I came across the story of VietClimb and its founder, Jean Verly, three years ago to discuss the possibility of working together for a project in Halong Bay, a place where he and his team like to go to on weekends for climbing and deep water soloing.
Fast-forward to now, Jean and I met up again to talk about his story as a young man arriving in Vietnam more than 10 years ago and how he ended up building his climbing empire in the country’s toughest place to start a business, the capital city of Hanoi.
Tell us about VietClimb and how it all started. How was it like building VietClimb from scratch?
I first arrived to Vietnam in 2005 to discover more about my roots as I didn’t really know anything about my Vietnamese background since my mother passed away when I was born. My plan initially was to come here and travel for half a year before heading back to France. A few months after, I was hired to work for L’Espace in their linguistic department as an intern in partnership with the French Embassy in Hanoi.
And since I’ve always been a big fan of climbing from the age of 10, I put up a website called vietclimb.vn to be able to connect to other climbers traveling around Vietnam and would meet them up in town, or sometimes go to climbing trips with them outside the city, mostly in Halong Bay.
Eventually, after working for L’Espace for a few months, like any other young 20-somethings in Vietnam, I felt like I was lost and decided to move forward and leave the country; went back to France, and then Australia to visit some relatives while traveling.
In October of 2006, I decided to move back to Vietnam again to find my inner life purpose (yeah, I know, it sounds very cliché coming from a French guy like me). After moving back, I became more active in the community and setup my own climbing wall inside the house I was renting. During this time, people would come to my house on weekdays to do some climbing and then go somewhere else outside Hanoi on the weekends, like usual.
And in 2010, after years of hosting locals and foreigners in my house, I realized that I had to make something bigger and more sustainable. This is when I initiated the idea of building Vietnam’s first-ever indoor bouldering walls where locals, expats, and travelers could do their climbing in the city. Our club opened in 2011 in its current location in An Duong Vuong, Tay Ho. From there, of course, as they say, the rest was history.
What has been the main highlights of your venture over the years?
The most significant highlight of our journey is the national competition that we setup and sponsor every single year, the Vietnam Bouldering Cup. This event has helped us network with thousands of climbers and enthusiasts from all over the globe, particularly in major cities in Southeast Asia like Singapore and Bangkok.
Also, a part of the continuous successes we’ve had include setting up climbing and bouldering routes in Huu Long from 2012 to 2016, partnering up with top climbing brand Millet, and participating in bouldering events like the Gravical in 2013 and Pumpfest in in 2016, which were both held in Singapore to connect with the Southeast Asia Climbing Federation.
Any expansion plans happening soon? Any particular city you have in mind?
Having been operating for over six years now, of course that’s the only thing I’ve been thinking about no? But like what I’ve said earlier, the difficult part to making this happen is the human resources. I need to build a team here in Hanoi first that could work independently so I could focus on building another branch somewhere else.
But on a more serious note, I really want to expand this year in Saigon as I see a lot of potential there in terms of membership and growth, especially knowing that people in the south are more open now to new ideas and are health-conscious.
Who should we talk to next?
You should speak with Bang Trinh. He’s also Vietkieu, but from the US and he’s been here for over 10 years now I guess. He’s one of the organizers of Iron Man Danang and one of the founders of Champion Dash in Saigon. Also, he’s pretty cool to talk to because he has the same vision as I do in terms of sports and wellness. You’ll be happy to get to know him.