there are many limestone cliffs which stand alone rising up from the sea
The wonderfully scenic ‘Three Brothers Traverse’, 5c, at the eponymous sector

To make the most of the climbing you’ll need to use a company with a boat, local knowledge and experience. Currently, Cát Bà Climbing are the best providers in the area. The staff are super friendly and know loads about the DWS and sport routes in the area. Importantly for us, they are also very flexible and willing to tailor trips to suit your needs. During our time in the area there were almost no other climbers around, and none that had an interest in DWS trips. Trips often run with non-climbers who are just experiencing the sport for the first time and want a fun day out. This isn’t what we had in mind, so we were delighted that Cát Bà Climbing were happy to run a private DWS trip for us, so we could go to sectors we wanted to visit and at grades we wanted to climb. It was a brilliant day out, we did loads of climbing and our arms were totally wasted by the end of the day.

If you’re planning a climbing trip to Vietnam and want to do some DWS, it is really worth trying to schedule your time in Cát Bà/Lan Ha around the tide times. The bay has a complex tidal system which results in only one high tide per day, and a big variation in water levels between high and low tides. Couple this with the relatively shallow water depth at many crags and you could easily miss out if your timing is unlucky. This almost happened to us but we got lucky, if we had gone a bit earlier high side would have been in the middle of the night! You can monitor the tide times here.

Climber venturing upwards deep water soloing above the water in Lan Ha Bay, Cát Bà near Ha Long Bay.
Fantastic climbing on ‘Mint Sauce’, 6c, at Tung Thit

Hữu Lũng

Hữu Lũng is about 115km North East of Hanoi, with Hữu Lũng itself being the name of a small rural district within the larger province of Lạng Sơn. Hữu Lũng can comfortably claim to be the best sport climbing area in Vietnam, as well as a good rival to many areas across South East Asia. Hữu Lũng is a relatively new area, with bolting commencing in 2012 and continuing to this day. For us, Hữu Lũng was the complete package, a beautiful climbing area with great routes, in an authentic and non touristic part of Vietnam. Hữu Lũng doesn’t seem to receive many international climbers, especially when single day visits are discounted. This is hard to fathom, as the area has some of the most impressive rock and scenery of anywhere on our trip in the region.

Person on a motorbike driving on the small track on the banks of the fields of corn. Behind are the tall limestone cliffs which form a valley near the VietClimb Woofstuck Homestay.
The stunning crag commute (The Woofstuck Homestay and crag are on the left)

The weather during our week in Hữu Lũng was quite unfortunate, we got several hours of heavy rain a day for at least 5 days and the low cloud prevented routes from drying. However, despite the conditions, we always managed to find dry rock to climb and it didn’t overly affect our trip. Sectors like L’ile Noire were unfortunately out for our whole trip, but the majority of other crags would usually have something dry to climb. Of course, the steepness of the wall is a major factor in how dry it stays, but we also found the amount of vegetation at the top of the crag made a big difference. Núi Thánh Gióng is a fairly steep crag that was very wet, due to water run off from the vegetation above. Whereas Passe-Muraille received very little run off comparatively, and was mostly dry.

Tall limestone mogotes rising vertically upwards behind the fields of corn in Hữu Lũng
A farmer working in the fields of Hữu Lũng

Head Wall

Head Wall was the first sector developed in Hữu Lũng and is probably the best known of all the crags here. Head wall is a great crag with superb quality rock and particularly excels for climbers in the lower grades. There are 22 routes at Head wall from 5c to 7a+, and 13 of those routes are 6b or below. That wouldn’t be noteworthy as standard, but at Head wall these routes are generally just as good quality as the harder routes and offer great tufa climbing with good bolting. Slightly up and left of Head wall is Chuc Suc Khoe wall, which has the longest multi pitch in Hữu Lũng. Unfortunately, it was soaking wet, as were the routes on the peripheries of head wall. The routes in the centre stayed dry and were generally always climbable, but the rock can become intensely greasy after bad weather, so visit this crag first if you’re expecting rain.

Climber on white limestone rock at Head Wall, Hữu Lũng. The weather is misty
Enjoying every moment of the superb ‘War and Peace’, 6c

Squirrel Wall

Squirrel Wall is a short distance away from Head Wall, with a selection of 6 routes from 6a to 8a. Although Squirrel wall is a more minor venue in Hữu Lũng, the quality is just as high as all the other crags. It is crazy to have so many of these beautiful crags of superb rock all so close to each other, with really short approaches. The amount of other crags, higher up or harder to get to, that haven’t yet been climbed on, really show how amazing an area this is and it will surely become very significant to climbers in South East Asia.

Big mogotes covered in limestone cliffs and vegetation forming a small valley behind the flat, green fields.
A view of the beautiful Squirrel Wall (left)


Passe-Muraille is an absolutely fantastic crag on pretty much every level. It is set in a peaceful and secluded valley with great views, it has a 2 min walk in from the motorbike track, the routes are all over 30 meters long and climb on perfect rock. Passe-Muraille has an impressive climbing style, the routes often start on grey limestone full of huecos, which aren’t as juggy as they look. The moves are devious and technical, before transitioning onto beautiful tufas with pumpy endurance climbing and finishing on water worn pockets and runnels. To have all these factors align, and knowing you’ll likely be the only people there, make Passe-Muraille a rare find and a true gem. The only real downside is that there are only 11 routes, from 6b+ to 7a+, we just wish there were more!

Climber silhouetted on the grey cloudy sky climbing on the grey limestone rock at Passe-Muraille, Hữu Lũng. The rock is interesting with large huecos cutting into the hard rock.
Chalking up before the crux of ‘Gallantry’, 6c


Woofstuck is a big imposing crag in a beautiful secluded valley and less than 50 meters from the crag is the Woofstuck Homestay. We spent our week in Hữu Lũng here and enjoyed it immensely. The homestay has traditional stilt houses built from bamboo, with a clean and modern toilet block with hot showers. Amazingly, despite all the mountains, it even has fast wifi. The hosts are very friendly and cook truly delicious food in very generous portions, it felt like a banquet every day. You can rent motorbikes from Woofstuck and it is the perfect place to be based, peaceful, authentic and surrounded by amazing climbing.

Núi Thánh Gióng

Núi Thánh Gióng is one of the latest additions to Hữu Lũng, being developed in 2021. As with all the crags in the area, it’s an impressive wall in a beautiful location. Núi Thánh Gióng is quite well hidden, both in a secluded valley and disguised by a hill which is home to a few cableways used by the local farmers. There are 22 routes from 5c to 7b and many of them are really long, around 35 meters. We visited Núi Thánh Gióng but didn’t climb any of the routes as they were all wet after heavy rain. It seems the crag receives a lot of water run off from above and takes at least a day or two to dry. We still had a good look at the routes, they look great and of the same high standard as all the other crags in Hữu Lũng.

Wet limestone cliff in a narrow, lush green valley
A beautiful (and soggy) Núi Thánh Gióng

La Conche

La Conche is another of Hữu Lũngs classic crags, being among the first developed here. There are 12 routes at La Conche, mostly around 25 meters long and on really nice rock with lots of cool tufas. The grades range from 6a to 7b, although we must say they felt tough for the grade here! La Conche is set at the back of some rice paddies with a beautiful view of the surrounding area, a lovely place to climb with quick and easy access. A short motorbike ride away is Dragon wall, a big crag with 22 routes from 5a to 7c. Either crag could be a back up option for the other, depending on the needs of the day. The 4km between these two sectors means they can easily be combined in the same day.

Climber heel hooking on a tufa on a steep overhanging grey and yellow limestone wall. Behind the climber is an interesting jellyfish like tufa dripping from the wall.
The surprisingly testing crux of ‘La Méduse’, 6b+

The Arch

The Arch is somewhat of a backwater sector in Hữu Lũng, you get the impression that not many people climb there and that you may be the first ones there for several months. However, it is hard to understand why, the arch is a striking feature and the rock is great quality. The approach is quite long and is quite interesting in its own right, you walk alongside cableways before taking a steep, faint footpath through a custard apple orchard. The farmers harvesting fruit all the way up there must be pretty fit and really have to work for their money. Arriving at the arch is a really impressive moment, it’s such an under appreciated crag in a beautiful location. There are currently just 4 routes, and one open project, but don’t let this deter you. The routes are full value, around 30 meters long and with bags of exposure, even just one would be worth the walk. The rock is naturally very smooth and frictionless, but this isn’t a problem, given the arch gets a breeze and a lot of shade it makes for a very pleasant climbing style, which is also kind on the skin.

Rest Day Activities

Visit a Temple

Religion in Vietnam is something of a melting pot compared to the likes of Laos or Cambodia. In Vietnam many people follow a combination of 3 different religions: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. This is referred to as Tam giáo which means the 3 teachings. Depending on where you are or which temple you visit, the predominant religious symbolism can vary widely. An example of a temple we visited was the Jade Emperor Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. The pagoda is predominantly a Taoist temple, however it also contains several Buddhist elements. The pagoda was built by a man called Luu Minh, who was a follower of Tam giáo. He dedicated the pagoda to the Jade Emperor, who is a Taoist God believed to be the supreme ruler of heaven, earth and the land of the dead. Temples like this are extremely interesting to visit. Worshippers have an incredible knowledge of the deities and symbolism within the temple and complete different rituals in various parts of the temple, each for separate reasons.

Two women with medical masks and yellow t-shirts are pouring oil onto burning candles in a religious ceremony. Behind them is a wooden statue of the Jade Emperor and his guardians. Around them are red burning candles and yellow candles with Chinese writing on them.
Inside the Jade Emperor Pagoda during Tết

As well as the Tam giáo, there are other religions in Vietnam that are rather unique. The most famous one is Cao Daism, a religion started in the city of Tây Ninh, not far from Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam. Cao Daism was started in the 1920s and is a monotheistic religion that represents god as an eye in the centre of a triangle. Cao Daism contains many elements of other religions, and has a highly unusual variety of saints. Some saints of Cao Daism include: Jesus, Muhammad, Joan of Arc and Victor Hugo! The religion has roughly 2.5 million followers, mostly in southern Vietnam. The largest and most impressive Cao Dai temple is in Tây Ninh, although there are many smaller temples around, including some in Ho Chi Minh City. If you find Vietnamese religions interesting, or want something relevant to read on a long journey, look into Hòa Hảo Buddhism.

Hạ long/Lan Ha Boat Trip

If you don’t get lucky with the tides for DWS, or if you just want a relaxed rest day with some beautiful views, a boat trip in either Hạ long or Lan Ha bay is definitely worth it. An 8 hour boat trip, with an hour kayaking, a visit to a floating fishing village and lunch generally costs around €‎20 per person which is exceptional value. At this price you will be in a group, usually of around 30 people. It won’t be the most authentic day out you ever have in Vietnam, but the bays are so vast and beautiful it really is worth doing. As we mentioned in the DWS section, Lan Ha is the quieter bay with smaller boats, which made the decision easy for us. We actually passed a few of the DWS and sport crags on the day so we had a good look and got very psyched to return with some rock shoes. Once we’d seen the rock in the bay with our own eyes, it would have been inconceivable to leave without climbing there!

Historical Sites & Museums

There are lots of great museums and historical sites to visit while you are in Vietnam, and they are spread across the country so you will never be far from something interesting to do. We found the quality, scale and cost of the museum’s in Vietnam were really good. You would often get lots of information and things to see for a very affordable price. In Ho Chi Minh City we visited the War Remnants Museum, which lays bare the harsh reality of the Vietnam war. The museum gets some bad reviews from Americans, who think the museum is one sided. However, everything there is factually correct. No matter how it is presented, the US use of agent orange will always be indefensible. Likewise, the My Lai massacre is an example of the worst of humanity. US soldiers killed over 500 innocent people, including pregnant women and children, and carried out numerous rapes. The museum doesn’t cover the massacre of thousands of Vietnamese people at Huế, at the hands of the Viet Cong, which may make it biased, but doesn’t diminish or change the reality of My Lai.

An board from the War Remnants museum. It says:
" "The United States bears responsibilitv for the use of force in Viet Nam, and has, therefore, committed against that country a crime of aggression, a crime against peace... In subjecting the civilian populations and civilian targets of the D.R.V.N. to an intense and systematic bombardment, the U.S.A has committed a crime of war. These is on the part of the U.S. armed forces utilization or testing of weapons prohibited by the laws of war (C.B.U's, napalm, phosphorus bombs, combat gases, toxic chemicals).
The prisoners of war captured by the U.S. armed forces are subjected to treatments prohibited by the laws of war.
The U.S. armed forces subject the civilian populations to inhuman treatments prohibited by international law.
The U.S. government is guilty of genocide vis-à-vis the Vietnamese people".

(Conclusions of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal - Stockholm session, May 2-10, 1967 and Copenhagen session, November 20 - December 1, 1967)."
An excerpt from the War Remnants Museum

A museum with an entirely different story is the Hỏa Lò Prison Relic, known to most as the Hanoi Hilton. Hỏa Lò is an old prison built by French colonists who used it to imprison, torture and execute Vietnamese revolutionaries. The first half of the museum shows the brutality of French rule, right down to the guillotine they used to execute prisoners. The second half of the museum is where things get a bit skewed. The use of Hỏa Lò for housing US POWs is well known, as well as the infamous Hanoi Hilton Moniker. The museum portrays the scene of the Americans chilling out, cooking, playing chess and smoking. In reality many were severely tortured and kept in appalling conditions. It is unfair that this isn’t represented in the museum, as it clearly happened and is just another example of the horrors of war. Whilst the actions of the US army was wrong, so is torturing prisoners. The War Remnants Museum covers the truth, although with a heavy focus on US crimes, whereas Hỏa Lò gives a distorted version of what happened. We definitely thought Hỏa Lò was worth a visit, but it wasn’t as good or informative as the War Remnants Museum.

The large brutalist style mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. In front are guards dressed in a white uniform and a large flag of Vietnam flying. Behind the building are some modern skyscrapers of Hanoi.
Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Hanoi is also a popular place to visit

Huế is one of the most significant cities in Vietnam, and was actually the capital from 1802-1945. Huế is perfectly situated for a stop off when travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, especially by train. As a city, Huế is significant in its own right, as well as key location duration the Vietnam war. One of the most interesting things to visit in Huế is the Citadel, which was ruled by the Nguyen dynasty. The city is a vast walled citadel, comprising of original, destroyed and reconstructed buildings. The style and decor is beautiful, and the city is a great place to learn about what life under dynastic rule was like. We thought Huế was a really nice place, the city itself and the surrounding areas are charming and there is a lot to see, much of it compact and less chaotic than in Vietnams bigger cities.

Ornately decorated front of a building located in the Citadel of Huế. It has Chinese writing above the entrance and down the pillars.
The stunning Thái Bình Lâu (Royal Reading Pavilion) inside the Forbidden Purple City of the Huế Citadel

Learn Some History

To give a general overview of the modern history of Vietnam we have written a brief summary, in layman’s terms, of the period from the Second World War until the end of the Vietnam war. Remember this is just a climbing blog, and this is solely to give an outline of some key facts you will learn more about on your visit.

Vietnam has a long and very interesting history, but for most people the first thing that comes to mind is the Vietnam war. Vietnam had endured decades of French colonisation, until 1940 when the Japanese took control of the country during their WWII annexation of most of South East Asia. When Japan was defeated in 1945, the French attempted to regain control and backed Emperor Bao Dai. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh took control of Hanoi and Northern Vietnam, while Bao and the French had control of Saigon and the south. Vietnam was split along the 17th parallel in 1954, after the Viet Minh’s victory in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. With the country divided, the stage for years of war was set.

In 1955 Ngo Dinh Diem seized power from Emperor Bao and became the leader of southern Vietnam. With the French gone, Ngo Dinh Diem was the president of the anti-communist and western leaning south, backed by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Over the following years there was strong suppression of Viet Minh supporters in the south, with thousands tortured and executed. There was a fight back, and in 1960 the National Liberation Front (NLF) was formed as a resistance cause against Ngo Dinh Diems rule. By 1962, 9,000 US troops had accumulated in Southern Vietnam. Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother were assassinated in 1963, shortly before US President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Texas. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson, who increased military support for South Vietnam.

Old equipment and old furniture from the Vietnam War era in a wooden clad room in the bunker of the reunification palace in Ho Cho Minh City.
Old equipment in the The Reunification Palace of HCMC, used by the US and South Vietnamese before being captured by the North in 1975

In 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin incident took place, with several confrontations between rival forces resulting in the Northern Vietnamese firing at the USS Maddox on the 2nd of August. This event actually happened, however the US claimed there was a further attack on the 4th of August that never took place. The 4th of August attack was used to justify retaliation, and was ultimately the trigger for war. The US began bombing Northern Vietnam, and in 1965 sent combat troops into battle. The war raged on, despite protests against it in the US. On the 31st January 1968 the Northern Vietnamese launched the Tết offensive, with coordinated attacks on 100’s of towns and cities, catching the US completely off guard, not long after this Richard Nixon was elected president.

Nixon created a policy called ‘Vietnamization’ which would rely less on US ground troops and more on aerial bombardment and using Southern Vietnamese soldiers to fight on the ground. Then came the My Lai massacre, where US troops killed over 500 unarmed civilians in the village of My Lai. This led to the largest anti war protests in US history, with over 250,000 people on the streets, calling for withdrawal. Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, leaving behind a strong legacy in Northern Vietnam. In January 1973 the US and North Vietnam signed a peace agreement, and in March of the same year the final US troops left Vietnam, bringing 8 years of US involvement in the war to an end. With the US gone, war continued between the North and South and in 1975 Saigon fell to the North, and was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honour of their fallen leader. Vietnam was unified in 1976, but various conflicts rumbled on for a further 15 years, with over 40 years of war and conflict taking a heavy toll on the nation.


Phở is almost certainly Vietnam’s most famous dish and you wont have to look hard to find it when you’re there. The essence of Phở is the broth, which is made with beef bones, meat, charred onion & ginger along with other herbs and spices. The broth takes many hours to make, and once it is ready the dish is quick to assemble. The noodles are added to a bowl along with raw thinly sliced beef. The hot broth is poured over, cooking the beef and noodles sufficiently in the process. Depending on which part of Vietnam you are in, the Phở will vary. For example, adding bean sprouts and Thai basil is common in southern Vietnam. You can also get chicken Phở, which is just as delicious. Phở is traditionally a breakfast dish, so morning is the best time to enjoy a bowl.

Bún Chả is a delicious dish that consists of pork meatballs and rice Vermicelli noodles. The meatballs have a gorgeous marinade that gives them a caramelised flavour, Bún chả also comes with a dipping sauce that is perfect for spicing up the noodles. Bún chả is a traditional dish of northern Vietnam and cities like Hanoi are the perfect place to eat authentic Bún chả.

Cà Phê Trứng is known to most foreigners as Vietnamese egg coffee, and is a great little treat to enjoy in Vietnam. Cà phê trứng originated in Hanoi and was created due to the scarcity of milk. The delightful foam is made by beating egg yolks, condensed milk and sugar together. This is served on top of strong black coffee which has the bitterness to contrast the sweet foam. It is a marvellous creation that feels like a cappuccino meets tiramisu, drink and dessert all in one! Vietnam grows and consumes a lot of coffee, and there are lots of delicious drinks to give you a caffeine fix. If you are in Huế, make sure to try cà phê muối, a local salted coffee speciality.

Two cups with foamy egg cream on top with a design from the coffee on top.
Cà phê trứng, a superb treat

Gỏi Cuốn are fresh spring rolls, wrapped in rice paper that is not fried, making them a light and refreshing meal. Gỏi Cuốn are filled with pork, shrimp, rice noodles and leafy greens like lettuce and mint. The rolls are served alongside a tasty peanut dipping sauce, and are of course eaten cold, perfectly refreshing on a hot day.

Chả Giò or Nem Rán are also spring rolls, but these ones are fried! The name Nem Rán is from the north and the name Chả Giò is from the south, but they refer to the same thing. The ingredients used are very similar to Gỏi Cuốn, with pork and shrimp being the stars of the show. We enjoyed Nem Rán with dried mushroom in Hữu Lũng, which were absolutely superb.

Bánh Xèo is another take on the classic pork and shrimp combo, but contained in what is often dubbed a ‘Vietnamese pancake’. Bánh Xèo has a distinctive yellow colour, not from egg, but from turmeric added to the batter. Mung beans are usually added, which give the Bánh Xèo a different flavour to Nem Rán, and the batter gives a completely different texture. There lies the skill of Vietnamese cooking, being able to create a variety of tasty meals from a base of versatile ingredients.


We had a fantastic time climbing in Vietnam, we thought the crags were excellent and we also genuinely enjoyed Vietnam as a country. Hữu Lũng is one of the best climbing areas we visited on the trip, it is superb, and as it continues to be developed further it will easily become a rival to the best in the region, like Thakhek. Likewise, we thought the sport climbing on Cát Bà was good and the DWS is amazing, probably one of the best venues anywhere. Vietnam seems to receive more mature tourists than somewhere like Thailand, and it certainly felt like popular towns and cities weren’t so negatively impacted by visitors. We didn’t really have any complaints at all, we loved every aspect of our time in Vietnam and would be more than happy to go back. Climbing wise, Vietnam compares well to Laos, based on quality and quantity of routes, with them each having their own advantages. However, culturally they are very different. Vietnam has a distinctive culture and is very different to the other countries in South East Asia. This added a lot of value to the trip and made it a personal highlight for us.

You can read more about the climbing in South East Asia here.

Relevant links and resources

Guidebooks and information for climbing in Vietnam

2 thoughts on “Climbing in Vietnam: A Journey through South East Asia

  1. Olympus Mountaineering 2nd May 2023 / 8:10 AM

    Once again, a great, long a complete overview!

    Thanks for dedicating such energy, time and love for such posts.

    Greetings from Greece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheCragJournal 2nd May 2023 / 2:04 PM

      Thank you! We’re really glad you like the posts. We are definitely long overdue a trip to Greece, the climbing and the country look beautiful!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s