I love climbing

Vang Vieng Travel Blog

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Rock Climbing was on the top of my list for things to do in South East Asia.  I new there were really good places around but the only one I new by name before getting over here was the Thai mecca, Krabi.  It just so happens that the three people I was traveling with when going through Vang Vieng were also interested in climbing.  This place ended up being an excellent place to take a lead climbing course, mostly because of the very reasonable prices compared to Thailand.  Dom, Lee, Gen, and I took a three day course from Adam, the owner of the Laos Rock Climbing Shop.  Adam was a bit of a character and liked talking about the blond tourists but he was fun and really new his stuff.

The first day involved interesting tractor tuk-tuk ride across the river followed by a short journey down a bumpy dirt road to the base of the first rock face that I ever climbed outdoors.  I was surprisingly nervous on my first few attempts up the easier routes to Adam lead for us.  I think not climbing at all in seven months coupled with getting used to the much different techniques involved with finding the best hold on natural limestone compared to indoor holds caused my apprehensions.  The fact that a fall in the wrong place could shed your limbs to hamburger was secondary but ever present in my mind.  The views were fantastic, climbs were thought provoking and challenged our strength, and the weather was perfect.

The second day we went the sleeping wall which is the most developed wall in the area and probably the country.  There are quite a few easy routes set up so it is an ideal place to learn how to lead climb.  For those non climbers out there lead climbing is when you there is not a rope above you and you clip yourself into quick draws on your way up the wall.  There is usually a couple of meters between each anchor.  This means that if you fall at the wrong time you could fall about four meters or more before the rope catches you.  I was the first of the group to attempt a lead climb after Adam's detailed description of how to set the quickdraws and properly clip in the rope.  The route was pretty easy but it was still only my second day ever outside.
  I made it to the top without much difficulty but the last move to clip into the anchor was a bit of a stretch.  I order to clip in you need to pull up a lot of slack with in order to be able to get the rope into the anchor.  This is the point that you are at the most risk.  This is when I fell.  I happened very fast.  I was half way back down the wall and my thumb had been bent backwards by the rope that was still in my hand when the tension hit.  I almost never bruise but the better half of the back of my right hand was instantly purple.  The swelling came quickly and grew over the next two days but there was very little pain and I still had my grip strength.  So after a quick smoke break I was back on the wall leading my second route.
  The rest of the day was much smoother and I got more comfortable with the limestone holds.

After two days climbing we took a day off to partake in the most popular activity in the area that draws backpackers from all over the continent.  Tubing, or as we say in Calgary, floating.  They do it a little different here than we do on the Elbow.  The fist quarter of the three hour tour is packed with overhanging bamboo crafted bars covered in uncovered tourist with whiskey bucket lined hard stomachs looking for a friend when the sun goes down.  Every bar has a rope swing which are constantly lined up with ordinarily timid people filled with liquid courage.  The swings are very high and so are those who enjoy the readily available happy meals.
  Like most, we got stuck for a while at the biggest of the bars which had everything from ping pong to volleyball.  We decided to go against the grain and avoid the tuk-tuk ride home and actually finish the float.  That meant we spent about an hour and a half in the dark.  But all was not lost I met plenty of friendly people along the cold dark ride.

The third day climbing we went about 20 km north of town to a granite wall.  The rock here was not sharp and jagged like the limestone from the past two days.  We continued to work on our lead climbing and learned a few more technical knots for getting into ring anchors.  This place had the most spectacular views of all.  More comfortable on the rock we pushed ourselves to some harder routes.
  I finished a overhanging 6c which took every ounce of strength I could muster.  It took me about ten takes to finally make it but it was very satisfying at the end.

We met up with Finish Martin who we met in the north and went on a one day hike to some caves.  We did this through a tour agency because Martin had his heart set on it.  The hike was very seep up and down with very sharp limestone rocks.  We spent the better part of the day waiting for the less experienced American couple from Houston.  The BBQ skewers and fried rice for lunch was the best meal I have trough  a tour company in SE Asia.   The caves were pretty lame.  You are better off doing renting a bike and doing the caves on your own at your own pace.

After Martin left to attempt to get into Thailand with no visa to reunite with his Thai girlfriend we decided to go on our own to the Blue Lagoon cave that was recommend to us from some other backpackers.  The half hour bike ride north of town brought us to the cool-aid blue pools at the base of the mountain.  A short ten minute hike up steep rooks brought us to the small cave entrance.  We were all in awe once we stepped inside.  The main room in the cave was enormous.  It must have been 200 yards across and 100 yards high with huge stalagmites and stalactites jutting  up and down.  I thought my head lamp was pretty powerful but the massive distances inside the depth of blackness put it to the test.
  It really felt like we were exploring new ground as the last cracks of sunlight disappeared in our wake.  This was the most amazing cave I have ever seen anywhere and is a highly recommended day trip on your own.

We rented climbing gear and went back to the sleeping wall for a fourth day of climbing.  We lead the easy routes again but they were too easy now that we were accustomed to the the rock.  We had Adam lead some seriously overhanging 6b's which really tested our abilities.  I got up them both but the second one was a little out of my league so I had to cheat several times.

Tired of waiting for the clouds to clear to create another worthwhile day on the river, and tired of the strange phenomenon of local bars showing endless reruns of "Friends".  I am ready to depart my favorite stop thus far in SE Asia and move on to the south.
connieriome says:
That climbing looks pretty challenging.
Posted on: Feb 12, 2008
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Vang Vieng
photo by: razorriome