Deep Water Solo Diving – Cat Ba, Vietnam

by Mike Still
Deep Water Solo Diving – Cat Ba, Vietnam

Did you know that I hosted a Vietnamese Television show a few months ago?  No, seriously I spent 3 days filming Vietnam Discovery on Cat Ba Island and the episode is about to air, but until then you’ll have to read about it here.  I know you probably want me to write an update about life in Alaska and don’t worry, it’s coming soon!  Vietnam Discovery took us around Lan Ha Bay to hot spots in Cat Ba Island.  One of my favorites was deep water solo diving, an adventure where I didn’t quite know what I signed up for.

Want to read more about Vietnam Discovery? Check out my adventure on Cat Ba’s Monkey Island.
Looking for things to do in Cat Ba?  Read about my Sea Kayaking trip with VTV 4!

We awoke for the 3rd and final day of filming Vietnam Discovery’s Cat Ba Island episode in a blur.  The last 2 days had zoomed by with monkeys, kayaking, and so much great seafood but today would prove to be the most intense day yet. We left Monkey Island Resort and headed for the mainland on Cat Ba Island.  The plan was to grab breakfast while I met my deep water solo dive instructor.  I still wasn’t quite sure what Deep Water Solo Diving was but that it had “diving” in the name so I was glad to have my open water SCUBA certificate.  Except that as soon as I walked through the doors it was obvious that I wasn’t going SCUBA diving.

Read this ultimate guide to Cat Ba Island before you plan your trip!

What is Deep Water Solo Diving?

Deep water solo diving is when a boat takes you to an island with a sheer cliff and deep enough water beneath it that you can safely climb up before jumping!

When they started fitting me for climbing shoes instead of SCUBA gear I realized I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Micah, the instructor, said my climbing shoes should be 2 sizes too small and “comfortably hurt.”  I’ve only ever worn climbing shoes twice in my life but was excited about this new, unknown challenge.

The good thing is Micah was a deep water solo expert and was ready to teach me (and a few others) the ropes.  We all crammed into one boat with about twenty other kayakers but left them behind as the deep water soloists jumped on a smaller boat.  Our first stop was Three Brothers, a rock outcropping sitting in a calm lagoon surrounded by karst mountains.  We pulled up to the nearest island and Micah gave us a quick tutorial before sending us up one at a time.

The TV crew pulled alongside and set me up with a chest mounted GoPro while the first few climbers tried it.  The ascent didn’t look too bad and it was only a 5m (16.4 ft) jump from the top of this climb but every time someone made it to the top they shouted down how scary it was getting ready to jump.  I was up next and thoughts of the fall into the water filled my head with dread.

I braced myself on the rock wall; two hands up high as my feet found holds closer to the boat.  In a few seconds, Micah signaled the boat was clear and it was time for me to climb.  I pushed with my feet reaching the next handhold.  These limestone mountains were full of natural climbing holds which should have made scaling the island easy, right?  Placing my hand then foot I reached higher but something was amiss.  I thought I had a solid grip but in a moment I plunged back into the water!

Thankfully I was barely a few feet into the climb and the warm tropical waters felt great.  I, on the other hand, felt defeated.  I knew I’d give it another shot as I swam back to the boat but I was the first of our group not to make it to the top.  Plus it was all on TV.  In fact, you can watch it online!  Like my Facebook Page to find out when the episode is online!

I dried my hands on a towel and reached into the chalk bag rearing to get back on the mountain.  Micah gave me a few more tips and reminded me to take it slow as I waited for his signal yet again.  This time my hands and feet held true as I slowly made my way higher and higher.  Smaller steps and patience were key on this climb as I pulled myself to the final ledge 5m up and got ready for the jump.

Looking down was a bad idea, I think that’s why everyone else was scared too.  Climbing up you don’t think about it but then when you get to the top suddenly you realize how far you’ve come.  It probably looks farther than it is but that’s enough to send butterflies flying through my stomach.  I quickly looked up at the horizon and didn’t want to jump, the views around me were stunning and a great distraction to keep me from plummeting.  In a flash, I realized that my stalling would be caught on national television.  I wanted to linger here, It felt like just me and an amazing landscape but knew I had to jump.  I slowly counted to three and took a step into the abyss!

It felt moronic to climb 15m up a rock and simply step off but Lan Ha Bay was ready to catch me with a splash five meters below.  My first deep water solo dive was exhilarating and I instantly craved more!  Swimming back to the boat I could hear Micah explaining that our next stop was a 6m (19.7ft) foot climb.  This one was slightly harder and a little bit higher but he said it was still very manageable.  Now I was eager to get back on the mountain and went second in the rotation.

I moved with a bit more confidence but still reminded myself to take it slow.  I saw handholds everywhere and easily reached a slight crevasse which let me rest a bit bracing myself against the rock and gazed out into the bay.  I could see a fishing boat coming through the far end of the inlet while another tourist boat cruised by.

Reaching for the next footing my right hand slipped and I was certain I’d fall but somehow I managed to keep myself on the wall made a quick recovery.  The next few steps were a bit tricky so I forced myself to slow down and try each hold.  Carefully I inched higher until I finally felt the flat platform signaling the top of my climb.  Turning around I was nearly 20 feet above the water but this time I was confident in the jump.

I gazed across this iconic Vietnamese landscape one last time, took a big step and an even bigger breath and plummeted down.  The wind rushed up at me, I exhaled and inhaled one final time before splashing through the water and in an instant, my chin was on screaming with pain!  It felt as if the bottom half of my jaw was on fire for a split second and then almost as quickly the pain disappeared.  I reached down to feel for the GoPro and before I grasped the empty holster I knew that the pain was from the GoPro hitting me in the face.

I flailed around hopelessly as it sank to the bottom and breached the surface screaming, “Shit!  I’m okay.  The Go Pro?  My Chin! It’s gone!”  A bit disoriented between it all I made my way back to the boat where Micah administered first aid and the TV crew danced around like the Three Stooges trying to figure out how to get it back.  Micah insisted it was lost forever and I was just happy to put some gauze on my chin.

The rest of the dive was a blur of jealousy watching the others climb while I was no longer allowed in and confusion.  The TV crew left without saying a word. At least it was a beautiful day and I was surrounded by beautiful landscapes right?  After a while a new boat showed up with just one TV crew and told me to get in, I happily obliged and realized how hungry I was.  All the excitement made me forget that I never ate breakfast today.

We pulled into another floating restaurant and I saw Ronda anxiously waiting on the dock.  She checked my chin and we agreed it should be looked at back on the mainland but until then a seafood feast lay before us for lunch.  The national park and local officials wanted to thank us for coming to Cat Ba with the best spread we’d eaten yet.  But food wasn’t enough of a thank you.  They insisted on bringing a few bottles of Vietnamese Whiskey.

One by one each of the dozen dignitaries at this floating eatery walked over to us, poured a shot of whiskey and proudly proclaimed “100 percent.”  (which apparently means 100% of you drink).  At least I was able to stuff the most delicious shrimp and crab into my mouth between the rounds.  Ronda had been entertained by our guests for most of the time waiting for me so I convinced them to let her only drink “50 percent” but they wouldn’t let me get away that easy.

Somewhere between the shots and the seafood I found out that a local diver had actually recovered the GoPro but as soon as we were done eating I happily accepted a bed and passed out for a few hours.  We headed back to the mainland to film the last few clips for Vietnam Discovery and a hospital where I was told I needed 1 stitch, got laid down and ready to when at the last second the doctor changed his mind and declared me fit as a fiddle.

Have you ever had a crazy mishap on an adventure like mine?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

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Disclaimer:  This is the internet and It is safe to assume that links and content contained on this webpage provide compensation to the website’s owner.  VTV4 paid for all activities and accommodations during this tour but the opinions are my own and the information here is accurate as of November 2017.  All photos in this post were taken as a collaboration between Mike Still and Ronda Christensen.

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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1 comment

Ryan Biddulph November 22, 2017 - 11:13 am

Inspired stuff Mike! Congrats on hosting the show, and scaling those cliffs. Impressive. I am a wee scared of heights but would love giving this a whirl. As for hosting the show, yeah I am a ham LOL….so after years of practice on video, including live broadcasts, I would feel comfy in front of the camera. It’d be fun.



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