During the final days of April, Thuy Duong, a Hanoi resident, went on two cliff camping trips. Such tourism is not popular in Vietnam, and private tours for this activity are non-existent.
Duong first discovered the concept of cliff camping around five to seven years ago through foreign travel websites, but it is only now that she has had the opportunity to pursue it.
Duong’s group embarks on a trekking trip through the Lan Ty Valley in the northern Lang Son Province in late April, 2023. Photo courtesy of Thuy Duong
Her first adventure took place in Lan Ty Valley in Lang Son Province that borders China. Along with her friends, Duong engaged in various activities such as trekking through endemic forests and exploring caves.
The highlight was camping on a cliff near the peak of Mat Than Mountain. The camp spot was in the middle of the valley, surrounded by mountains and forests.
“It was difficult to reach the camp spot. There was heavy rain and thunder on our first night,” Duong said.
“However, I found the experience completely worth it. Lying on a bed along the cliff, I could relax, read my favorite book, enjoy a beer, gaze at the night sky, and fully embrace the first rays of daylight.”
Enthralled by this form of adventure tourism, Duong quickly joined another trip just days after returning from Lan Ty Valley.
This time, she chose Phi Lieng Waterfall in Dam Rong District, Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands. The chosen cliff for camping was in the middle of a 115-meter-high waterfall.
Both of Duong’s trips were licensed adventure tours, and cliff camping was a small part of the overall itinerary. The organizers provided all the necessary safety equipment and technical support through experts.
Duong said that both trips were unforgettable, as she had wanted to do it for years. The cliff camping adventure at Phi Lieng Waterfall left a lasting impression on her.
She remembers waking up while hanging on the cliff, witnessing the sun’s first rays descending behind the rushing waterfall.
To undertake the cliff camping adventure at Phi Lieng Waterfall, Duong and her team had to transport 30 kilograms of safety equipment and beds from Hanoi to Lam Dong. Careful packing was essential to ensure that all items could be conveniently carried on board during the journey.
Thuy Duong sits on a cliff that stands next to Phi Lieng waterfall. Photo courtesy of Thuy Duong
Phi Lieng Waterfall is nestled deep within an ancient forest, and the entrance is perpetually damp due to fog and rain.
The terrain features muddy puddles created by agricultural vehicles. To reach the waterfall, Duong’s group had to shoulder their equipment and trek through many kilometers of forest roads. Upon arrival, they selected a level area to pitch their tent. They then proceeded to attach a rope along the cliff, using it to suspend the beds as sleeping places for the night.
The chosen cliff for the bed had to be vertical and sturdy, offering an expansive view of the surrounding landscape. The bed used, known as a portal edge, weighed 15 kilograms and could be folded and disassembled for convenient travel. Designs vary depending on the camping terrain to ensure safety and comfort.
Duong said that the same bed used for camping at Phi Lieng Waterfall was also used during the camping trip at Mat Than Mountain. Acquiring such a bed required extensive research by the expert in the group to determine the optimal solutions for various aspects such as joints, weight, and bed lining.
The bed was secured with iron chains and other specialized devices to maintain balance and ensure safety at great heights. Campers have to fasten themselves to a lifeline while lying on the bed.
“It is crucial to always use safety devices and remain secured until you are out of the danger zone. Inconvenience is unavoidable, but safety takes precedence. I have been continuously practicing and getting accustomed to these devices for months to ensure that moving in and out of bed is not an issue,” Duong said.
Thuy Duong lies on a bed that dangles from a cliff near the peak of Mat Than Mountain in Lang Son Province. Photo courtesy of Thuy Duong
Ensuring safety is of utmost importance during cliff camping trips. All equipment undergoes testing prior to use, and there are contingency plans in place for each device.
Participants are equipped with two to three sets of protective gear and are accompanied by an expert who supervises the entire journey, resulting in minimal risk.
Duong emphasized that she took careful consideration of the potential risks before deciding to take part in cliff camping.
Before joining the trip, Duong researched the equipment and familiarized herself with their usage. She spent several months practicing with a specialist twice a week to master the techniques.
With over five years of experience in climbing and trekking, having conquered the majority of Vietnam’s 15 peaks, Duong was not afraid to be in such high positions. Her previous climbing experiences involved similar safety equipment, so she encountered no surprises.
Thuy Duong’s group camps on the cliff at Phi Lieng waterfall in Lam Dong Province. Photo courtesy by Thuy Duong
Cliff camping originated among professional mountaineers worldwide, who sought to enhance the travel experience by immersing themselves in nature.
According to CNN , the concept of cliff camping gained recognition in 2015 when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorges accomplished El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, California, U.S.
Cliff camping has also gained popularity in various locations, including Estes Park (Colorado, U.S.), and has gradually spread to China, Canada, and Colombia. Due to the need for physical strength and proficient climbing techniques, individuals attempting cliff camping for the first time may experience dizziness.
In Vietnam, cliff camping has not gained widespread popularity due to limited suitable terrain.
Additionally, there are a few adventure travel companies that offer this service. Duong explained that to partake in this activity in Vietnam, visitors must engage with licensed professional travel companies that provide safety equipment and the guidance of experienced experts. The cost may vary depending on the specific services tailored to customer needs.
Expensive, niche, arguably dangerous, and requiring a very particular skill set, cliff camping is not for everyone. However, for those that do partake, it can be richly rewarding, offering an intense high, quite literally, like no other.
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