WILD DIVERSIONS

Those seeking a little extra thrill in Vietnam can readily satiate the need.

By Don Wills on July 04,2018 04:29 PM

WILD DIVERSIONS

Photo: Tran Van Nguyen

There are sports, and then again there are sports. Consider for a moment canoeing: a quiet, relaxing pastime that never got anyone’s adrenaline going. But put that canoe on a swiftly flowing river and it becomes an adventure sport. Add some rapids, jagged rocks, and a couple of small whirlpools to the mix and you’ve got yourself an extreme sport. The dictionary defines extreme sports as ‘activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger’. Despite the dictionary’s use of the word ‘danger’ and the element of risk involved, people don’t seem to have been discouraged from taking up these sports. To minimise the danger there are always professional, certified guides on hand to supply the right equipment, give instructions on the safest practices, and ensure that participants are not a potential hazard to themselves or anyone else. The only inherent danger lies in first-timers attempting go it alone; beginners would be well-advised to sign up with an adventure tour company and take advantage of the guides’ know-how.

Vietnam is a mecca for those who are into adventure sports and extreme sports. Dotted all over the map are places that cater to adventurers, risk-takers and adrenaline junkies. And all these places have reputable, well-run tour companies providing transport, equipment, and practical advice. There’s no shortage of companies to choose from - Asia Outdoors, Vietnam Active, Viator, Rainbow Divers and Slo Pony Adventures are some of the bigger ones, but there are plenty of smaller ones around too.

Here are some of the adventures that await you!

DIVING

Nha Trang is indisputably Vietnam’s premiere destination for scuba divers. The visibility underwater is from 15 to 30 metres depending on the season (the best time to go is mid-January to mid-October). There are no sunken ships to explore but many species of coral and myriad small colourful fish. A full-day trip costs $50 to $80 and includes boat transport, two dives, and lunch. A range of dive courses is available from the beginner level to semi-experienced.

At Cham Island, 21 km of the coast of Hoi An, diving and snorkelling are the two primary attractions for visitors. There are 135 species of coral, 202 species of fish, five species of lobster and 84 species of mollusc. The best time to visit is between March and September; at other times the sea is too rough.

Other good diving locales are Phu Quoc Island, Con Dao Island, Cua Dai Beach in Hoi An, Quang Nam province, Ca Na in Ninh Thuan province and My Khe Beach in Da Nang.

WILD DIVERSIONS

KAYAKING

Ha Long Bay is perfect for kayaking. The relatively calm waters, the magnificent scenery, and the wide range of tours for kayak enthusiasts are an irresistible combination. Prices are surprisingly low: an overnight kayak and camping package with accommodation and dinner on the beach costs as little as $25 (VND575,000). Included in the tours is a guided two-day trip to Ba Ham sea caves that includes camping on a deserted beach and boat transfers for just $85 (VND1,950,000).

Solo kayakers can do their own thing too - many hotels rent out kayaks for $8 (VND184,000) to $12 (VND276,000) a day.

WILD DIVERSIONS

ROCK CLIMBING

Ha Long Bay, with its spectacular limestone cliffs and stunning scenery, is an ideal location for rock climbing. Slo Pony Adventures pioneered the sport at Halong Bay just ten short years ago. They run tours to Cat Ba Island for $50 (VND1,150,000) a day and to Lan Ha Bay for $75 (VND1,725,000). Ha Long has something to satisfy novices and experienced climbers alike. Those new to the sport can take comfort in the fact that the sheltered rock faces are relatively dry and thus good for beginners. Slo Pony’s instructors will teach you the ropes: how to adjust and secure equipment, knot tying, abseiling, rappelling and belaying.

Da Lat also offers superb rock climbing opportunities. Dalat Canyoning has a full-day tour that involves an orientation session where you learn how to handle equipment and master the required techniques, then an 18-metre dry abseil followed by a 30-metre waterfall abseil, a water-sliding session and a choice of two cliffs to jump over, seven and eleven metres high. Finally comes the most exciting descent of all: down a 16-metre waterfall nicknamed ‘The Washing Machine’. All this for just $50 a person.

Another popular destination for rock climbers is Monkey Mountain in Da Nang, where you do your climbing in the midst of remote jungle complete with families of inquisitive macaque monkeys, while taking in some spectacular ocean views.

WILD DIVERSIONS

SURFING, WINDSURFING AND KITEBOARDING

First: surfing. Surfers in search of thrills should go to My Khe Beach in Da Nang, where Vietnam’s first international surfing competition was held in 1992. The northern end of the 30-km long stretch has the best surfing waves and from September to December is the best time to take advantage of them.

The season for windsurfing and kiteboarding is considerably longer than the season for surfing, which is the very reason kiteboards were invented 20 years ago. No waves? No worries. As long as there’s wind, you’re good to go.

At Mui Ne, Binh Thuan province, surf’s up from August to December. Mui Ne Beach is a favourite with windsurfing and kiteboarding enthusiasts as it gets an average of 227 days a year when there are winds of over 12 knots. The strong cross-onshore wind creates ideal conditions. If you’ve never windsurfed before, no problem - there are plenty of windsurfing schools on hand.

The second-most popular spot for windsurfers is Nha Trang, with Vung Tau hot on its heels.

WILD DIVERSIONS

Photo: Do Huu Tuan

OFFROAD MOTORBIKING

A number of companies, including Offroad Vietnam Adventures, Vietnam Motorbike Tours, Offroad Indochina, and Flamingo Travel, offer motorbike tours ranging from one to 30 days on bikes that are mostly 125cc to 250cc Hondas. The tours can be fully-guided, semi-guided or unguided, on everything from sealed roads to goat tracks. Most of the tours cover routes in northern Vietnam (although some also do nine- to 16-day rides along the Ho Chi Minh Trail). One of the most popular routes is Sapa to Ha Giang, which follows winding roads through breath-taking scenery for nine days or so. If you are new to Vietnam, the fully-guided tours are recommended; the guides not only instruct you on safe riding techniques but can also help you find reasonable accommodation and good food.

TREKKING

Though it’s more an adventure sport than an extreme sport, trekking in Vietnam provides its fair share of thrills for those who take part. There are many locations where trekkers can do hikes from half a day to a week. National parks and nature reserves lend themselves to trekking, in particular Cat Ba, Cat Tien, Yok Don and Bach Ma. The foot hills of Sapa and Bac Ha are also popular with trekkers. Some of the more experienced climbers among them scale Mt Fansipan - at 3,143 metres in height the country’s tallest. A bonus with many of these treks is the chance to visit remote ethnic minority villages. Another favourite trekking route is the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Now you’ll notice I haven’t even touched on sky diving, hang-gliding, white-water rafting, and mountain biking, but whichever way you look at it and whichever form of adventure sport you fancy, Vietnam has it all in spades. Just get out there and enjoy.

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