Rock Climbing in Cat Ba Island

Extreme sports, like traveling have been a big part of my life. As a rock climbing instructor, a snowboarder and surfer, I usually travel somewhere I can practice at least one of the activities I like.

Over the years I have climbed various places around the world including Southeast Asia and Oceania. For me one of the many exciting parts of rock climbing in another country is meeting other local climbers and traveling to places that I normally wouldn't go.

I have traveled through Southeast Asia with my climbing shoes in my backpack, trying to find new places to climb. I went to the beautiful beaches of Ton Sai and Railay. I traveled north to the mountains around Chiang Mai. All of these places are well known to rock climbers around the world, and famous for the dry, hot weather, the limestone mountains and the beautiful scenery. There are other destinations in Southeast Asia that are lesser known for rock climbing, small towns in Laos and Vietnam with mountains and caves just ready to be explored. I found my favorite place in one of the most beautiful places on earth; Cat Ba Island in Vietnam. This place is perfect for rock climbing and over the last decade it has slowly become a popular destination for adventure travelers.

Cat Ba Island is the largest of 2000 limestone islands situated in The Gulf of Tonkin. These beautifully shaped islands rice up from the blue green ocean and form the famous Halong Bay. Halong Bay receives more than two million tourists per year. It was recently awarded with the prestigious new 7 wonders of nature and it has been on the UNESCO world heritage site list since 1994. Halong Bay is located on the northeast side of Vietnam, a three and a half hour drive outside of Hanoi.

Many years ago two American rock climbers co-founded a company called Slo Pony Adventures in the city center of Cat Ba Island. This was the first licensed rock climbing company in Vietnam. The company has later been renamed  Asia Outdoor, and their office is located in a nice hotel in the city center. They rent out climbing gear, teach various levels of climbing courses, and offer trips and packages that involve climbing around the area. The instructors working at Asia Outdoor are both local Vietnamese climbers as well as international. They know the places on the island very well and they are talented, nice people. 

I stayed at this hotel for two weeks and tried several courses and a few of their package tours. My favorite package was the full day boat trip. The boat would leave the harbor early in the morning, and slowly make its way out to Lan Ha Bay, a more quiet and less touristy area of Halong Bay. We had kayaks on the boat that we used to paddle into caves and onto beautiful small beaches. On these trips we would also use the kayaks to paddle towards the pillars and Deep Water Solo. Deep Water Soloing basically means climbing up from the ocean, without rope, as far up as you are able to and then jumping off the cliff into the ocean. This was so much fun!

On the boat we had a wonderful lunch with authentic, Vietnamese dishes and it was without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip. What I loved about this experience was meeting so many wonderful people from all over the world. On the boat we were always 6-10 people and we would spend the whole day together talking about out travels and listen to stories from all over the world.

Some days a group of us staying at the hotel would rent scooters and drive to a place called Butterfly Valley. Butterfly Valley is this beautiful lush, green area in the middle of the island, with a huge mountain wall perfect for rock climbing. This wall has routes for both beginners and advanced climbers and you can climb as high as 30 meters.

If you are not into rock climbing, don’t worry. Cat Ba Island has a lot to offer. There are pristine beaches around the island, perfect for relaxing, reading a book or going for a swim. I really liked the atmosphere on these beaches. Not to touristy, not to crowded. Just calm, quiet and beautiful.

If you want to be more active you can go on hiking trips in Cat Ba Islands National park. Asia Outdoor offers guided trips around the island that are well worth your time and money.

 

How much does this cost?

There are many hotels in the area to choose from, we payed around 70-80 kroner per night at the "climbers hotel". They also had an amazing dinner buffet for around 50 kroner per person.

The climbing trips and courses vary in price but expect somewhere between 200-300 kroner for a whole day, food and climbing gear included.

 

If you want to learn how to rock climb and experience one of the most beautiful places in the world at the same time, I really recommend making your way to Cat Ba Island. My plan was to stay in Halong Bay for a couple of days, and I ended up staying for two weeks.

For more information on Asia Outdoor click on the link:

http://www.asiaoutdoors.com.vn/

Incredible India

Forget everything familiar; forget toilet paper, clean air and traffic rules.

Buckle up and get ready for a real culture shock. Welcome to my favorite country, India!

Two very pale Norwegians stand stunned in the streets of New Delhi whilst looking at the chaos surrounding them. We see hundreds of rickshaws, thousands of people, sacred cows walking in the streets and monkeys playing around. It is 45 degrees and we are to put it lightly; pretty damn confused. This is as far from Norway and Norwegian culture I have ever been.

All I can hear is honking from cars and buses. After having seen a sign behind a bus that said "Horn Please” I am beginning to understand why. In India the horn is used to signal for everything, and it is perhaps not so surprising when none of the cars have side mirrors and no one seems to follow traffic rules. After a while we manage to hail a taxi.  We start talking to the driver about the traffic and the chaos and he tells us:

"you need three things to survive as a taxi driver in New Delhi; good horn, good breaks and good luck."

During an hour of driving, I saw my life flash before my eyes several times.

We survived the first day and spent the next two weeks traveling from city to city. Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Udaipur and Jodhpur. Eating spicy food, drinking what felt like 10 liters of water per day and sweating just as much. It was hot, crowded, crazy and wonderful.

When I tell people about traveling in India I always have to mention the smell. The smell of spices hits you when you get off the plane and it does not go away, ever. Walking around any city in India you find yourself hungry even though you just ate. It is safe to say that Indian cuisine is popular all over the world. But let me tell you, there is nothing better than having Indian food from its birthplace. Their recipes have been passed on from generation to generation and I have never experienced flavors like they have in India.


The food was actually so good that we decided to take a cooking course while we were there. We had heard stories from other backpackers about a lady living in Udaipur named Shashi who taught a cooking class and that this was the best place to go.

Sashi turned out to be an amazing woman with a powerful life story. During her class she told us about her past. About her husband being killed and how she had to raise three young boys on her own. Her husband was a Brahman priest (the top of castes in India) and she told us all about the rules and regulations that came with being a widower of a Brahman priest. For a whole year she had to sit in her apartment wearing a black sari and grieve.

She was not allowed to work, even though she was dependent on making money for her self and her kids. The house Sashi and her children lived in belonged to her husband's family, who would not help her. They basically did not want anything to do with her or her kids.

Her husbands family turned off her power and water and she knew she had to start working in order to pay for everything her self. She started working as a cleaning lady. Waking up at four o'clock in the morning, every day, Sneaking out of her house so that no one would see her. Then she would sneak back in before anyone would notice.

She did this for a along time until one day she got an idea. She decided to start teaching tourists how to make Indian food. Without knowing this would be her best decision ever. Her cooking class became well known with tourists and backpackers and soon she was making enough money to pay for her self and her boys. She sent all three sons to college and is now living a very happy life.

Shashi was just one of the many wonderful people I met in India. The experience I had with her is just one of the many reasons I love this country so much.

For a lot of travelers India is either a country you really love or you really hate. There is so much of everything, and it can easily become very intense.

For those of you considering a trip to India here is my advice:

" go with the flow "

Leave your own rules and regulations at home. If you do that you might experience a country that surprises and charms you. A place filled with amazing people, colors, sounds and smells that you wont find any where else in the world.



Laos in my heart in my mind

Mai 2009

A few days ago we spontaneously jumped on a flight from Bangkok to Laos. Without a guidebook or any expectations we arrived in the capital Vientiane. It was early in may and the weather was amazing.

Vientiane was not the most exciting city I have been to, with the exception of Skandinavian Bakery and finally getting my hands on some "Norwegian" breakfast.  We rented bicycles and went sightseeing for a couple of days before we decided to move on.

Our next stop was a destination we had heard a lot about from other backpackers traveling through Southeast Asia. Some travelers described it as the best party place in the world. While others told us it was hell on earth. This crazy place was Vang Vieng. A tiny village in the mountains that over a period of about ten years time became one of the biggest party places in all of Southeast Asia.

In Vang Vieng Tubing is the big tourist attraction. If you do not know what tubing is, it basically means you are sitting inside of a blown up tire, floating down the river. In the case of Vang Vieng, floating from bar to bar hoping to get as drunk as possible. When you get back from a long day of tubing you can hang out at the many sandwich bars around town while watching friends on TV for hours and hours.

After a few days in Vang Vieng we had had more than enough and decided to hop on a bus and travel further north to Luang Prabang. A charming little French-inspired city with exciting markets and nice cafes. From Luang Prabang we rented scooters and drove to a stunning waterfall, Kuang Si Falls. Both the scooter ride up and the waterfall itself was absolutely stunning and without a doubt one of the highlights of our trip.

After a few lazy days in Luang Prabang we headed further north to a small town called Nong Kiawe. It became clear to us that the further north you go in Laos, the greener and more beautiful it becomes. It was less touristy than the southern parts and the local people were incredibly friendly. In Nong Kiawe we finally got to use our climbing gear and went to explore the cliffs and caves in the region. We went swimming in the creeks and spent our nights watching the stars.

I know we have beautiful scenery in Norway, but the northern parts of Laos blew me away. I felt like I was traveling outside of the tourist track. The mountains and the rugged terrain was everything I was hoping Laos would be and more.

Laos turned out to be a pleasant surprise to our south east Asia trip. And if you are planning a trip to South East Asia and you like to go off the beaten track, the northern parts of Laos should be on your list.