Ten years ago I wrote to Hanoi University asking if they could assist a group of UK cavers in exploring the limestone areas of Vietnam. Since that date we have had a number of successful expeditions to this wonderful country. On all expeditions we have been fortunate to have had with us members from the Geology and Geography Department of the University who have played a full and vital role in all aspects of the expeditions.
During the last six expeditions we have explored and surveyed over 140km of magnificent caves in Vietnam. We have concentrated our efforts in 2 main provinces, one in central Vietnam (Quang Binh) and the other in the northeast (Cao Bang).There are many other areas still unchecked but we believe we have been fortunate to be the first to have a major expedition to this fascinating country.
During these expeditions we have made many new friends with people we have come across. We have had many exciting experiences and all have been made more interesting by the kindness and generosity shown by the local people. These people have been through many hardships in the last 50 years and we have found both the young and old to have tremendous resilience to whatever problems are placed in their way. Without their considerable help we would not have been able to have the success that the expeditions have surely achieved.
This latest expedition was no different to many others we have had to Vietnam. The team worked very hard in all aspects of the expedition and free time was an absolute minimum. An important factor in any expedition is how all members can work together in difficult conditions and still have a good time.This was helped considerably by the assistance of Vietnamese members who worked so hard in trying to make our limited stay as easy going as possible.
All the permissions and access problems were sorted out well in advance, making sure of the best possible use of our limited time. Because we were caving in areas very close to sensitive borders it was very important that everything was well organized. At times we were literally a stone’s throw from either China or Laos but because of the correct planning we experienced no problems whatsoever. We had a totally free hand in where we wished to go and all the local people were extremely friendly wherever we went. The biggest problem we encountered was to be dragged into local houses to be offered the local house rice wine before and after caving. However we could cope with such difficulties and the hospitality shown by the people we met was at times quite overwhelming.
The expedition found over 20km of new cave passage. We explored the longest single cave in Vietnam at 18.9km that included a 10.5 km river passage and involved a 4-day underground camp. We have left many caves still unexplored and found a new area with tremendous potential. All members had a wonderful time and the experience of the people of Vietnam is one not to be missed.
This report I hope will explain some of our experiences in this beautiful country and I for one will return to continue our exploration of the amazing caves of Vietnam. The next expedition is scheduled for 2001.