๐Ÿ’ง Deep Water Solo in Vietnam: How To & Firsthand Tips

Deep water soloing, which is rock climbing above water without ropes, is an unforgettable experience in Vietnam.

While Vietnam has several rock climbing locations, deep-water soloing is allowed only in one place: Lan Hay Bay (a section of the famous Ha Long Bay).

I went deep water soloing with an experienced rock climbing group during my Vietnam trip, and here, I share firsthand tips on the experience. This post covers:

  • ๐Ÿ’ก General DWS tips
  • ๐Ÿ“ How to DWS in Vietnam
  • โ˜€๏ธ Where and when to DWS
  • ๐Ÿ’ง What to expect during DWS
  • ๐Ÿ‘Ÿ What to wear during DWS

Planning a trip? Here’s what to know about Vietnam.

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5 Important Tips for Deep Water Soloing

Deep water soloing (DWS) is a form of rock climbing without any ropes in which climbers fall into a deep body of water, usually a lake or the ocean (though man-made deep water solo pools also exist).

Regardless of location, here are five essential tips to know on deep water soloing:

1. Only a little rock climbing experience is needed.

You don’t need to be a “good” or experienced rock climber to deep water solo. You need to be able to climb up real rocks with good holds, so some basic rock climbing experience is helpful. My Vietnam DWS session had V2 to V7 climbers with zero to some DWS experience.

Some climbing tours, like the one I did with Cat Ba Climbing, require no rock climbing experience. This is only true if you go with experienced climbers who can teach you and identify beginner-friendly routes, which some tour groups are equipped to do.

2. You should be comfortable swimming.

During deep water soloing, you will be falling or jumping into the water. You need to be comfortable swimming back to the boat (more on this later), so make sure you’re comfortable being in the water.

The blog author climbing up the side of a limestone rock over water.
Deep water soloing in Vietnam.

3. Always know where to jump.

Deep water soloing can be done in several countries around the world. No matter where or who you go with, always be aware of where it’s safe to jump.

Rocks can be hiding under the water, so you can get severely or fatally injured if you don’t know which areas are safe to fall or jump into.

4. Hit feet first to break the water’s surface.

When you reach the top of your climb and are about to jump, you should hit the water like a pencil so you don’t hurt your arms or punch yourself in the face when your arms hit the water.

Hitting the water can hurt when jumping from 15+ feet. I consistently had a slight bend in my knee when I jumped from 18 feet high, so my butt kept hitting the water and my tailbone was a bit sore for four days.

When you jump during deep water soloing, you should also ideally have your feet parallel to the water and hit heels first (not toes pointed down). The idea is to break the water surface with a strong point of your foot.

5. Always go with experienced climbers.

For all the reasons mentioned above, never deep water solo on your own or with inexperienced people. You can either go with an organized group or with experienced people.

Safety is extremely important. Many factors impact deep water solo safety, including tide level, hidden rocks, route rock stability, proper gear, emergency response accessibility, etc.

If this is your first time deep water soloing or if you’re in an unfamiliar area, go with a tour or organized group.

Why Deep Water Solo in Vietnam?

Vietnam is not the mecca for deep water soloing (Mallorca in Spain is), but there are several reasons why Vietnam is unique and why people are drawn to rock climbing there:

  • The scenery is breathtaking โ€“ In Vietnam, you climb up beautiful limestone rocks and stare out into the emerald water. It’s one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve experienced.

If you go during the low season, there’s also less of a crowd, and it’s incredibly serene.

  • The water is warm โ€“ You’ll be climbing in and out of the water several times, and it can get cold in the shade of the rocks. I went in November, and the water was pleasantly warm.
  • You don’t have to travel far โ€“ The only place to deep water solo in Vietnam is Lan Ha Bay, which is three hours east of the capital city of Hanoi. I took a $28 USD round-trip bus-ferry-bus from Hanoi to Cรกt Bร  Island.

Lan Ha Bay is an extension of the famous Ha Long Bay. The nearby Cรกt Bร  Island is a popular destination itself.

The blog author holding onto the side of a limestone rock 15 feet high over water.
Rock climbing above the emerald waters of Vietnam.

Check out the Ha Giang Loop for a different kind of adventure in Vietnam.

How To Deep Water Solo in Vietnam

Here is general information on deep water soloing specifically in Vietnam.

๐Ÿ“ Where to Deep Water Solo in Vietnam

Lan Ha Bay, which is right next to Cรกt Bร  Island, is the best and only deep water solo location in Vietnam. The area has over 200 deep water soloing routes and 50 sports climbing routes. The routes range from beginner to advanced.

Lan Ha Bay is part of the Ha Long Bay area, but it sits in a different province and has its own distinguishable features.

To get to Lan Ha Bay, you can take a bus-ferry-bus from Hanoi to Cรกt Bร  Island like I did.

The following Vietnam locations are popular for sport climbing, bouldering, or top roping, but none of them have deep water soloing:

  • Northern Vietnam โ€“ Ha Long Bay, Hแปฏu Lลฉng, and Mai Chรขu Quแป‘c Oai are popular for sport climbing.

Lan Ha Bay is also popular for top roping, not just deep water soloing.

  • Central Vietnam โ€“ Da Nang has a few top roping routes at the Marble Mountains.
  • Southern Vietnam โ€“ Suoi Dai has 50+ bouldering routes.

You used to be able to deep water solo in the north area of Ha Long Bay, but that is no longer true. You can only deep water solo in Lan Ha Bay.

A wooden makeshift boat market floating in emerald-green water.
Passing by one of the market boats on Lan Ha Bay near the end of the deep water solo tour.

โ˜€๏ธ Best Time to Deep Water Solo in Vietnam

The most popular time to visit Vietnam is during the summer season (June to August), but a great time to visit Vietnam to deep water solo is during the spring (March to April) or fall (September to November).

During the spring and fall, the tourist crowds are smaller which makes for a beautiful and peaceful experience. Lan Ha Bay also has relatively reliable weather during those months.

๐Ÿฆบ Can You Deep Water Solo Without a Guide in Vietnam?

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO-protected site and Lan Ha Bay is an extension of it, so you are required to have a licensed guide to deep water solo there.

You also need to rent a boat and climbing gear and know where to fall or jump in safely. For all these reasons, it’s best to climb with a tour group or guide.

๐Ÿ›ถ How To Get a Deep Water Solo Guide in Vietnam

Cat Ba Climbing and Langur’s Adventures are the two tour operators that offer deep water solo guides in Vietnam.

I did my tour with Cat Ba Climbing and can say I had a great experience. Here are some details about my tour experience:

  • Where I Stayed: I stayed on Cรกt Bร  Island in ฤแบ I THแปฆY Hotel and the tour group met at the nearby office. We took a boat out to Lan Ha Bay.
  • Tour Duration: Cat Ba Climbing’s deep water solo tour lasted for half a day, from 8 am to 1:30 pm. Langur’s Adventures offers half-day and full-day deep water solo tours while Cat Ba Climbing only offers half-day tours.
  • Tour Cost: Cat Ba Climbing’s half-day tour cost $69 USD per person. I tipped 13%, so I paid $78 USD in total.
  • Experienced Required: Cat Ba Climbing says that no rock climbing experience is required to go on their deep water solo tour. Langur’s Adventures says that their tour is “designed for intermediate and experienced climbers 5c/5.10 or above.”

Even though the tour is expensive by Vietnam’s standards, Cat Ba Climbing is cash-only, so make sure to bring significant cash. There’s an ATM about a 5 to 10-minute walk from the Cat Ba Climbing office.

  • Tour Size: The Cat Ba Climbing group started with about 12 people, not including the guides, and then we split into two boats with about six climbers each.

Note: I am not paid by Cat Ba Climbing to write about them. All opinions expressed here are my own and reflect my personal experience.

A sign outside a shop that says "Cat Ba Climbing 120 nui ngoc st"
Cat Ba Climbing’s shop entrance.

What to Expect When Deep Water Soloing in Vietnam

The following is based on my experience deep water soloing in Lan Ha Bay. Deep water soloing in other countries is similar, but will not be exactly the same.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ Half-Day Tour Breakdown

  • Gear up and introduction (8โ€“8:30 am) โ€“ You’ll arrive at the office and try out different climbing shoes to find the right size. When everyone is ready, you’ll get on a short shuttle ride to the harbor.

The tour provides fruits and drinks, but not a meal, so make sure to eat a big enough breakfast that can help you last until 1:30 pm.

  • Boat ride (8:30โ€“9 am) โ€“ You’ll wait at the harbor before getting on a small boat. Then, you’ll cruise through the beautiful Lan Ha Bay where you’ll get to enjoy the scenery and get to know your fellow climbers.
A giant limestone rock with trees coming out of emerald-green water.
A limestone rock in the stunning and serene Lan Ha Bay.
  • Deep water solo (9 amโ€“1 pm) โ€“ You’ll spend about four hours rock climbing and jumping into the water. Before your first climb, the guide will walk through safety and techniques. The four hours will fly by.
  • Return to the office and pay (1โ€“1:30 pm) โ€“ At the end of your session, you’ll be transported back to the Cรกt Bร  office and pay for the tour in cash.

๐Ÿ’ก What To Expect During Rock Climbing

Here’s what to expect when you’re on the rock:

  • The first practice climb and jump is not super high โ€“ Once you get to a rock, the guide will have you do a baby climb and practice the pencil technique for jumping. This first jump is about 10 feet high.

If everyone on the boat is experienced at deep water soloing, the first jump can be higher, up to the guide’s discretion.

  • There are different routes for varying climbers โ€“ The guides know several rocks to climb and each rock has several routes. The guide will match climbing routes to your experience level (e.g., my boat had V2 to V7 climbers, and even though we all went to the same rock, we didn’t climb the same routes).
  • Only one to two climbers climb at a time โ€“ To climb up a rock, the boat will get close to the rock, you will get on it, and the guide will ensure you’re secure before the boat pulls away.

    Once the boat starts pulling away, you can start climbing. Once you fall or jump into the water, you’ll swim back to the boat and climb back up on a small ladder.
Close up of the blog author holding onto a limestone rock while a man has his hand below to catch her in case she falls.
One of the guides ensuring I’m secure on the rock before the boat pulls away.

Each person climbed six to eight times. It might not sound like much (especially compared to indoor climbing), but the time will go by fast between learning how to climb limestone, jumping, swimming, and interacting with other climbers.

  • It’s okay if you get stuck or if you fall โ€“ If you’re on a route and are unsure of what to do next, the guide has a laser pointer and can guide you along the route. They will also tell you the best way to fall if you can’t finish the route.
  • The height of the jump can vary and it can be scary โ€“ Our group jumped from 10 to 25 feet high. If you’ve never jumped from over 15 feet high and you’re not an adrenaline junkie, it can be scary.

I struggled with jumping the most in my group and my advice is to jump as soon as you can. The longer you think about it, the harder it becomes to jump. Despite the fear, it was one of the most amazing experiences I had in Vietnam.

The blog author standing on the side of a limestone rock over water.
Looking out at the breathtaking scenery in Lan Ha Bay before having to jump.

For a less adventurous experience in Vietnam, visit Hoi An where you can get high-quality tailor-made clothes at affordable prices you can’t get in the United States.

What to Pack and Wear to Deep Water Solo

The deep water solo tour group will provide transportation, climbing gear, and some light snacks. Here’s what you should bring and wear to deep water solo:

  • Bathing suit or sports bra and shorts โ€“ You’ll want to wear a bathing suit that stays on you when you hit the water. I chose to wear a sports bra and shorts, and my top still didn’t stay on securely all the time, so make sure to wear something tight.
  • Quick dry towel โ€“ You’ll need something to dry yourself between climbs and at the end of the tour. I brought my regular-sized quick-dry towel, which worked great.
  • Clothes you can easily put on and take off โ€“ Depending on when you go and whether you’re in the shade, you might get a bit cold in between climbs. I recommend bringing a layer that you can easily put on and take off between climbs.
  • Sandals โ€“ You’ll be barefooted or in climbing shoes most of the time, but make sure you bring sandals for after the tour. I brought my Chacos and also wore them when taking snack breaks inside the boat.
  • Sunscreen โ€“ Depending on the season and whether you’re in the shade, you might want to bring sports sunscreen. I recommend this sports water-resistant sunscreen that stays on well even when you get wet.
  • Extra snacks and water โ€“ The tour provided beers, non-alcoholic drinks, and fresh fruits, but bring extra snacks and water if you think you’ll need more sustenance. I brought my reusable water bottle, which kept my water cold.

๐Ÿ‘Ÿ Should You Bring Climbing Shoes to Deep Water Solo?

If you’re considering bringing your own climbing shoes to deep water solo, here are some things to know:

  • You usually don’t need to bring climbing shoes if you’re going with an organized group โ€“ Tour groups often provide climbing shoes, but it’s good to double-check. You also might not want to bring your own shoes because real rocks can wear and tear them quickly. This is especially true in Vietnam where you’ll be climbing limestone, which is particularly sharp.
  • If you bring your climbing shoes, rinse them to avoid shoe damage โ€“ If you jump into salt water, the salt left on your shoes can damage and erode the rubber over time, so make sure to rinse your climbing shoes afterward.
  • It’s not that weird to climb with wet rental climbing shoes โ€“ No one loves wearing rental shoes or wet shoes, but deep water soloing should be thrilling enough that climbing in wet rental shoes won’t be your primary concern.

Vietnam Trip Planner

To make your travel planning easier, download the trip planner below and use it as a starting point. The planner has country-specific travel information, an itinerary, a packing list, and a map with key places pinned.

The trip planner is built on Notion, which I use for all my travel planning (I genuinely love this tool). If you don’t have Notion, creating an account is free.

Three Notion template screenshots are shown: travel information, itinerary, and map + packing list templates.
Preview of Vietnam trip planner for 2024.

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