Asia’s New Sport Climbing Destination
Uli Weidner gunning it on the crux move of Than Njai 8b (5.13d) in Thakhek
Steep, powerful, three-dimensional, adventurous and exotic are the best ways to describe the climbing in Thakhek, an off-thebeaten-track destination in Laos. Thakhek stands for ‘visitor’s landing,’ and is the capital of Khammouane province. In 1987 Laos opened its borders to tourism and climbing began in 2002.
A German couple, Volker and Isabelle Schoffl, discovered the climbing potential around Thakhek, in 2010, and Volker bolted the first 50 routes. Uli and Tanja Weidner, also from Germany, opened Green Climbers Home, where climbers can camp. It burned down in January 2013; it has since been rebuilt and is open.
Routes as easy as 7a climb out the signature cave that overhangs 18 m, creatively named “Roof. ”The only words I could muster when looking back towards my belayer while being lowered from the area’s must-do 7b, called Jungle King, were “how can this route, this steep, and this long, only be 7b?
This place is absolutely insane, I’m so pumped.” Routes up to 8b on pockets and tufas. Endless potential surrounds the area, from technical face climbing to stalactite stemming.
At time of writing there were 140 routes within a 10- minute walk of Green Climbers Home. The longest approach is ten minutes and most cliffs are three minutes away from camp. A few projects remain unsent, and are rumoured to be as hard as 9a.
Climbing season is from October through May with climbing temps often in the high teens.The evenings can be chilly so br ing a few warm layers. In monsoon season when it’s raining every day the cliffs will be wet but during the climbing season rain will not affect the climbing. The best climbing conditions are in the morning and evening.
Green Climbers Home is the best place for climbers to stay and is located 12 km east of Thakhek. It’s full-size restaurant offers meals starting at $ 2.50. Also, they offer a selection of dr inks, desserts and snacks.
Accommodation starts at $ 2 if you bring a tent or $ 4 if you rent one. Dorms are available at $ 7 a night and can be a great step up from a tent during the shoulder season when it rains heavily or can be too hot. Double-bed bungalows cost $ 20 a night.
Climbing instruction is available and essentials such as tape or chalk are for sale. Dollars, Baht, along with the Laos currency Kip, are all accepted at Green Climbers Home. For everywhere else, using the local currency will get you the best rates.
Wi-Fi is accessible in Thakhek, but not at Green Climbers Home where other forms of entertainment are available such as badminton, slack-lining and darts.
On rest days, head to a local market and exper ience what Laos has to offer away from the crag. The Laos culture is influenced by Theravada Buddhism which is evident in the people and environment. Also on rest days go for a hike, swim in the r iver or explore the caves.
Round trip flights to Bangkok from the U.S. can often be found from $ 800 to $ 1,200. Once in Bangkok, it’s possible to catch another flight to half-an-hour outside of Thakhek in the nearby Thai city Nakhon
Phanom, or a night bus for the budget traveller. From here take a bus to Thakhek which runs hourly during the day (costing $ 2.50 and approx. 2.5 hours). In Thakhek, grab a Tuk Tuk (South East Asia’s version of a taxi) to Green Climbers Home.
In the future, Thakhek could become one of Asia’s epicentres for sport climbing. It’s bigger, steeper and cheaper than nearby Tonsai Bay. This should have climbers flocking across the Laos border. It is suspected that soon there will be 250 routes within a 15- minute walk of camp. With un-touched walls as far as the eye can see the area has lots of potential.
Laos has 400 sport and multi-pitch routes. Nearby tourist hotspot Vang Vieng has 200 of these routes and slightly more than 100 of them are within a 45- minute walk from town. The other routes are a 22 km Tuk Tuk
In the future, Thakhek could become one of Asia’s epicentres for sport climbing. It’s bigger, steeper and cheaper than nearby Tonsai Bay.
r ide to the north. Rest day activities include tubing, zip-lining, kayaking, mountain biking and atv tours. Private rooms as low as $ 4 and meals as cheap as a dollar are easy to find. The town has four climbing shops offering instruction, gear and guide books.
A few hours north is the unesco Heritage site Luang Prabang where more climbing can be found. Chiang Mai in North Thailand offers some of the area’s best climbing and is a two-day boat journey from Vang Vieng.
The climbing in Luang Prabang is difficult to access as it is a 30 km Tuk Tuk r ide to the north, then a short boat r ide across the r iver from the petite village Pak Ou. Make the tr ip and you’ll find yourselves alone at the crag, looking across the Mekong River into Pak Ou cave. Routes range from 5c-7c+ and after a day of climbing head to Pak Ou cave where hundreds of tiny wooden Buddhas sit on shelves.
Climbing in Laos, unlike the nearby tour ist phenomenon of Tonsai Bay, won’t involve queuing for routes or fighting for a bed to sleep in. It’s more than possible to have an entire area to yourself. Looking across the r ice fields to the mountainous skyline, one can’t help but feel far from wester n culture.