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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.
 

Martin Colledge

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