Will, from Tapp and Bear Travel, seeks an alternative to river tubing in the mountainside town of Vang Vieng. With the town moving away from its messy past, it’s now well on the way to rebranding itself as Laos’ top adventure destination.
Keen to check out the limestone karsts on a rock climbing tour with Adam’s Climbing School, Will goes to see what else this little town in central Laos has to offer (besides boozy afternoons floating down the river)!
Vang Vieng – is it still that place where people get drunk and tube along the river?
Have you heard of Vang Vieng? If you have, you’ve most likely been told a story of consuming gallons of cheap alcohol at riverside bars and jumping into the river on an inflatable tube! That’s no surprise, considering the town’s history but in recent years the stories are changing. Following a huge effort by the government and locals alike, Vang Vieng’s reputation has now shifted from the place to party to the adventure capital of Laos.
The riverside bars have nearly all been shut down and replaced by adventure tour agencies offering all kinds of extreme sports, from kayaking to zip-lining. With so many options to try and a backpacker budget to consider, it’s difficult to decide which adventures to take on whilst visiting Vang Vieng. However, with the town being situated in one of the most beautiful areas of Laos, surrounded by impressive limestone mountains, choosing a climbing tour is a no-brainer! But with so many tour companies lining the streets and adorning the hostel walls, how do you choose who to book with?
Adam’s Climbing School, Vang Vieng
After wandering in and out of several different tour agencies all offering the same packages, we came across Adam’s Climbing School. Down a secluded side street, away from all the glorified signs and flashing lights, you’d be forgiven for not realising that Adam’s is a tour agency! However, far from this being a negative, it made us want to go in and find out more. Within minutes we met Adam and we instantly knew that we’d made the right decision. Adam is super friendly, passionate about what he does and a great guy who’s super easy to get along with!
With 6 years of instructing experience in the Thai rock climbing hotspot of Krabi, as well as 3.5 years tackling routes in France and Germany, Adam set up his Climbing School in 2005. Since then, he’s become the only company in Vang Vieng to provide set routes and he currently offers several climbing courses from half-day to 3-days.
Whether you are looking to learn something new or test your rock climbing skills, there are over 200 routes in this area of Laos, making it the perfect place for beginners and experienced climbers alike. After spending some time chatting with Adam, I signed up for a half-day climbing session starting the very next day!
Gathering up the Gear and Heading Out to the Cliffs
Upon arriving at Adam’s Climbing School, I was introduced to my guide for the afternoon, Sien. After discussing the plan for the day, he sorted out my climbing gear, which included all the essentials: a helmet, harness, chalk and climbing shoes, as well as plenty of water.
After everything was fitted and packed away, we hopped into a truck and took the short 3.5 km trip towards the crag, passing several cows and their calves, which seem to be allowed to wander wherever they please in Laos! Before reaching the climbing spot, we first had to cross the river so we got into a small long-tail boat and headed to the other side, dodging the occasional tuber along the way.
Arriving at Sleeping Wall and Climbing up a Karst Canyon
In no time at all and once we’d jumped out of the boat, we could start checking out the rock we’d be climbing. While Sien began getting the rope ready, I made my way to an area known as ‘Sleeping Wall’. This is a narrow canyon with trees overhanging the cliffs.
The walls towered above us, with the limestone shaped over time to create hundreds of mesmerising patterns in the rock. I could instantly see that there were several different routes to conquer and I couldn’t wait to get started! The trees above us provided much-needed shade and along with a slight breeze, the conditions were perfect to climb without being overwhelmed by the midday heat.
The instructors at Adam’s Climbing School are trained and equipped to provide teaching and guiding for beginners, as well as setting more challenging routes for experienced climbers. At home, I climb regularly so all that was needed was a quick briefing and we got stuck into climbing up the karsts.
Rock Climbing…Until the Weather Stopped Us!
Normally on rock climbing tours with Adam’s, there is a group of people taking part, with one instructor guiding between 1 and 5 people. On this occasion, however, I was the only person who had signed up and so I spent the afternoon climbing as many routes as possible, completing 7 in total.
The afternoon sped past, with Sien belaying (supporting my ropes from the ground) and me tackling routes ranging from grade 4a to 7b+ (for the non-climbers amongst you, these are the difficulty levels: 4a being relatively simple to 7b+ being more difficult). We took regular breaks, sitting in the abandoned tubing bar on the riverbank, to refresh and rest aching arms.
As I completed what was to be my last climb, a cluster of grey clouds came overhead. Weather is unpredictable in Asia and while we thought the rain would soon pass like it usually does, we were very much mistaken! The spitting rain had almost turned into a tornado, switching between heavy drops and hailstones! We had to shelter under the rock along with some river tubers, all the time being pelted by balls of ice! This was not something I had expected to see in Laos but it certainly added a bit of excitement to the end the day with!
A Top Day of Climbing!
Overall, climbing the limestone karst in Vang Vieng was a fantastic experience! When we first decided to visit this town, we thought the only thing we’d get up to was tubing down the river and with it being the dry season, we weren’t sure just how much river there would actually be to tube down! We had no idea there are so many other activities on offer and rock climbing the stunning karsts with Adam’s Climbing School is undoubtedly up there as one of the best things to do in this area!
Sien was a great guide: he was constantly suggesting new routes to suit my ability and climbing style, challenging me and making it an interesting day of climbing. His guidance whilst I was climbing was excellent; he knows those routes like the back of his hand and he’s hugely passionate to go along with it. Technically, the climbing was great; the routes were nicely laid out and accurately graded. There’s plenty of climbing here to suit all abilities and instructors from Adam’s Climbing School will guide you from the ground, helping climbers to improve their skills and also offering a rewarding experience.
For those of you wondering, you can still have a fun day drinking down the river but why not also try something a little different in Vang Vieng and take on an alternative adventure? Book your climbing course with Adam’s Climbing School here!
Visiting Vang Vieng? Check out our destination guide here!