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Imagine standing admiring a beautiful waterfall, a man ploughing a field with his water buffalo in the foreground, trying to work out if it will ever look anything like as spectacular in a photograph when a massive explosion disturbs your peaceful contemplation. Well this is where we found ourselves on the last but one day of caving in Cao Bang. We had gone to take photographs ( if necessary) of a show cave Howard and Deb had discovered in 1995 and to explore further caves that had been talked about on their last visit. The starting point though was a spot of tourism andphoto taking of Ban Zioc waterfalls, a huge waterfall in flood and still pretty impressive in the dry season. The waterfalls are on the border between China and Vietnam and an expanding tourist attraction for the Chinese and Vietnamese so major road works were taking place to improve the road from Trung Khanh to Ban Zioc. This involved blasting large lumps of rock into small lumps of rock and then hammering them into even smaller lumps of rock right above the waterfall.

The army guide we had with us told of a cave he knewbelow the road(which was currently being built). After donning regulation caving gear - shorts, t-shirts, walking boots and helmet we set off for the entrance only to find it blocked by a large boulder pile. After a short discussion it turned out that this was recent and due to the explosion we had heard and the road building crew were called down to help dig it out for us. After getting promises that the blasting would stop while we were down the cave, we set off to explore and survey.

A loose boulder climb led to a hading rift which gradually became narrower and sharper with pocketed limestone. Although it looked like it would close down,we came to a T junction with a stream passage after 200 m and the cave opened up. Downstream led to a sump within 15 m so we followed the cave upstream following the streambed which meandered around boulders, mud slopes and calcite flows. A small climb led to the upstream sump with no obvious way on. On the way back we explored some of the high level passage we had ignored on the way through. The cave obviously takes a lot of water in the wet season and most of the high level we looked at involved balancing your way up greasy mud slopes pulling handholds off with each move. Nearly 300 m of old high-level passage was surveyed trending in the same general direction as the rest of the cave. In places this large dry passage was beautifully decorated with huge stal, calcite flows and clean washed black limestone.A large black pit was reached which was impassable at this stage .

Returning to the stream way we checked out a few other leads into the high level but with time pressing none were followed far or surveyed. In total we surveyed 839m and there are definitely many question marks to return to with the possibility of a major cave system yet to be discovered.Returning to the entrance we were all relieved to discover that the climb was still clear and we exited to what has to be one of the most spectacular views from a cave entrance.

Fiona Mackay

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