Surrounded by water, beautiful beaches and culturally-rich fishing towns, rock climbing in Viet Nam has been compared to the better known Railay in Thailand, but without the crowds.
Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh, Ba Be in Bac Can, Hoa Binh, Ha Tay, Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Ninh Binh and Nha Trang are just some of the areas where climbers can enjoy spectacular views.
"Climbing mountains in Viet Nam is not as ideal as in France or Switzerland but mountain tops full of obstacles in Viet Nam ensure climbs are interesting. The natural landscape here is number one," Jean Verly, a 29-year-old French man who has a great passion for rock-climbing, said.
Most climbers enjoy the cliffs in Halong Bay where there are over 2,000 mystical limestone faces to scale. Many rise from the water and others remain tucked away inland. The karst limestone of the region was formed by a unique process of erosion over thousands of years creating rock formations unlike anywhere else in the world.
"The most exciting thing about climbing in Viet Nam is finding new places and developing this activity as it was completely unknown five years ago. Deep water soloing (climbing over water without a rope or harness) in Ha Long Bay is an incredible experience," Verly said.
Dubbed "Halong Bay on rice paddies," mountains in Ninh Binh Province don't have nearly as much climbing as Ha Long, but the cliffs are similar in quality and shape. Ninh Binh is located about three hours by bus south of Ha Noi.
According to experts, Pac Ngoi, which is in Ba Be National Park, is a great location for climbing and is also one of the most beautiful areas of northern Viet Nam.
There are crazy cliffs, a 500ha lake, rivers that snake through the valleys, lush jungle, and extremely welcoming Tay ethnic people. The village of Pac Ngoi is to the south of Ba Be Lake and is a good base camp for exploring the region.
If you don't want to travel that far, you can always try the mountains near the Thay pagoda in Quoc Oai District, around 30km southwest of Ha Noi.
According to Verly, rock climbing is quite different from mountain climbing. He explained that the main purpose of mountaineering is to reach the summit of a mountain while rock-climbing is more focused on style and ethics rather than reaching the summit itself.
You can rock-climb on a boulder, a 20m wall, or a 1,000m cliff with this rule: to validate your ascent, you must not use artificial means to progress (for example pulling the rope to help you to climb) or take artificial rests (such as hanging from the rope) until the end of the problem (for a boulder) or route (on a cliff).
Success only comes from the strength and agility of the body, and the skill in which the climbers uses the natural features of the rock to make upward progress.
The age range for a rock climber is not very important. It can vary from eight to 60 years of age, man or woman, and can be enjoyed by almost anyone with no prior experience.
Verly was born and grew up in Paris. When he was 15, an accident occurred while he was attempting to conquer the 4,808m Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps.
He was fine but a fellow climber broke his arm and needed to be airlifted to safety.
Although Verly was very scared, his love for rock climbing remained strong and he became a professional climber. However, he didn't take part in professional climbing competitions but instead chose to conquer new heights in new lands.
On his old motorbike, Verly travelled around the mountainous areas of Viet Nam with his friends looking for new challenges.
He is planning to build an indoor climbing wall in An Duong bank, Tay Ho District, and is awaiting a license from the Ha Noi Department of Planning and Investment.
"I arrived in Viet Nam in 2005 to work, my decision was completely unrelated to rock climbing. After working here for four years in the public and private sectors, I felt that there was a demand and an opportunity to develop rock climbing and to make it a trendy sport in Viet Nam," said Verly.
"This project will provide a new healthy hobby for everybody including adults, kids, families, universities and schools, and also disadvantaged children.
"The game area is nature, that's why climbers have to respect the natural environment. In the same tough process, with an indoor climbing gym in an urban area, we are committed at our small scale to having a positive impact in terms of social responsibility," Verly added.
Rock climbing has developed into a number of different styles such as sports climbing (climbing with a harness and a rope in case of a possible fall), bouldering, deep water soloing, traditional climbing, multi-pitche, and indoor climbing which is popular in Europe.
For further information on rock climbing, you can visit vietclimb.com which Verly set up in early 2006 to introduce rock climbing in Viet Nam to the local people and expat community.
The website is in English, French and Vietnamese, and provides details of Verly's rock climbing group along with more information about climbing.
With over 100 climbers, Jean's group gathers at least once or twice a week to go on climbing exhibitions.
Alternatively, you can visit slopony.com, which offers comprehensive information and services for rock climbing in Viet Nam as well as other sports that get the heart pumping!