Tag Archives: Climbing in Laos

Climbing in Laos: Unexpectedly mind-blowing

When we set out for our trip to South East Asia, we though we would spend most of our time climbing in Southern Thailand, and another large chunk in Vietnam. We were also planning to check out the climbing in Northern Thailand, maybe for a week or so, and Laos and Cambodia were reserved for a short tourist trip. How wrong we were…

Not until getting here did we realise there was even any climbing at all in Laos, and the more we heard about it, the more it sounded like somewhere we should be going for more than just a short week. Having spent three weeks climbing near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (instead of the one week we had planned), we felt it was finally time to move on and booked ourselves in for two weeks at the Green Climbers Home near Thakhek, Laos, near the Thai border.

The moment we arrived at the camp and saw the cliffs surrounding it, we immediately booked ourselves in for another week. Now that our three-week stay has come to an end we are wishing we had some more time here, and already talking potentially returning next year as volunteers at the camp.

The Green Climbers Camp

The main accommodation for climbers is based around 12km away from Thakhek, a small Laotian town just across the border from Nakhon Phanom in Thailand. The camp was established by a German couple, Tania and Uli Weidner, who developed and bolted a large number of the climbing routes. It lies pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cliff faces on either side.

Having originally been set up as a single camp, it was expanded as the popularity of the region grew, and now there are two camps around 500 metres away from each other, each with its own kitchen/restaurant area, bungalow accomodation, camp ground with tents for rent, and hot showers.

Arriving at the camp was a little overwhelming at first. Everyone seemed to know each other and everyone seemed to climb pretty strong. At first, we definitely felt a little like the outsiders. But very quickly we ended up talking to one group of climber, then another, and by day two it already felt like we’d been there a week and knew half the people at camp. By week two, it felt like home, complete with our own little frustrations and a little bit of cabin fever.

Spending three weeks in one place without leaving very often is certainly an interesting experience, and not for everyone. The climbing was incredible, and the atmosphere relaxed and welcoming, so for the first 10 days we didn’t bother leaving camp at all, even on rest days. But eventually, we needed to get out, even if just for a few hours, to see the world outside.

Thakhek…

The world outside mostly consists of Thakhek, a sleepy town devoid of attractions. However, it does have a pizza restaurant, run by an eccentric French lady, which was famous amongst the climbing community for having exceptional pizza, and attracted large groups of us on rest days.

There are also a few coffee shops, a small food market, an ATM and a few massage places, where massages are no worse than in Thailand itself, and just as cheap!

…and the climbing!

But the real reason we stayed as long as we did was the climbing. While Chang Mai pleasantly surprised it with the quality of its crags, Thakhek positive blew our minds. If we could spend three weeks climbing at Crazy Horse, we could easily spend three months here and not get bored of the climbing!

Overhanging cliffs, featured limestone with crazy stalactite formations, deep pockets, are just some of the distinctive features of the Laotian rock, although by no means is it an exhaustive list. There’s something here for everyone, often in one route, be it burly starts, delicate technical moves, long runs that are barely possible with a 70m rope, as well as short, bouldery problems.

And there is even a massive roof, with its crazy features at the bottom that call for techniques that are more akin to caving than climbing, and its hard-as-nails top section.

Not my style at all, but I still tried a couple of problems, since all the quickdraws are fixed, taking away the pressure of needing to get to the top of a route. The weirdest one was called Saugeburt, literally meaning “pig birth”, where one had to slither through a small tunnel in the rock 20 metres above ground come out on the other side, like a metaphorical birthing. It was definitely a leap of faith, but worth the experience…

One of our favourite crags was called Hangover, and featured a range of moderately to very overhanging routes, most of them above 6c. Clay sent a bunch of routes there, but I struggled with the angle a bit more, yet it was here that I did my first 7a on this trip, Switzerland, a firm classic that many climbers were queueing to try.

Me on Switzerland – photo courtesy of Kai

Another classic I climbed was a 6c called Mon General, a more vertical and slightly longer route with a definitive pockety crux, which is to date the only 6c I have on-sighted outdoors so far.

Meanwhile, Clay was getting pretty comfortable with on-sighting or flashing 7a’s (his favourite one was called Acid Therapy, though we kept calling it Acid Trip, which seemed like a better and more fitting name; I didn’t even try it as I had a feeling it would result in monumental failure). And on penultimate day he sent a 7b on the roof called Jungle King, also firmly in the list of the classic top picks, at least for those who like climbing in a nearly horizontal position!

One of our main regrets was bringing a short and relatively old rope with us from home. Originally a 60m, we had to trim the ends because it was fraying so much, and ended up with a 55m rope on our first day in Thakhek. In a place where a large selection of the best routes are at least 30m, this severely reduced what we could try, until we eventually bought a used 70m rope off one of our fellow climbers who didn’t want to take it back home.

If we come back, we are bringing an 80m rope, so we can climb on Wei├če Wand, a crag with nearly 40m long lines on white limestone. I would also gladly return to Worldtrip, to the 30m-long 6c+ and 7a, Mr Ku and Mr Keo, both classics and both heaps of fun. We didn’t get on these routes until very late in our trip and still have unfinished business with them!

Other than that, I’d like to come back here when I’m climbing stronger, because there is so much more I want to try which I didn’t feel ready for this time around. But there was no lack of inspiration, with lots of strong climbers and mind-blowing rock surrounding us! Definitely a must for a climbing trip to South East Asia! You just have to book well in advance, as it gets pretty busy here in December.