Spring seems to have arrived and we have survived winter without any serious floods. Last week we had a trip into Hang Va to check out the passage that Mick and Watto surveyed last year. They did say it had good formations and they were not kidding. We found lots of tremendous flower like formations which are probably called Anthodites. They are pretty rare and Hang Va has an abudance of them. We have sent pics to various people hoping for some expert identification. The trip was a great success and the cave very sporting due to the higher water levels. Also the leeches were out in force in the jungle and we all managed to feed them up.
Khanh is making a new home as a tourist homestay and it looks great next to the river and hopefully will be a great success for him and his family.
Not long now before the lads come out from England to help us with 2 films. The first an Hong Kong film which they hope to make 6 half hours shows I am sure will be an epic. There are 17 persons from Hong Kong including up to 6 actors and the equipment list looks enourmous so lots of porters will be required to ferry this through Son Doong. The second film a Brazilian team looks easier to handle and the team looks to have more outdoor experience so hopefully all will go well with both.
Our trip to Hanoi was pleasant and now we are planning for the Tet festival holiday. It should be a big thing here in Phong Nha and our first time we have been here during the holiday period. After the holiday period we hope to have a short trip into jungle to check out some new caves our guides have recently discovered. We also may be going down to Saigon in February to do a talk about tourism in Phong Nha.
Our tours in Tu Lan are going down really well with tourists and the feedback is excellent. Deb next week is going down to Hang En on a tour for the first time for about 5 months so she should have a good idea of what if anything has changed in the valley after the rains. I wish I could also go but I must stay in town and check the emails to make sure the 2 films are all going ahead smoothly.
It was my birthday the other day and I went to English classes as usual expecting to give a class but the lads had other ideas and we had a party and I was given a large bunch of flowers. The people here are so kind and helpful towards us which makes it so pleasant for us in Phong Nha.
Expecting lots of parties in the coming week for the festival so looking forward to experiencing more Vietnamese hospitality.
We have just had an amazing Tet festival being well looked after as honoured guests by everyone we met. The actual night of the Tet festival their New Years eve was quite different from anything we have experienced before. Phong Nha village was like a battle zone with bombs going off all the time. The noise was incredible and not like bon fire night at home. You can see why fireworks are banned in Vietnam. However in the villages they just use explosives with short fuses which shake the whole village. It is pretty frightning really and one poor lad in the village lost his hand probably in the process of throwing a bomb.
After very little sleep we were invited to our friends in the village. This is a great honour becasue the first day of the new year only relatives are supposed to visit houses. Thus we became part of the Ho family for the festival. We ended up visiting 10 houses in total. In each house we had a meal and lots of rice wine. The hospitality was amazing and we staggered from house to house hoping for no more food and wine. Alas that was not to be the case and each house tried to out do the others in terms of food and drinks provided. Deb did brilliant with the food and wine, as usual I struggled but tried not to upset the hospitality shown.
The next day we again went to more friends houses but after another 3 meals and drinks before 10am we decided to retire to our room for some rest. After the Tet holiday we plan to go out to the jungle and sort out the jungle marathon course. This is essential because we will be busy in March and April with films again in Hang Son Doong.
Also some time in May we have the big 10 year celebration of the World Heritage in Phong Nha and we have been invited as guests to be interviewed on TV and join in the celebrations. I expect some rice wine to be consumed again in the celebrations.
I met the chairman and vice chairman of the Quang Binh province before the Tet festival and both were very pleased to see us and we promised to help them make a book about Phong Nha and the caves.
I really can’t over enthasize the incredible friendship all the people are showing us out here in Vietnam. We are treated really well and we are both having a great time.
All our porters and guides though extremlely poor shower us with gifts and we will do our best to help them obtain work in the future. I wish we could do more to help they deserve recognition for what they have achieved for the province.
Tonight I am off to compete in a pool compitition with some of our porters so I expect more drinks and probably a good stuffing at pool. An alcoholic would love it out here but as I don’t drink really so my head was a little sore this morning.
Just returned from Son Doong after 10 days in the cave filming with the Hong Kong team. Great bunch of people but not terribly fit or experienced for such a venture. We camped in the large chamber of Hang En on the way in which was better and safer in case of floods. The En valley has changed a lot since last floods. We had 67 people at one stage of the film must be a record of numbers in the cave. The film is to be 6 episodes of 1/2 hour so much interviews were needed. The main points of the trip was the finding of the amazing Terta fossils near camp 1 with the help of Prof Phoung from Hanoi who was brilliant. These coral fossils are the best examples he had ever seen and indicated the rock was in the region of 300,000,000 years old. We also found 3 white creatures which I am sure will be new species when identified. We found a white worm, a white spider and a white cricket as well as numerous white fish. We hope to bring a biologist with us on the next Brazilian trip in a month.
The biggest difference to the cave was the lake to the great wall of Vietnam. This was around 25m deep and crystal clear and 600m long. With the aid of 2 boats we were able to treansport the film team to the wall and drag them up the reduced in size vertical section. We also managed to film most of this which was far better than in the usual mud of Paschendale.
As usual the porters were amazing and under the excellent supervision of Ho Khanh managed to do all that was asked of them. Some loads were 60kg and we also took in 6 generators. One porter took a 5m fall with a generator on his back but managed to escape with minor injuries which we treated in the cave then to hospital for X ray and check up. Luckily all was well.
Back in Phong Nha all is well and the weather has warmed up and we are having to use air con now for sleeeping. Oxalis tours are busy and many tours are happening. We have been asked to do a book for Quang Binh so soon we will start work on a book to produce a quality book to show the wonderful caves of the area.
Not long now before another team comes out for the next film so looking forward to a few supplies being brought out for us such as sweets and more sweets!!
Just back from another amazing trip down Son Doong. This time with a great bunch of film makers from Extreme Planet Brazil. The team was excellent and very professional. On this trip they took 2 drones with them and the footage is simply outsanding. The drone flew in Hang En and various places in Son Doong. At the first doline the drone flew over 210m high and out of the shaft and the view was incredible. We hope to put the film in for the Kendal film festival in November it should be wiorth watching. We managed to find over 350m of new passage in or near Son Doong on this trip. The lake has dissapeared and the usual mud returned at the bottom of the great wall. The only mishap was to Mick who took a fall in the second doline and cut his hand fairly badly. This must be the best film yet in Son Doong and one worth watching when it comes out in July.
We are now heavily involved with Carsten the National Geographic photographer. We have spent 2 days in Hang Vom obtaining what should be cracking pictures. The next 2 days are in Hang Va where Carsten should really do the cave justise.
The month of May is nearly upon us and this year it is the 10th anniversery of the world heritage. It will be a big do out here and we have been invited to take part in the celebrations.
Had a vary good last few weeks in Phong Nha. At this time of year it is the rice harvesting period. We foolishly volentereed to help one of our good friends. Because of an overnight storm the rice cutting was postponed to midday. So when the full force of the midday sun was out with temperatures up to 40c we started our first and probably last rice harvest. There is a definate knack to cutting rice and armed with sharp knife which is curved , a pointy hat to keep sun off we were let loose on a valuable rice crop. They were more concerned about our safety with the knife than the quality of our rice cutting but we managed to cut some of the crop along with 6 other ladies who worked like demons. It was so hot and hard work. The deep mud in the padddies and the large leeches present was not pleasant at all. We just could not keep up with the local ladies and luckily our friend kept bringing along things to revive us like Coca Cola and ice and ice creams. I am sure this is not normal for harvesting but totalluy essential for our well being. It was the hottest I have ever felt and my back was killing me so I kept stopping to pour large ice blocks on my head in a vain attempt to keep cool. After 5 or maybe six hours of this tough work we had managed to cut 2 fields of rice out of his 7. We escaped from this torture and had a shower before returning for a meal at our friends house where all the helpers came by for a bite to eat and a beer ot two. It was a great experience but one that does not really need to be repeated.
We had a trip into Hang Toi the other week to sort out a route to the big chamber as a possible tourist adventure. This we managed as well as some photography
The trip is a classic Vietnamese river cave and a very pleasant trip was had escaping the fierce hot weather on the surface. We tried to copy our National Geographer with underwater flashes but with limited success. However we have picked up quite a few tips which will help our photography.
The village of Phong Nha was saddended last weeek as 2 young children 6 years of age and 3 years of age drowned in the Son river near the market. This was a great shock and makes you realise the difficulties the local people have to go through.
Most of the rice havest has now been done and the streets are covered in rice that is being dried out before removing the husks. We have just had a really hot spell of weather mainly in the 39-40c range and it is hard work out of the shade. Today we have been invited to receive our certificates for helping out over here so we have to dress up in our best clothes for the afternoon.
Tommorrow I have a talk in Dong Hoi about exploration over the last 10 years as well as hopefully seeing a photo exhibition of all our caving shots during the last 20 years in Vietnam.
Still having the time of our lives out here. Oxalis is going very well with lots of work which means more work for locals in Minh Hoa.
Just had a classic 4 days with a Vietnamese film crew doing a reality TV show called Amazing Race. We had 124 people in Hang En and it still seemed empty what a place. There were 50 film crew and 10 competitors. Over 50 porters and 3 of us to look after safety. Numerous National Park people came along for the fun. This gave a lot of work for the local people which was good but it was hard work for us. Basically the show is about skimpily dressed young girls and boys doing various games along a route. However the route to Son Doong is not easy and many of the team and competitors struggled a bit. However it was good fun for our lads watching all this chaos.
Deb finally has transformed into Vietnamese now. In Hang En she was offered baby swiftlets as a snack and she managed 5 though she said the head was very greasy!! I persuaded Mr Ky my good friend to make me lots of chips which I thought both looked and tasted far better than swiftlets. At this time of the year there are loads of the birds that have just fledged and are unable to fly properly and just hit the deck and unable to get off again. The local people realise this is a good time of year to pick up the snacks which seem very popular.
Somehow we all managed to survive this despite heavy rain which made the river crossings on our return interesting. We picked up a few leeches on the return and the film team were not impressed with the newly found guests on their bodies. The local people and our porters found the antics of the film people very amusing when they found leeches on themselves.
Still awaiting the final Son Doong descision but expect it to be soon. After the recent flood I was on a trip kayaking down the Son river and noticed that Phong Nha cave still produced clear blue water but the Chay and hence the rest of the Son river was a chocolate colour. The flood must have been in mainly the Vom system and Nuoc Moc area and the river rose at least 2m. This brown colour has lasted now over 4 days and will be interesting to see it return to its normal colour.
We may have a short break and visit our friends in Hanoi very soon as well as stocking up with any goodies I can find .Before then we are having a couple of short days in Son Doong setting up a visit for the president of the province. We also are taking 2 compost toilets down the cave for any future trips.