Team members of the 2005 Vietnam expedition have compiled the following journal. It reflects their own experiences and thoughts and therefore the original scripts have been used with minimum change in the editing of our report. All team members contributed photographs in digital format and all photographs in this journal are credited to Vietnam 2005.
The compilers of this report and members of the expedition agree that any or all of this report may be copied for the purpose of private research.
Following the last expedition of 2001, we planned to return to Quang Binh and spend the whole of the trip in this area. Our two main objectives were to visit Quang Ninh district, south of Bo Trach district where the Phong Nha and Hang Vom systems are located, and to attempt to get into the large area of unexplored karst to the east of the Chay river and Hang Vom system.We had also been told of a cave Hang Giang Hai which we hoped would find a way into the undiscovered section of cave between Hang En and Hang Tong, and we hoped to be able to find a way into the missing section of the Hang Vom system between Ruc Caroong and Hang Vom. Therefore we had plenty of objectives for a four week expedition.With the usual co-operation with the Geography Faculty at Hanoi University of Science, we soon had permission to visit all the necessary districts. We have to thank as usual Prof Nguyen Quang My and Mr. Phan Duy Nga for their invaluable help.Quang Ninh district proved to have significant cave development. The longest cave Hang Cha Rao was explored for 2k but not completed. A fine river cave, with more than 1 kilometre of swimming.Hang Giang Hai proved to be elusive, but several new caves were explored around Ruc Caroong with more entrances waiting to be investigated next time.
We were lucky to be able to find local guides who know the area east of the Chay river very well. They took us for several long walks in the jungle, and showed us many caves. Most of the entrances in this area are dry but clearly very active in the wet season. They are also at a higher altitude of about 450m and are quite vertical, unlike the Phong Nha and Hang Vom systems. The deepest, with an entrance shaft of 80m was explored to a depth of 170m. Most caves required some vertical caving equipment. With so many entrances all taking a large amount of water in the wet season, there is the potential for a large master system in this area. Possibly feeding the large resurgence on the east bank of the Chay river. As usual we took only limited ropes and SRT gear to Quang Binh, but a return to this area would require a team fully equipped for vertical caving.
Much information was gained from the excellent jungle guides and the next expedition would be light weight reconnaissance trips deep into the jungle to assess the caving potential. The area around Ruc Caroong near the Lao border could prove very interesting as well as other caves we have been told about between Hang Tong and the Khe Ry system. There is still much to be done in this fabulous Ke Bang limestone massif. The quality caves are still waiting to be found, and further expeditions will yield much more information about this wonderful area with its amazing people.
We would all like to thank all the people who we met during our expedition for all there kindness and help shown towards the expedition.
Situated south of Son Trach and accessible via the newly constructed Ho Chi Minh Highway we visited the area for the first time. We were based in the village of Truong Son on the banks of the River Dai Giang. We were made to feel very welcome by the local people of the ‘Vankieu’ tribe (King people). We concentrated our exploration in areas of Karst to the West of the village and accessible karst from the river and road.
RECCE OF DOWNSTREAM DAI GIANG
I’m usually sick going on boats; I hate the English Channel and even more, the Irish Sea. So when Howard had split the group up and I was and I was in the river party, well! We arrived at the jetty, a simple concrete slab next to the river and awaited our boat. Picture a boat the shape of a banana split lengthways made from the remains an American airlines held together by bits of wood. The tiny propeller on the end of a long drive shaft was powered by a Honda 7.0hp engine. This was to be our vessel for the two hour journey downstream and more importantly two hours back upstream. We took two boats and set off. This was brilliant, the water was deep and we shot a number of rapids.
The next rapids were shallow, being the heaviest I was sat at the rear of the boat and felt every boulder through my backside as we scraped painfully over the river bed. There was no point in asking for sympathy as I couldn’t expect any. The scenery more than made up for the discomfort, limestone cliffs towered above the jungle scenic little villages littered the river bank. We approached a sandy shoreline and our military guide instructed us to clamber out. A little puzzled we jumped out and followed him, hopping over boulders and passing through some scrub to rejoin the river and discover the reason why we were out of the boat. Ahead the river powered down a series of rapids with drops over a metre deep. The boatmen skillfully navigated their way through the drops as we watched in amazement and met us a little further downstream.
As we continued downstream we passed more spectacular scenery, the tops of the cliffs lost in the cloud above. Below the rapids the river deepened and the flow had slowed enough to allow much larger boats to use it. Some were used as homes and many were used for transporting stone from the quarries that were being worked close to the river bank. We knew when we had arrived at the cave as an obvious large entrance could be seen approximately fifteen metres above. The entrance was split in two by a beautiful rock arch and was easily reached by a scramble with the aid of a handline. We surveyed approximately 250 metres of passage to a superb looking sump. We named it birthday sump in recognition of Andy’s 21st birthday and nothing at all to do with Sweeny exposing all to an unsuspecting Miss Van when he searched the sump for a possible way on.
The sound of a possible stream could be heard or was it the sound of bats we couldn’t agree as to the source of the sound. Unable to find a way on Chris took some film footage but the experimental pan lids as reflectors did not work. We checked out a number of other leads but without success. On our way back we called in at the Forest mangers office for the usual Vietnamese hospitality to end a truly memorable day.
HANG RAO MAY – BIRTHDAY CAVE
We set off on our 5 hour walk with Kien and Mung our very hard looking porters/guides. The path took us from Truong Son commune through the forest and to the hill tribe village of Khe Khe or the stilt village as we nick named it. This small commune is where members of the ‘Vankieu’ tribe (King people) reside. This warm welcoming village proved to be very hospitable during the following fortnight. We stopped here for a water and “dung” break, by which time we were getting use to the amazed stares of the local people. This village is where the two-team party split. Debs team turned southwest and Howard’s team – us, turned northwest.
Our path took us over the very steep and slippery hill where most of our 6 man team encountered the expedition’s first leeches and re-discovered Huey and Howard’s unhealthy obsession for torturing the slimy cretins! Whilst resting on the ridge of the hill, Chris confided to us that he had special dietary requirements and would certainly need any available extra food on the trip. Concerned about this apparent medical condition we questioned Chris as to what was wrong; to be told by Dinkie Densham that he was in fact, just a greedy bastard! No extra rations were granted. When our porters finally arrived on the summit, with their hefty loads, we descended into a large river valley, deep in the green jungle.
On arrival at the river, we took a GPS reading and our guides told us about a cave 200 metres downstream that sounded promising. So off I set in search of glory to find a large gaping entrance with a great echo and the whole river sinking into the cave. Our spirits were somewhat lifted when GI Robbie, Sweeny the brave and I descended the boulder slope to find a stunning canal wandering off. This cave would now be known as Rao May downstream. We reported back to Howard and decided to head upstream to Hang Rao May proper to find a suitable campsite. The leech infested streambed was incredibly slippery and full of flood debris. In the wet season I imagine you can’t get anywhere near the apparent huge torrent that washes through the valley.
The entrance of the cave sport
About 700 metres upstream from the GPS location, we were stunned to find a 25 metre wide,by 35 metre high entrance. Adam confirmed that 50 metres above the fluted passage there appeared to be another dry, high level entrance. Later we discovered that the locals use this as a short cut through the mountain. The huge boulder choke at the entrance is where our hardy porters, our army support and Huey set up a rather rough camp. They spent the next three days fishing and always seemed to be eating.
The entrance of the cave sports a large lake which leads into a canal on the left side of the passage. Our guides told us they had witnessed the entrance passage almost flooded to the roof, this is easy to believe after seeing the amount and size of the flood debris high in the passage all the way through the cave. Robbie, Sweeny and I ventured up the passage to find a suitable camp, at the end of the short canal we followed the sound of water up a 10 metre climb, over the house size boulders and into our camp, which would be the site of the best underground 21st birthday party in the world that night! It would later be commented that Howard took me away a boy, and brought me back a man! We ferried all the kit across the lake in 2 large Ortilieb sacks.
Whilst Mr Sewell and I surveyed the huge entrance passage, the lads set up camp and made a stunning and well-deserved meal of Wayfarers! The huge passage took us to a series of beautiful cascades, where we all took some good photos. We were annoyed to discover that the magi-cubes wouldn’t fire, thus we were unsuccessful with some of the swimming shots. Leaving an exciting echo and draft, we retired to our camp to celebrate my 21st with a smoke, Jack Daniels, Jonny Walker and wine gums! We entertained ourselves by attempting to climb E6 in our pissed stupor! Next morning we awoke, clutching our thumping heads, eager to push the cave. It was now we discovered we had only one tape in our six-man team, so we joined together three ropes and knotted them at five metre intervals. This would act as a tape, we had devised the new surveying measurements of knots and smidgens! Whilst Adam, Sweeny and Chris ventured 500 metres upstream with the rope tape, we started surveying up behind them. This way we can leapfrog the teams up the passage and get in twice as much mileage in a day. Above the cascades the passage continues at water level and we swam through a stunning canal passage, about 5 metres wide yet at least 20 metres high. There are three very sporting climbs up small waterfalls – the power of the stream makes them difficult to pass. We arrived at a larger waterfall with a huge log hanging over the top which would act as a super diving board on our return journey! It was here that we caught up with the knots and smidgen team who were unhappy to report that the cave ended in a huge cavern around the corner. After a disappointing 387.9 metre of passage we sent Adam, Chris and Huey to Hang Rao May downstream to start a survey. Howard, Sweeny, Robbie and I were to push upstream through the jungle to either get a GPS reading or find the continuation. We walked, crawled waded and swam up the river and after maybe 700 metres we got a GPS reading in a clearing which told us with the map that we were in a different river valley to previously thought/hoped and there was little potential for cave for at least 5 kms. We decided to return to Jack and Jonny back at camp!
Shortly after arriving back Chris and Adam came in to report that the downstream cave ended after 136.5 Metres in a “minging” sump – as named with no way on. We spent the evening drinking whiskey and watching ‘Sweeny the Daft’ explode boulders by building fires beneath them! We were sad to leave “birthday cave” with no more leads and began our long trek out. We were happy though to find that Debs team had had more luck.
HANG CHA RAO
Silently the smoke rose is slow plumes to a tiny opening. Soot blackened pots and rattan baskets hang above the fire, choked by smoke from endless fires that have been used to cook the meals and boil water for our hosts. We were based in a small wooden house built traditionally on stilts in the village of Dao Do. Belonging to the Vankieu (King people) our hosts had welcomed us with open arms and warm friendly smiles. Our team of six took over the living area normally used by the family. As they politely huddled in the kitchen we lay out our sleeping mats and hung out to dry wet caving suits. Children fascinated by our presence yet shy, peered around the cover of walls at our bizarre collection of tackle bags and caving equipment.
We had completed a day’s exploration, surveying and photographing at a nearby resurgence of Cha Cung. A little over 200m long this cave had started to open into a sizeable river cave but disappointingly ended at a sump. With nightfall approaching and over two hours of walking to reach the road we had needed to find a place to sleep. The boulder filled entrance chamber had not looked inviting and certainly not to our military guide and so we found ourselves in this most delightful village.
As guests in their house they refused any payment. Instead we exchanged gifts of ‘English sweets and chocolates’ and by the light of a homemade paraffin candle we passed the evening eating, drinking and talking about possible caves in the area.
The next morning we were taken to one such lead. We found ourselves at the head of an insignificant side valley staring down into the sizeable entrance of Cha Rao. Trying to control our emotions we hurriedly changed into wetsuits, the sound of roaring water inside beckoned. We bid farewell to the guides and porters and began our survey of the cave. The sound of roaring water as it cascades over a beautiful calcite flow into an emerald green pool below with blackness above is all that the explorer can ask for. We each imagined what lay ahead. We left the roar of the cascades and swam on into the blackness, a silent river passage. The clicks of bats circling above and our voices calling out survey information broke the silence. We swam on, alarmingly no rocks or islands were passed, the only rests were gained by clinging to the mud coated walls or clinging to the floatation bags we carried.A cramped calcite dam bridged the passage and we could fially rest. Beyond another swim beckoned so wen decided this was a good place to end the day as a survey station could be made. We plunged back into the river and floated back contended.
The cave continued in similar fashion, long swims interrupted occasionally by large boulders or calcite dams.
We were all acutely aware that the weather the last few days had been wet with torrential storms, as we swam through a low sumpy section no words were spoken but perhaps our silence confirmed our apprehensions. We swam on!
The roar of water was unmistakeable, not that of a flood pulse but of water crashing down a waterfall. The cave had changed dramatically in character, the hitherto swims had led into a section of exhilarating cascades, climbs and pools in beautiful light grey limestone. Our apprehensions were forgotten as we leapt into the crystal clear pools and scrambling out of the other side. Concentration was required to negotiate many of the razor sharp water worn ledges and climbs. The cascades were increasing in height and difficulty and finally we were stopped by vertical climb. We tried lassoing spikes, human pyramids and exposed free climbing but without success. To scale the pitch bolts will be required to reach the top and solve the mystery of what lies ahead.
Sadly we made the decision not to return the following day due in part to our exhausted bodies and the lure of the ‘big’ Quang Binh caves. We had explored a little over two kilometres over three trips exploring the longest cave on the 2005 expedition which also included possibly the longest single swim in a known Vietnamese cave.
Many successful expeditions have been based at Son Trach on the banks of the River Son. A summary of these expeditions has been given in appendix 6. Two major systems have been explored; Hang Vom and Phong Nha in the Ke Bang massif to the west. Exploration of these systems continue. New caves in the large area of unexplored karst to the north of the Chay River and Hang Vom system were also discovered. The character of these caves differed significantly due to their vertical nature.
Around Phong Nha village.
During the three weeks we spent in the Son Trach/Phong Nha area, we investigated a number of entrances quite close to Phong Nha village.
On our first day in the area we were lucky to be able to get in touch with Mr. Du, a man who has helped us many times, leading teams to Hang Cha Na, Hang Toong and others. He showed us a couple of entrances to the east of road 20, which leads from Phong Nha village to the Ke Bang massif. The first cave Hang Bin Dap led very shortly to a sump. The second Hang Duc, led immediately to a low wet passage, but had a noticeable draught. Sweeney was volunteered to get wet, and confirmed the cave was small, but definitely a going prospect.
We continued on to Hang Tooc, by following a large streambed which is obviously very wet in the rainy season. We left road 20 at Kilometre 16 and after about an hours walk reached a large collapse area. Draughts could be felt in various places between the boulders, but no going passage was found. The GPS showed this area to be very close to the upstream end of Hang E, and confirmed the idea that Hang E and Hang Toi take water overflowing from the Phong Nha river during the wet season. The main river sink for Phong Nha cave is in a large collapse close to road 20. Known as Hang Tron, this is very close to the known end of Phong Nha. On the walk back we checked out a small dry cave that had been used in the war. A short pitch with a small stream below was seen, but with no draught it did not look promising.
We returned to Hang Duc some days later. First we checked out Hang Bin Dap, which proved to be very short and ended in a sump. Hang Duc is a low rift entrance with a small stream entering on the left and flowing into a wide but low pool. A short hands and knees crawl with your chest in the water caused our military escort to have a few laughs. He decided to wait at the entrance for us. The passage opened up into stooping/ walking size, following a small stream which meandered around mud and silt banks. After a couple of hundred metres, the second ‘duck’ appeared. Flat out in mud and water. Enthusiasm was waning a little, this was not typical Vietnamese caving. Andy was at the front and checked things out. As he put it the bad news was the cave continued, the good news was there were no more bats!!
Through the crawl some wading continued leading to the best duck of all! Although not flat out the passage was water filled to about one inch from the roof. With ears full of silty cave water, we waded out into slightly larger cave passage. A tube on the right led for 30m to a choke and stal climb. The main passage enlarged quite dramatically on a sharp elbow bend. A passage on the left led after 15m to a high level choke and a low level inlet crawl. Continuing in generally taller passage with wades shingle banks and a few stals, a junction on the right was reached after about 800m of passage. Downstream continued for 500m of nice stream way to a sharp right hand bend and an unexpected large clear sump pool.
Returning to the junction, a 15m swim in cold water led into a rift and after about 20m, a draughting choke. Although it was pretty chilly in wet clothes we decided to have half an hour of poking about to find an exit, in order to avoid returning through the splendid ducks. Luckily we soon found daylight, and shortly after, a way through the boulders and out to the surface. A short walk back to collect our gear, and Hang Duc was finished. The cave heads towards Phong Nha cave, and no doubt enters as a minor inlet somewhere.
Towards the end of the trip, the owner of the restaurant next door mentioned that he knew a cave. So we went for a short walk across the road to the limestone. He showed us a 10m pitch into a dry passage with some stals. Unfortunately, only 20m of passage to a sump. We named it Hang De (Goat cave) as it had no name and had been found by our guide when he was a child herding goats.
HANG KLUNG & HANG KLING
Ruc Caroong is the highest of the known feeders into the Hang Vom system, Sharing it’s name with the local, minority tribesmen, village it had been visited by expedition members just the once in the early 1990’s. After 2.8k the known cave ends in a sump, the resurgence then flowing into Hang Pygmy.
Ruc Caroong village lies off Km39 on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Previously necessitating a 12 hour, bone-jarring truck journey, recent track improvements had reduced the journey to a much more comfortable 4 hour jeep trip. A recce team of Howard, Martin H, Sweeny plus Mr Phuc, caver/translator, Mr Mi & the irrepressible Schuey as drivers plus two porters, set out from Son Trach on a somewhat cold & overcast day.
Arriving at Km39, the first surprise was to find that the anticipated subsequent 30min+ walk to the village was no longer necessary, a new settlement having been built abutting the road & the tribesmen rehoused. The former stilt-legged, thatched huts had been replaced by a uniform village of tin-roofed, brick walled houses complete with solar panelled lighting, water butts & flagpoles each flying the colourful gold star on a red background Vietnamese flag. In addition there was a large school building, another in the process of being built & the largest building of all being a communal eating area/party member’s office.
We had arrived on a national day of some importance & at first were greeted with the usual customary warmth & friendliness. Invited to join the just commencing communal celebration meal, we sat down to a meal of intestines, fried morning glory (a green vegetable!) & rice accompanied by continual changa changs of lethal rice wine. Martin bravely made a show of eating the intestines whilst Howard & I played with our food trying to keep the bowls as full as possible to avoid constant top ups.
Following the meal we retired to the office next door. Calling in a local hunter they intially confirmed that they knew of caves in the area other than Ruc Caroong & would be willing to supply a guide. However, asking to look at our various permits & permissions once more, the atmosphere changed as they decided there was something missing/defective with one of the documents. Attempts by them to telephone for confirmation from the nearest border police HQ became an exercise in shouting down a silent phone as the signal cut in & out.
We settled in for the night with the situation still unresolved. However Mr Phuc managed to have a private word with the local hunter who confirmed he would still be willing to act as a guide. It turned out he had two wives/familys, one in the village and another down on the river where they continued to live a more traditional way of life & still resided in cave shelters.
The following day dawned cold, not at all the temperature expected. After breakfasting & scrabbling to share out what little spare clothing we had, we set off downhill towards the river passing the old stilt village on route. Following the river downstream led shortly to the picturesque cave settlement with about 6 adults and numerous small children in residence.
Straight ahead from this point following the river lay Hang Ruc Caroong but instead the guide led us leftwards, climbing up a thin trail until we reached the base of a cliff with an impressive 5m x 10m cave entrance leading down. The cave was known as Hang Klung. Kitting up we started to survey in.
The passage dropped steeply and substantially enlarged from the botttom of the entrance slope. Past numerous remant stal and across long dried up gours into and impressive chamber.
Here we could feel a strong draft ahead. Surveying onwards & 50m ahead a side passage on the right (facing inwards) proved to be the source of the air current. A quick look revealed a 10m+, possibly free-climbable, pitch.
Continuing with the survey in the main passage, the cave continued enlarging until abruptly truncating in a calcited choke. Any continuation would be via the drafting pitch. Leaving Howard, Martin & Mr Phuc taking photographs I retraced our steps back to the entrance to collect a rope.
Using a handline, the pitch proved climbable with care dropping 17m via a ledge. The passage ahead grew massive, 50m x 50m at least. Descending to a T junction, leftwards daylight could be seen entering. Heading towards the light a spectacular but unfortunately familiar entrance was seen. We had entered into the main Ruc Caroong streamway from a previously overlooked side passage.
Returning back up the climb and exiting out of Hang Klung we explained that the 1085.5m cave joined Hang Ruc Caroong. The guide knew of one other cave so we followed him back down to the cave village and then continued downstream with the river to the original entrance of Ruc Caroong. Without hesitatation, & despite having no light, the guide set off into the dark. Even with lamps it proved a race to keep up with him as he traversed what was obviously a well traveled route.We passed the Hang Klung side passage and into daylight.
We followed the riverbed before climbing leftwards past a cave shelter known as Post Office Cave, complete with ceramic insulators on the trees outside from which they had strung electric wires during the war, until reaching a cliff face cave entrance of approx: 5m x 5m known as Hang Kling.The entrance dropped to a stal floor and turned right where daylight could be seen, the cave exiting after only 120m.
By now time was pressing &, whilst the guide indicated he knew of still more cave, we decided to head back & continue exploration tomorrow. Leaving the majority of the kit at the cave village we headed back up the steep hill towards the new settlement. Back at base it became clear the question as to having the right permissions had still not been resolved & the local goverment official was clearly unhappy. Concious that we where overstaying our welcome, we decided that it would be best to leave first thing in the morning & return at a later date once the paperwork had been sorted out to their satisfaction. Martin & the 2 porters therefore set off back in the dark to collect the gear left at the cave village whilst the rest cooked up tea.
Following another cold night, we set off back to Son Trach at daybreak.
HANG A CU
In the last stages of the 2005 expedition a chance came up to visit the southern most area of the Hang Vom catchments area. Previously we had problems with permission in this area but now all was sorted and we were able to return for a short time to check out the caves near a cave discovered in1997 called Hang En.
The Ho Chi Minh trail is now much improved and only 2 hours of bumping around in our jeeps from base camp and we were at the military checkpoint with all the required permissions and ready for a few days in the jungle with our guides.
We obtained 2 Ruc people who knew the area and we set off on our 3 hour walk in to Hang En where we would set up camp. We stopped in the main river valley to see the Ruc people who are still living in caves for part of the year. It was a great privilege to be able to visit these wonderful people and seeing them live so close to nature. The Ruc people are the smallest minority tribe in Vietnam and the numbers are around 220. The Vietnamese government is now trying to assist this minority tribe with help with food and accommodation. We were shown the hunting techniques using catapult to kill birds and in fact had a go with absolutely no chance of success ourselves. The children were very impressed with our British sweets especially wine gums. They also watched us swimming and found us and our equipment very amusing. We had to say goodbye to and venture further in the jungle with our guides. This involved going through a cave Ruc Caroon a huge river cave discovered in 1992 as the short cut was much easier than going over the hills in the dense jungle.
After 2 more hours of walking we were finally at Hang En. This enormous cave was to be our base for the next day or so. The cave is the topmost known cave of the Hang Vom system and certainly one of the largest entrances we have found in the whole of Vietnam. It is the home of a few thousand swifts which provided much entertainment in the night by shitting on us from a great height.
Only 20 minutes walk from Hang En we were taken to a cave called Hang A Cu. Even though the entrance is 50m x 30m we were unable to find it without guides. The entrance had a cool wind coming from it so we set off eager to have a chance of exploring such a fine cave in this wonderful area. Hang A Cu is 650m long and is very well decorated along its length. It finished sin a complete stal choke and somewhere along its main passage you lose the draught. The cave is extremely beautiful and the fabulous smooth floor and enormous stals everywhere kept us all whooping during its initial discovery. The cave is fairly linear but does show what potential for major caves exist in this remote area.
The next day starting at an unearthly early time of 5am we were shown another cave around 30 minutes walk from Hang En. This cave turned out to be just an overhang in a huge limestone cliff. In the meantime 2 of us managed to photograph Hang ACu for the record. We were told of many other caves in the area but many hours walk away. This area has much potential for further cave exploration and with the wonderful Ruc people as guides would be a prime objective for the next expedition. Deeper camps further in the jungle would be required to enable us to continue exploration in this amazing landscape. We plan to return on the next expedition to continue our work in this area.
HANG NUOC LANH
On arrival at Son Trach 2005 myself Howard and Martin were met at the peoples committee rooms. Since our last visit in 2003 much work had been done in the national park, in respect to conservation and research in the forest. As a result of which one wall was covered in various different pictures of caves karst and animals within the national park.Howard led me over to the wall and reeled off the names of each cave one by one demonstrating his amazing knowledge of the area until we reached one picture which resulted in hesitation. After much speculation and pondering the whereabouts of the picture were declared unknown. The picture was of a very sizeable dry cave entrance strewn with large boulders an excellent prospect! Mr Ha was summoned to reveal the whereabouts of the monster and after much deliberation with his colleagues told us that the picture was taken by a scientist studying in the jungle, and finding a porter to take us there would not be a problem.
Two weeks later we returned to Son Trach after spending time in Quang Ninh. After settling in objectives were set one objective was to find the man to take us to Hang Nuoc Lanh.Many phone calls were made to track the mystery photographer and his porter, they remained very illusive. After a week we were informed that the porter had been found.
Enter Mr Phong; Mr Phong is a local Phong Nha tourist boat owner, he is also a very knowledgeable man of his surrounding area and was to lead us and a team of porters to the entrance of Hang Nuoc Lanh.
We left for Hang Nuoc Lanh, the team to visit this cave consisted of myself Adam and the mighty Watto three porters Bo .Tang, and Nhuon. These three men proved to be invaluable throughout our whole trip. We set of after a bowl of noodles and drove up the familiar Ho Chi Minh trail. The jeep halted and the ever familiar ‘everyone talks at once’ conversation started. From what we could muster the conversation seemed to be generally about the start of the trail we needed. Phong started hacking at the verge next to a drainage ditch and vanished, several minutes later he returned with a smile on his face. Packs were loaded on our backs and the journey began. A varied walk over a high coll through every type of vegetation added to a stupendously good walk through the jungle to our camp. A patch of ground that would make for many hours of entertainment! After dumping our bags a mad rush down a dry river bed was made by me and Adam to a jaw dropping finale´.
We emerged into a clearing to be greeted by a crag double in proportions to Malham Cove with a motor way tunnel sized passage at its base. Phong had brought us to a truly magical place even if the cave hadn’t gone, the sight of the entrance was etched into your brain for ever. After much excitement we returned to camp to meet watto and speculate about the potential of this monster entrance.
A good night’s sleep was not had on the forest floor and we arose to go surveying passage measureless! We arrived at the entrance once more the obligatory yelp was made down the entrance and a strong echo of over 500m was predicted. The surveying began.
We made very rapid progress down a huge boulder pile consisting of small bungalow size boulders, into a flat section of cave 60 by 50 metres. We followed the cave down hill for
another 700 m in this spectacular style until the roof lowered to 30 m and the walls drew in. The passage drew in even smaller to 10m by 10 m, however a fantastic draught could be felt. We were either about to surface or we were on to a winner. We continued in a rather disappointing 10m by 20 m passage for a further 300m. The passage now was crawling size, a cardinal sin in Vietnam. Yet we were spurred on by a fantastic draught and a very low rumble. A small climb up led over a blind pit with a fantastic sounding stream at the bottom. Many rocks were thrown down and we decided that the pitch was about 10m and was an access point to the ‘River Zambezi’. We turned around and exited the cave disappointed that we did not have the SRT kit required to descend the pitch. Another trip would be required; we all prayed the monster cave would continue in the same vain as the entrance series. A cave of that magnitude could not end like that surely?
We returned to camp to find that the porters had erected a village for themselves. We were very jealous and decided we would put our bush craft to the test and do the same. That evening we spent many hours making primitive huts, traps and food with our new friends. Yet again were made to look very stupid compared to our Vietnamese colleagues.
The new commune was to be named the hotel Zambezi and we were to return to Son Trach for rope and tackle. Awe struck once more by an amazing trek, an awesome cave, and excellent fun with our porters
Sadly on return to the cave by the new six strong team the cave ended after the blind pit in a very squalid rift and the mighty ‘Zambezi’ turned out to be a trickle with excellent acoustics from the surrounding cave. Oh well only another x amount of caves to push in this amazing country.
Robbie slightly deaf Burke.
SALT, PEPPER AND RICE WINE IN THE JUNGLE
We met the gang of woodcutters at the bottom of a steep climb. They gazed curiously at the foreigners sweating up their jungle path. We stared back at them – each was carrying a stupefying, body-crushing weight of hardwood, felled over the border in Laos and smuggled out to Vietnam. This was deforestation the hard way! Our jungle guides, mildly fortified with rice wine, led us on up the steep track and the gang continued steadily on their way down, their sparse sinewy bodies dwarfed by the trees on their backs.
We were on our way to look for 3 caves, separated from each other by a full day’s walk. Our guide Phong had told us of their existence in this high, remote area, via painstaking translations by our friends from Hanoi. Otherwise we only had a vague idea of what to expect over the next four days. Only Phong knew where the caves were, so we were all walking up together to camp near the first cave. This would be explored by one team the following day, while the second team went on to explore the second and third caves.
By the mid-afternoon we were descending alongside a small streamway in a large river bed. Our guides called a halt, started a campfire and lashed hammocks and shelters between trees using vines and leafy branches. Their jungle craft was a joy to watch. It was strangely reassuring that the older Vietnamese had spent a previous life in the jungle waiting for the occasional unfortunate American to pass by. Phong and his brother led a few of us on down the streamway to make a first recce of the cave entrance. As the slick green streambed plunged steeply downwards, we traversed around the side of what appeared to be a large depression. The dense jungle hid even the most impressive karst features until you were only a few yards away. Local knowledge was essential. It had taken us a while to realise that Vietnamese game hunters also made the best cave hunters. Even now, in these remote parts of the jungle monkeys, bears and tigers could be found, in particular near streams. In this karst area streams held a similar attraction to us cavers, but we were not so thrilled by the idea of meeting bears and tigers coming for a drink! Of course, we were glad the Vietnamese government had made this into a national park, had banned all hunting and tree cutting, and that the caving expeditions led by Howard and Deb Limbert over so many years had played such a large part in this being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Unfortunately for us, it also generated a great deal of beaurocracy. Gathering permission from the regional government, the district government, the commune, the army, the police, and finally the Park Authority had been frustrating, not least because each body had only a limited idea of the jurisdiction of the other bodies. It also made it difficult to get introductions to our jungle experts. The Park Authority wardens were not impressed when jeeps turned up at their gates laden with Westerners and game hunters.
Yet here we were at last, circling in on our prey. From Phong we were expecting a hole in the ground where large quantities of water disappeared in the wet season. The ground steepened, and we sensed a large space below. Razor sharp blades of rock jutted up through tree roots and creepers. Phong swung delicately across on a vine to reach the lip. I fumbled with my video camera as he threw a rock into the space. Three, four… Bang! The sound echoed around the walls of an immense rift. So far on this expedition, the most productive pushing trip I had been on was 1200 m of flat out crawling in mud with swimming ducks and exit squeezes through a sharp boulder choke. This looked considerably more promising!
Phong and his brother began traversing across the far side of the rift. We followed, my video camera swinging wildly. Steep slabs offered some security with jagged spikes for hands and feet, and tree roots locked into deep grooves. After a 6m descent down a chimney, we realised we had completed the circuit of the shaft and were standing at the point where the river would cascade over the lip in the wet season. Sweeney gingerly climbed down to a treacherous green slime covered balcony. Another rock disappeared into the void… Boom! Another 4 second drop – must be about 80 m I thought. By the time we returned to camp it was almost dark, but the campfires were well established and food was on the way. A mug of rice wine gave the dance of the fireflies an ethereal quality.
In the morning the second team prepared to set off for the next 2 caves together with Phong, our fount of knowledge, leaving his brother and Phi with me, Robbie and Andy to descend the shaft. We discussed who should do what. Robbie was worried that I would throw myself down the shaft, camera and all, if I did much more filming. So we agreed that I would rig down the shaft while he filmed. I was happy with that! Somehow we were using a 17 year old rope so conservative rigging was in order, hand bolting notwithstanding. A ‘Y’ hang and three deviations weaved down between flakes. A knot changeover was avoided when a smooth wall materialised at the same time as the knot at -50m. We had timed our descent perfectly. While I was rigging, the sun lit up the entire shaft with a beam of translucent light. I paused while hammering in another bolt and looked down to the ramp of enormous boulders stacked 30 m below. This was a far cry from the swims in river caves that had been our experience so far in this part of Vietnam! After placing a total of 5 bolts I was at the bottom, and climbed to the top of a house-sized boulder at the downstream end of the rift. Only now could I see – the shaft was not choked, a dark shadow showed a passage leading off at the bottom. The rock was stunning – black and white banding eroded to form abstract designs penetrating massive rock sculpture. White and Black. Salt and Pepper Pot. I looked up to a huge gash of white sky, with silhouetted jungle cascading in from the sides. Robbie’s and Andy’s lights appeared as insignificant as fire-flies as they descended to the bottom. Exploration fever carried us down the first climb. We halted at the top of a second, harder climb. I couldn’t wait for Robbie to return with the tail-end of the pitch rope, and bridged down between the crazily striped wedged boulders hammered smooth by the summer torrents. Hopping our way along, we were stopped by another huge boulder wedged above a drop. Once more, we found a climb zig-zagging down one side. The passage opened out into a high chamber and our hopes soared. We checked out a few options, choosing another tricky climb-down as the best way on. The passage was now only a few metres wide, but it was still going. Again, a few choices. A ramp doubled back and climbed steeply before reaching a pitch head. We returned to continue on and were stopped by a slot in the floor: this would need to be rigged. The passage continued ahead, but this flood overflow soon silted up. It was time to head back, as none of us wanted to search for the campsite at night in the jungle.
Back at camp Robbie and Andy tried a Vietnamese style double-decker hammock rig, while I kept faith with my bivvi bag. It rained all night and we were soaked. The Vietnamese, with their canopies of polythene sheet slung over a washing-line vine, kept bone dry. We still had a lot to learn! After warming ourselves at breakfast by the fire, we returned to survey and film Salt & Pepper Pot. Andy and I surveyed and filmed our way in while Robbie went on to rig the two separate pitches we had found yesterday. Before we reached the end, Robbie was on his way back. Both leads had closed down! Our hopes had already drained away overnight, either from the dampness or as we reflected on the lack of draft and ever-decreasing passage size. Somewhere beneath the boulders was a streamway, but it was closed to us. The shaft was 80?m deep with ?? m passage at the bottom. It was yet another disappointment after all.
Another rainy night in the jungle could have dampened our spirits further, but good old Phi kept his tiny, tinny transistor radio on all night, approximately tuned in to some rousingVietnamese military marches. The next morning, we had an eight-hour tramp through the jungle to look forward to. Half-way down, we met a group of woodcutters heading up. They brought out a few cloudy bottles of rice wine. I seized the opportunity to relieve the drudgery of the journey. The Vietnamese appeared impressed by the quantity of the draft I knocked back, and offered me some more. I thought: “You guys can carry hard – we can only drink hard!” Cloudy wine, cloudy judgment. The remainder of the journey certainly passed quicker for me – I can remember little of it!
One of the great attractions to the caves of Vietnam is the jungle experience. Often the cause of great missey at the time but as time passes the lasting memory is of a great adventure. We were again told of a large entrance by Mr Phong two days walk into the inner reaches of the jungle. Our innocence to what lay ahead was immediately proven after being drooped off at km 20 on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Phong vanished into dense undergrowth and we tried to believe we were following a faint track. We climbed steeply up the razor sharp karst, all the time dense vegetation strangled our progress. Rucksacks proved to be tiresome as they were constantly hooked onto vegetation. Grateful for the rest we were rewarded with a fantastic panorama of the jungle at a col we reached by a difficult climb up the razor sharp limestone. Dropping down into the doline we were amazed at Phong’s memory as no land marks identified the way, despite one or two wrong decisions the route finding was amazing. Two porters bringing up the rear started to shout excitedly at one point and called for Phong. No we wernt lost, we had in fact all stepped over a particularly venomous snake. Keen to take the reptile back for research Phong relinquished a leech sock and the snake placed inside and then strung up in a nearby tree to be collected on our return. Our walk took over five hours to the campsite, a small clearing at the side of a small stream. In a straight line we had covered less than two kilometers. We were even more dismayed to discover that no more water was in the area and the cave was still over a kilometer away. Ditching all our camp gear we were able to move more quickly, perhaps inspired by scratched claw marks on the rock that we passed. We were unable to see the cave entrance until we were actually standing inside the magnificent arch due to the density of the jungle. The prescence of monkeys high above added to the excitement of standing in a superb entrance deep in the jungle.Sadly we could see straight through the cave, a big disappointment. A twenty metre deep pitch was dropped in the centre of the passage by Adam, encouraged by his ‘mates’.Comments reminding him that he had the only SRT kit should he get into difficulty said jokingly also seved as a reminder to how remote we were. The pitch was blind although a family of goat skulls was found at the bottom. On the walk out no one followed closely to Phong as his Leech sock hung from his rucksack!
RECCE TO MINH HOA
On the 31st of March, Howard, Adam, and an ailing Ian, set off with our interpreter Hoan and two jeeps to explore the limestone of Minh Hoa to the North and West of Bo Trach.
Off we set in convoy on the hottest day of the expedition so far; 34 degrees in the shade, on a cloudless, shadeless, gradually deteriorating road towards the Lao border. Intending to start as close as possible to the frontier and recce on the way back.
Stopping for dinner at a roadside café, fried noodles and meat were washed down with White Horses and Red Bulls. Enquiring of the source of the adjacent river we were told it came from a cave, of which more later, it being too late to commence a guideless walk, in the heat of the day.
An hour later and we were back in limestone country and the road had degenerated to a highway; under construction. We saw on the other side of the river a reasonable sized entrance worthy of investigation, which probably took a large river in the wet season and considerably swelled the aforementioned river. Entrance duly noted, and photographed we continued.
So we arrived at a village to enquire about local caves and local lodgings, unfortunately there were no caves in the area – that were not of tactical significance. After tea and fruitless negotiations we began the long drive out of limestone, and back into limestone at a greater distance from the border.
When we reached the village of Ya Phong we pulled over to ask a man, “are there any caves around here?” So, we went to see his friend, and then his friend’s son, to ask the same question and the; size, wind, water, supplementaries. Luckily enough, the son; knew of caves; with water; and wind; and bigger than his house; and he was the chief of police. We asked for permission to explore them, and he left on his moped to gather all the other authority figures of the village, to get the quadruplicate permission required. A while later, we had permission; and a place to stay, the police chiefs house; and a guide, the police chief.
The following morning we had breakfast and set off for the 2km walk to the cave across, fences, fields, hedges, rice paddies, streams, and tracks to arrive 5km later at a cave that we could have driven to within 500m of. Then teetered along the sides of the irrigation channel, over the greasy pipe, and the slippery verdant boulders at the entrance to a pleasant beach, and small dam. Here we donned wetsuits as protection against the many dangerous buggers, that; we had been warned, awaited us on this ‘tell lies’ day. Not wishing to have to do the return walk, we thanked the guide and the interpreter and told them to ask the drivers to wait for us as close to the cave as possible between midday and 4pm.
Off we set surveying and exploring, wading and swimming, along a high passage, to a beach where an inlet on the right issued from a boulder choke. A break here to allow the sketch to catch up with the speeding tape.
A swim across a pool entered a narrow swimming rift and climb, into a boulder strewn passage, with connections back to the pool, and then to a desperate climb into daylight. While waiting for Ian to explore the riverbed upstream, Adam and Howard explored some delightful Mendip rifts providing a slightly less elegant but considerably safer way to exit the cave.
We followed the dry streambed through a few sawmills for 500m to where the water sank in the true right bank. Then another 500m to a junction with a large pool and water entering on the true left and a dry streambed on the true right, this we followed for 150m to a large dry entrance intersecting a stream. Right descended to a sump and straight on
enlarged until finally emerging again into daylight. Photographing on the return, showed up what are torches could not see. Some side passages explored and un-surveyed may provide extensions in the future.
So a race began to make it back for 4pm, we made it; to tyre tracks, and a long walk in wetsuit and wellies, with two 500m caves, Thuy Van and Ma Nghi, some outstanding leads and some good photos. We did however beat the jeep which had broken down on the way.
After a second night we left to recce the limestone further west, finding only; an ex-military cave, Hang Hob, with an incredible roof; and a village deserted to make way for an open prison. We found no more men familiar with the jungle of the limestone massif. Hence, no more caves, but a proven potential for the future.
HANG ME BON CON AND HANG VOM
Wood smoke curled upwards and disappeared into the canopy of trees above our heads. It hadn’t taken our porters very long to get a fire crackling at the entrance of the “new” cave. Lunchtime. It hadn’t taken as much time as we’d expected to get to Me Bon Cong; the trail, which Howard had described as having been a jungley hell, is now a fair path. Only the last slog up ever steepening slope of scree and boulders really got the sweat glands coursing.
Our eventual mission was to travel through Hang Vom, camping a night underground and checking out a couple of question marks drawn on the original survey. But first, we’d been told of a previously unexplored cave, Hang Me Bon Con.
“50” … I bellowed out the first tape length; this was one enormous cave! Andy and Sweeny wore beaming grins as they scrambled down boulders to join me. This is too good to be true, I thought … and it was. We were quickly called back to the entrance. Howard and Martin H. had worked out that the cave we were about to explore was in fact the back door to Hang Vom and that Hang Me Bon Con was close by, but slightly further uphill.
The large arched entrance to Hang Me Bon Con had the usual signs of recent encampment; namely a fire pit surrounded by a pole frame for hammocks. The cave entrance is airy but sheltered, with flat ground and an abundance of water in nearby pools; almost perfect for camping.
Ding, ding, round two; out come the survey instruments and away we go.
Not far into the cave, the large entrance passage drops steeply down a calcite ramp to a bouldery platform and no obvious way on. Some folk were tempted towards the left hand side of the cave by pits in the floor and the attractions of a likely connection to Hang Vom. Martin C. gazed at the roof of the cave and noted that it barrelled onwards straight and true. A speculative climb up a rock ramp gave access to a sloped traverse, followed by a stoop along a narrow section of passage and next … the flat, calcite encrusted floor of rather large cave. Game on!
The cave continues in fine style and unusually the floor steals the show. Initial delight on seeing the pristine calcite floor glittering in our torchlight gives way to disbelief. Large sections of the cave are covered by a complexity of interconnected gour dams; there are cave pearls galore and the highlight? … miniature chocolate forests. Oh yes! Looking like a model landscape of the Taiga of northern Russia, extensive flats of mud have sprouted a forest of conical mud formations. Each “coniferous tree” being only a few centimetres high, this landscape is very fragile and a treat to see.
Beyond an elongated pit in the floor the cave appeared to end but our disappointment was quickly relieved when Andy found a low way through into more large passage. After the model forests the cave narrows before entering a complex area of breakdown of blocks, with an unexplored pit. Three different routes unite and the cave continues passed more gours, stal formations and floor pits. Exploration was left off at another breakdown complex. This time there was no obvious way onwards amongst the broken blocks and pits. One for manana, as the day was eroding rapidly and Hang Vom beckoned.
Hang Vom was originally explored in 1992 and we planned to journey from Entrance number 2, join the river at the daylight shaft and follow the water flow to Entrance number 1. Howard told the Hang Vom virgins that this would be a journey worth making just to experience the grandeur of the cave and boy was he right. Good job that checking out the “?” drawn on the original survey was almost incidental.
The first “?” is drawn opposite “Suckers Corner” and boy were we suckered. I guess due to unexpectedly rapid progress along the massively dimensioned passages, we were well passed Sucker’s Corner before we checked the survey. We had passed the large formation called Chubby Brown and were at the Sleepless Night extension. This minor outlet was re-explored before a camp was made on a gravel bank. No sleepless night though, we slept well and arose at what we assumed was the crack of dawn.
In the vicinity of the daylight shaft some phreatic tubes and balconies were explored but no obvious ways on were found. While we rested, our jungle guide Lou told us that he had travelled through the forest to the top of the daylight shaft and then ignited our interest further by telling of a similar shaft at another location. One for a future trip!
Plenty of swimming was to follow; Lou minimised his immersion time by traversing where he could and then doggy paddling each section of canal at top speed. We need not have worried! A chimney climb led down to the final swim and what a finale; for me a golden caving memory. As we swam towards the gathering daylight the wide canal like passage became a lake. Onto the surface of the lake was reflected a duplicate of the daylight scene … the beach, the tumbled limestone blocks, the forest trees and shrubs, the sky. Following on from the darkness … an oasis of light and colour.
A FOUR DAY WALK
It was a long caravan of folk who set off into the forest to the west of the river
Tro oc. The seven cavers were laden with high tech lightweight camping equipment and were intent on finding capacious caves in which they could camp. After several hours of trekking, a path side tree was annotated with a special mark and we followed our guides into the thick of the forest. Scrambling down a stream we arrived at cave number one, a shaft. No chance of camping underground here we thought, as we cleared vegetation from a flat area of forest floor to lay out our bivi bags and sleeping mats. Not too many bugs, nor much rain, nor much noise … just enough sleep.
At dawn Chris, Andy, Robbie and most of our rope were left to explore the shaft, Sweeny, Deb and 2 x Martin moved on with the promise of three caves to come. By late morning we’d arrived at our first caving objective, or so we thought. The overhanging bowl of a cliff did have dry streambeds issuing from beneath, but sadly any potential entrances were completely buried with boulders. A good digging prospect if only it was in the UK. A lunchtime snack of flapjack and a chat with two passing locals, who told of a cave two hours walk away. Yes, they could take us there but would have to go for their lunch first. We waited a while, then we waited some more but we didn’t see them again.
The paths we were following got narrower as the hours ticked by, and then off we go again into the dense forest. Again we scrambled down a watercourse and reached a small sloping ledge … a rest? … no, a campsite! Our porters rigged their usual affair of campfire surrounded by a pole construction on which they could sling their hammocks. We should be so lucky, another night on the forest floor, once the vegetation, dead wood and large black scorpion were removed it didn’t look too bad; but it was. A pole across the bottom of the slope enabled us to brace or feet to stop us sliding away in the night; at least we had a bed of banana leaves to iron out the bumps and lumps. Then the rainstorm came. We listened with trepidation as a giant tree, somewhere nearby, crashed through the forest canopy and thudded to the floor. Then it rained some more. It rained so much that water was running down the banana leaves beneath me, into my bivi bag and collecting as a pool by my feet. Oh for a hammock!
Caving at last; steeply down we scrambled to the foot of a large grey cliff. Beyond a collection of boulders we entered the darkness of White Stone Cave. A pitch was easily bypassed by a climb down a parallel chimney. Skirting the edge of a large breakdown chamber we descended quickly in a clean washed passage. Using what little rope we had to protect the steeper sections. The deeper we climbed the more beautiful were the walls of this aptly named cave. Black limestone injected with white quartz and all polished smooth by years of surging water.
Ah, but no more rope and one more climb. Being the lightest in our team, Sweeny generously offered to be lowered down the smooth and sloping drop whilst tied to our survey tape. “Ten minutes, then turn back,” we shouted as he scuttled onwards. But the character of the cave had changed. Sweeney explored some 500 metres of descending passage to a low chamber with other inlets, but no obvious way on downstream.
An hour’s walk steeply over a col took us to a small depression and our next objective, Hang Nuoc. Again, our porters and guides got the plum sleeping quarters. A hammock camp gently nestled under the entrance arch of the cave. But we boldly ventured into the twilight zone; this was after all what we craved … a cave to sleep in. But truth can be stranger than fiction and Hang Nuoc Hotel wasn’t a five star establishment. There were just enough flats for us to nestle down among the spiders and cobwebs and dust. But Martin H found a snake, well he would! Bo kindly woke it up and chased it round the cave with a stick. Once the writhing mass of pink and black was bagged into a sock things didn’t seem so bad. We turned out the lights to sleep. About five minutes later Sweeny was the first to stir; head torch on … “Crikey, look at the size of that rat!” Martin H entombed within his hooped bivi tent was reluctant to move, but inquisitiveness obviously got the better of him. Zzzip went the zip, Martin went ballistic … another snake was slithering past his bed. Chasing the rat no doubt. During the ensuing din the rat disappeared but the snake did not. The ever-helpful Bo was called to assist and nobly fought the snake and carried it away. And so to bed, except this time with a comfort torch left on … to scare away the snakes. Sleep? Not much!
The well-visited and initially dusty entrance passage of Hang Nuoc gives way to cleaner going amongst a fair collection of calcite formations. The cave was explored to a calcite-encrusted balcony, over looking a drop that we estimated to be 30 – 40 metres. We had insufficient rope so have left its further exploration for another day. Nearby we were shown a shaft and managed to free climb boulders part way down. A vantage point was reached from where we could see the foot of the shaft and a short section on ongoing passage. Again we rued the lack of rope. Previous experience in the Phong Nha area has been of horizontal cave development. This little corner of forest potentially hosts caves of a very different character.
And back to Son Trach; first a cold drink, then it’s off to market and into the comfort zone, “I’ll have a blue hammock please”.
CAVING (A VIETNAMESE PERSPECTIVE)
I was luckily to take part in a British Caving Expedition Group two times by introduced of my friend to Prof Pham Quang My. The expedition in general and caving information come to me only via movies and televisions. My friends also did not believe that I would be able to joint because as same as my thinking, the expedition requires a lots of factors as health, experiences, special equipment, and the most importance is knowledge of expedition and in severe conditions that normal people can not do. But I confident in my capabilities and my experiences of my trips in the past with friends when I was a students and in my childhood.
The wonderful of nature makes a strong impression on you when you stay in it. When I was a child, I used to go in woos to fetch firewood, wood, bamboo or bamboo sprouts, but longest I’d got about 10-15km only. And caves, during a schoolboy, by using torch made from a bamboo pipe with oil full filled and cloth or some rubber tyres, we then had got some adequate expeditions and our faces, eyes, noses stuck with oil smoke. Growing up, in some tours, I was visited some caves which were opened for tourism, they are excellent caves but too safe and much changed by human with many equipment then it is not so much impression. Since, I though our nature remain only that, the wonderful, imposing, and uncanny things as in Discovery are some where but not here. I was false when though that around here was nothing to explore, everything had been discovered. I have just recognized that everything is still there and the uncanny things still available for me after caving trips.
The expedition is not complicated and extraordinary as I thought, Yet normal people with normal and simple tools and equipment, perhaps professional and reasonable using. The most importance thing is the purpose of expedition. With children as I before was by curious, go after to the caves, grow up, the cave is only one stop in a tourism trip. With Caving expedition group as Howard answer in an interview of VOV and VTV, caving is a sport as you play football, other plays tennis or climbing v.v. and he likes caving expedition. Of cause data and information from caving expeditions achieved are not only sport but also very helpful. With them, cave expedition is a hobby, they spend a lots time, money, and efforts for it.
Preparation for the trip looks simple. Foods are dry, compressed, and sweet types, which would able to give high and fast energy as chocolate and more important is it has light weight, small size in order to carry enough for long trips. For drinking water, possibly orange flour and a small bottle of special liquid (it looks like permanganate or Iodic?), the water is nature water we got in the way and drip three drops special liquid in and wait about 5 minutes for disinfection to drink. Due to not bring much water then reduce weight for other things. Sleeping equipment, it is not like Vietnamese used to use hammock, they use personal sleeping bag with air-bed or spongy-bed and small, light sleeping camp. The last is main equipment for the trip, it is also heaviest therefore it needs to be specified whether destination needs to use or not to bring as GPS, ruler tapes, angle measure units, ropes, rope ladders, climbing equipment, wet-suits, light, helmets… together with spirit and strength enough for long trips through jungles, climbing up mountainous tens of km. Due to didn’t know what needed for expedition so I brought many things as a Vietnamese soldier with hummock, raincoat, dry provisions, leech boot… these things made my bag very heavy then almost of them were left in hotel before start. Howard group had prepared enough spare equipment for accompanies as us. Howard group usually has 10 to 15 people, additional 4 drivers for 4 jeeps and 2 people from university go with them in turn about 10 days. I am one of that two people. So that, our group has 16 to 20 people. All expenses were born by Howard group.
In two trips with them, I have been many places, many caves, jungles in mountainous, many history vestiges… we recognized that, the most difficulty in our trip was unexpected, it was procedures, permission papers to arrive expedition places. Because some caves are too close the border, military zones, or in restricted areas, it’s too sensitive. Overcome that difficulty, I have achieved a lots of new knowledge that is not easy to everyone. I knew in the part, geologists, soldiers used to have many expedition trips, or during Vietnam wars, the military used to camp inside. But that were their duties, they had not got condition and time to enjoy or to share what they got. On the contrary, as said above, with us caving is a sport, to discover nature, enjoy particularly interesting of the Creator.
The best time for caving usually in dry season, rivers, streams are dry too and rarely rain, it is an advantage for going in jungle and safe in cave. The cave in Vietnam are very huge, large, high and long. In the cave, stalactites very beautiful and imposing. Inside of many caves is over 200m width, 100m high, its entrance is thousands square meter. There is a cave the main passage keeps very huge up to 600 meter long. I have been Lang son, Cao bang, and Quang binh provinces, in fact, many caves have been known and explored for using by geologists and soldiers but the data of the cave is very simple or only outside. Some caves, the data were collected by English, Belgium, France and Italian explorers but there were many caves still no one come in due to when we was there, the stalactite still remain hanging along the passage very beautiful and very delicate.
Going with them, I could recognize the developing potential of many tourism types for Vietnam is very big. Before reached the cave, some places we had to rent local guides to pass over hills, mountains, through jungle from 4, 5 hours to whole of a day and many minority villages, imposing cliffs of limestone are destinations to attract people for adventure tourism and ecological tourism. Furthermore, on the way in the jungle still remain the trail vestiges of Vietnamese army during war as insulators of military communication are hanging on the trees… the data and information of expedition group are very helpfully for local people, give them a chance to develop local economic. Quang binh is one of successful province in developing Phong nha Ke bang become a tourism area and change the way of living for local people from forest exploit to tourism services, they give thousand jobs for local people.
I had got a chance to visit some caves in Britain, take part in some popular sport activities there as walking, cycling, climbing, sailing, … these sport subjects are potential in Vietnam. The cave in Britain is not so impression on me, it is not beautiful, not large as in Vietnam but English people they show consideration for what they have and setup reasonable for tourism. Many footpaths are the same, it is better than Vietnam only the weather, the footpaths on the top hills of mountainous, limestone mountains… but there is no forest, on the top with a good day, we could have very beautiful views but it is less hazardous. Famous Cliffs for climbing over hundreds years are not challenge, nice and monumental as in Northern of Vietnam or many places in Halong bay. It’s possibly by living and social custom not suitable for develop such sports and tourism types for Vietnamese, but we are still able to organize and attract foreigners. Meanwhile, the most important thing when we are still strength enough to develop, we have to take care, maintain and protect our nature instead of damage it to serve the present. Thanks to trips as of Howard group’s trips, many provinces have changed there mind in what nature they have and the way they treat to nature. They have better behave with there resources.
Dang Van Phuc
CAVES EXPLORED 2005
The medical kit was divided into 3 identical kits for use by 3 teams in the field at one time. We had 3 large field kits comprising antibiotics, painkillers, anti malarial treatment, dressings, splint, antihistamines, adrenaline injection, antifungal creams/powders, Betadine, etc. We also carried 3 small underground kits containing paracetamol, co-proxamol, Dihydrocodeine, immodium and some dressings.
The large kit was to be left at the campsite and the underground kit was small enough to be taken caving to cover small incidents. Further supplies were kept at the main base such as Son Trach for replenishment of field kits. A small amount of IV solutions/cannulas were also kept at base. Luckily there are now several pharmacies in Son Trach, so most medications could be replaced here if necessary.
Team members were responsible for their own anti malarial prophylaxis, mosquito repellent etc. Everyone had a mosquito net. This year was very cool and there were few problems with mosquitos.
Please contact the expedition if you require a detailed list of equipment.
Team members were advised to clean all cuts and grazes thoroughly, and to keep feet clean and dry. There were no problems with infected wounds and only one member developed a fungal foot infection which responded to cream and did not cause any problems.
Several team members suffered from a short episode of diarrhoea and vomiting. Whilst debilitating at the time, this was short lived and no treatment was necessary other than fluids and rest.
One team member suffered badly with flea bites, for a while. Anti histamine treatment helped.
The only notable injury was a large area of rash/blistering on the forearm. See photo. We did not find out the cause of this. Local knowledge suggested a plant, but there are also dangerous millipedes in the area. Being allergic to Penicillin, the team member took erythromycin tablets with him in case of infection. Some redness developed around the area of the rash, but did not spread further. A scar still remains after the rash healed up, which took 4 weeks.
- Nguyen Quang My
- Phan Duy Nga
- Vu Van Phai
- Nguyen Hieu
- Dang Van Phuc
- Ngo Van Liem
- Hoang Thi Van
- Bui Thi Le Hoan
- Tran Cong Huan
- Hoang Minh Chiem
- Howard Limbert
- Deb Limbert
- Martin Holroyd
- Martin Colledge
- Ian Watson
- Gareth ‘Sweeny’ Sewell
- Chris Densham
- Rob Burke
- Andy McKenzie
- Adam Spillane
- Ben Lyon
- Lyon Equipment
- Ghar Parau
- Singapore Airlines (Martin Friend)
- Hanoi University
- Julie Bunting
- Sheffield University (surveying equipment)
- John Burton
- David Hood
- Paul Ibberson
- Tony Seddon
VIETNAM 2005 INCOME AND EXPENDITURE
SUMMARY OF CAVING EXPEDITIONS TO QUANG BINH PROVINCE
1990 The first British Vietnamese Caving Expedition took place in 1990. Our colleagues from Hanoi with their knowledge of Vietnamese geology were able to suggest several interesting areas for caves. The first of these was Quang Binh and the Ke Bang massif. During a week’s reconnaissance in this area, the team was able to begin exploration of Hang Phong Nha and also explore most of Hang Toi. The team then visited other areas such as Hoa Binh, Ninh Binh and Ha Son Binh. It was obvious that the Ke Bang massif had the greatest potential for long river caves. The team also realized that Hang Phong Nha had great potential for a tourist cave, with its ease of access, large river passages and fine formations.
1992 A return trip in 1992 led to the exploration of many fine caves in this area. Phong Nha was explored to a conclusion at 7729m. Hang Toi was extended to a final length of 5258m and initial exploration of the Hang Vom system began. Hang Cha Anh was explored for 667m and Ruc Caroong for 2800m. It became obvious that there were two separate drainage systems, the Phong Nha system and the Hang Vom system. The team also visited Minh Hoa district, and explored Ruc Mon for 2863m.
1994 With the great caving potential for this area, British cavers were very keen to continue exploration. With the participation of members from Hanoi University, and the support of the local people of Quang Binh and Son Trach, many more successful expeditions were possible. Continued exploration brought the length of Hang Vom to 15050m. Further upstream in the system, Hang Dai Cao (1645m), Maze Cave (3927m), and Hang Ca (1075m) were explored. The Hang Phong Nha system was extended by the exploration of Hang Toong (3351m), Hang En (1645m) and Hang E (845m). In Minh Hoa district Hang Tien was discovered and explored for 2500m.
1997 Progress into the more remote areas of the two systems continued. The upper reaches of the Vom system included the exploration of Hang Ho 1616m, Hang Over 3244m, and Hang En 845m. The main river sinks for the Phong Nha system were investigated, Khe Thy, Khe Ry and Khe Tien. Hang Khe Ry turned out to be a very long river cave, and was explored at the time for 13817m.
1999 As with the previous expedition, the exploration was split between Cao Bang and Quang Binh. A five day camp underground in Hang Khe Ry allowed exploration of the furthest parts of the system. The full length of Khe Ry was 18902m. Hang Phong Nha Kho was also surveyed and was 981m long.
2001 A short trip to Quang Binh and a five day camp at Hang En led to the discovery of Hang Lanh, a resurgence cave near to Hang En, and one of the feeders to the Phong Nha system. This cave was 3753m long. Also Hang Doi 453m and Hang Ca 361m were explored in this area.
2003 Only a brief visit to Quang Binh was possible this year, but exploration of Hang About extended the Hang Vom system by 820m, and exploration of Hang Nuoc Nut 2205m and Hang So Doi 1124m extended the Phong Nha system still further. Since the 2005 expedition, the Hang Vom system is now 35,192km long and the Phong Nha system is 50,549km long.
RƯỢU CẦN (WINE DRUNK OUT OF A JAR THROUGH PIPES).
This very popular among the highlanders, especially in Tây Nguyên . But its flavour differs from one area to another. In Sơn La (some 300 km north-west of Hà Nội), for example, where the Tha?i ethnic groups are to be found, people drink rượu cần in their own special way. It is drunk on several occasions: Tết festival, wedding parties, ground-breaking ceremonies or other festive days. The jar containing the wine is put at a fixed place (in the middle of the house or the yard), so that as many people as possible can drink it. Pipes are put into the jar prior to drinking and a basinful of pure water is placed beside it. A buffalo horn to be used to pour water into the jar is put on a tray nearby. Not everyone is allowed to drink rượu cần . And the order of precedence is strictly observed. But there is no racial discrimination: the Kinh (Việt) may drink with the Thái and Mông. The ingredients of rượu cần include wild leaves, cassava roots and rice which are washed and put above an oven for 20 days or so. Then all the mixed ingredients are wrapped with large banana leaves and left in a corner of the house for a couple of days. As soon as the process of fermentation is completed, the whole brew is put into a jar. When all the guests are seated, the host pours water from the basin into the jar. At first, he invites the guests to taste the wine from a jar whose wine is more bitter than others. This is meant to remind everyone of the bitterness of life. Then a second jar is brought in which the wine tastes more pungent. In the third jar, the wine is sweetest symbolizing that ” your heart can be happy after so much grief” . Drinking rượu cần is accompanied by Mưa Xoe? (a dance of the Thái ethnic minorities) and drum beating. All this is to help the host and guests forget all their daily worries and enjoy to the utmost the pleasure of tasting rượu cần. (VNS)