Report 2007

Article Index




The 2007 British/Vietnamese caving expedition proved to be a huge success.
The trip was the first time we had being able to obtain permission to visit the two
provinces of Thanh Hoa and Nge An. However half of the trip we would visit
Quang Binh province and the Ke Bang Massif once again. This time the trip
would try and start searching in a new area in Minh Hoa district. Very little had
been done in this huge limestone section which is approximately 45k x100k. One
trip into the far Eastern part of the massif gave us our best and most spectacular
find of the trip Hang Cha Lo. It also gained us lots of information of further caves
deeper into the massif. On our next visit to Vietnam we will concentrate in this
very promising area.
Unusually for this part of Vietnam we discovered a number of deep shafts in the
jungle. One Hang Nightmare proved to be an integral part of the Phong Nha
system. The other was not descended due to lack of rope and will on the next
expedition be a major objective. Again huge potential in this previously
unchecked area which we believe will lead into the Hang Vom system.
Hang En was again used as a base for further exploration into the mountains at
the top most part of the Phong Nha system. Hang Ho Nui was a major find and
this huge cave shows signs of the high level development in the Quang Binh
Every trip into the jungle would have not been possible without the help of the
local people who we used as porters and guides on all trips. These lads as usual
were excellent company and helped us in many ways to survive the jungle hell.
Also Hanoi University were fantastic obtaining all the required permissions.
Without their considerable help we would not have been able to achieve any of
our success. Also many of the Hanoi University were actively involved in the
cave exploration during the entire expedition and proved more than capable in
assisting us in surveying and photography during the trips underground.
For the first time for many years Prof. Quang My was unable to come with us on
the expedition due to ill health. However he recovered from his operation and
paid us a visit on our leaving party in Hanoi. Mr. Nguyen Hieu was the
Vietnamese leader of the trip and he did a wonderful job organizing the
expedition and we look forward to continuing our work with Hanoi University for
many years to come.
All members as usual had a fantastic time exploring some excellent caves in a
wonderful country with amazingly friendly people. We area all looking forward to
the return in 2009.

Howard Limbert


Quang Binh



Grid Ref


Bo Trach


Hang Ho Nui

323m 59m


Hang Nightmare

782m 145m


Hang Tron

1215m 74m


Hang Moi Chin

22m 20m


Vuc Tang

0m 100m+


Hang Nui Tre

63m 40m  

Hang Thoc 2

20m 15m


Hang 11

262m 30m  

Minh Hoa


Hang Cha Lo




Hang Boong

113m 9m


Hang Cong Troi

120m 10m


Nghe An

 Hang Phot Phat      0501610/2097494
 Hang Mo 1 & 2      0506313/2110784
 Hang Tung Khien      0511979/2119085
 Hang Dong Truong  70m  0m  0506703/2094158
 Hang Dinh 1 & 2  20m  0m  0528506/2108752
 Thung Khien area caves 1-6  920m  20m  05010695/2119029
 Hang Len Quan  40m  0m  0496234/2103962
 Hang Ong Van  80m  5m  0496853/2100854
 Sam 1  20m 0m   0505495/2094966

Thanh Hoa

 Hang Ho Cong  30m  0m  
 Hang Tien Son  150m  30m  
 Hang Nui Thanh  418m  11m  
 Hang Doi  410m  6m  0541300/223900
 Hang Trong  20m  20m  0538800/223980



  First Impressions

Having successfully managed to pack five days kit into one Petzl canyoning
bag I was ready for anything. Myself, Adam, Sweeny, Howard and Andy were
dropped at the roadside along with Liem (Hanoi University) Khanh our
indispensable jungle guide and four porters.
Having seen how much gear the
porters were carrying I thought we must be in for an easy walk in. How wrong
one person can be. We were to walk about 3-4 hours on tracks (loosely
named) through a traditional Vietnamese village to our first camp at Hang En
(Phong Nha).
Walking briskly down steep undulating terrain and after several
drinking stops we reached a small stream where we were to eat. Don’t know if
was the sheer elation of stopping or the place, but it was a truly magical
twenty minutes. The porters wanting to eat a proper meal were left behind as
we headed off to the village half an hour away.

The village was a traditional village (houses on stilts). Very similar to villages I’d seen in northern Thailand. Many of the villages remembered Howard and other team members that had passed through on previous expeditions. The digital cameras were a real hit even for the shyest. Once the initial stampede had died down and all sweets were eaten, the porters arrived. Not being in any rush to set off we sat with the porters as they re arranged their loads. Adam having suffered a stomach bug sat and recuperated in the shade. The walk to Hang En was ever changing, dense grasses, large leafy vegetation and sandy riverbeds.
The SealSkin socks were a real success, by keeping both water and leaches out. However if in real deep water the socks could fill up giving you fat ankles. Little things please little minds. On route woodcutters were passed carrying rare woods weighing in excess of 70kgs on their backs. With a value of £600 it was a hard but profitable activity.
The cave entrance at Hang En was spectacular. A river meandering into the jungle from the caves 100m wide entrance. The cave was ideal for a camp with a large flat, sandy expanse close to water. The porters were quick in setting up camp, whilst we hung our hammocks from the cave roof. Some of the acrobatics were quite amusing as we tried to find the safest hang.After much effort, photo opportunities and swearing we had ourselves an excellent
camp. Adam having put a real effort in getting to camp crawled into his hammock to die. Andy trying to prove his culinary skills set to work on dinner.
Howard found himself two new photographic assistants in Sweeny and myself.
Having had a surprisingly good nights sleep in the newly acquired extra large hammock, we ate and set off to follow a few new leads found by
Khung. A mere 300m from camp in the main watercourse an inlet was found. Climbing out of the river and over large boulders we located the source of the water. A crystal clear pool, just waiting to be explored. I couldn’t believe our luck. 300m from camp and a new cave. Really excited and keen to get caving we all kitted up (buoyancy aids and all), lowered ourselves into the pool and set off surveying using tapes clino and compass. After tying myself up in the tape several times we all seemed to develop a routine.
Things couldn’t be going better, new passage and it seemed to be continuing. Or was it? Yes Howard had squeezed through a tube and found writing on the wall. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t, but no matter how we looked at it. Writing it was! After a long swim upstream we deemed it time to return to the entrance. Great cave, shame it wasn’t a new find. Welcome to Hang Ca, found by Debs and Snablet on a prior expedition. Back at Hang En with time on our sides we went through the cave. An ideal opportunity to take some photos before the long walk to the new lead the next day. Although only 1.4km long it seemed huge. Massive chambers, huge boulders and the river gently winding it’s way through the caves majestical grandeur almost left me speechless (hard to believe). Looking at the rest of the cave I could see why camp was made where it was. Swallows were abundant in the cave, leaving their calling cards at every opportunity! With photos taken, shouting and whooping finished back to camp we went. The night came so quickly, dark by 5.30pm. Lying in the hammocks and listening to the jungle noise was therapeutic. Disturbed by peels of laughter I peered out of my hammock. The porters were laid in a big heap all wrapped up in their child sized hammocks. Obviously the wooden frame they erected to hang six hammocks from wasn’t strong enough! All awake they deemed it a good time to go fishing (machete style). Shine a light into the river and hit the prey with a machete. Fish, frogs, fingers and toes all fried up made a delicious evening snack. Or was it the effects of copious amounts of rice wine that made it taste so good?
With rice wine induced sleep the morning came all too quickly. Breakfast eaten, kit packed and surplus equipment hidden in the jungle. We set off on a five and a half-hour slog to the next lead (Ho Nui). Really steep hard climbing (fantastic cardio work out) was unrelenting, but enjoyable. Everyone was in good spirits and Adam was slowly recovering. With interesting makeshift ladder climbs scaled and the steepest parts of the climbs passed we started the decent. The going was now much easier, but with new hazards around the corner. What’s this small yellow cricket ball sized thing on legs? Whoops, so that’s what a mine looks like. The place was littered with spent land mines. Wonder if I could get one through customs? Shortly after we reached a so-called well. A small hole with a plastic container in the bottom to aid replenishing water bottles. I bet that container once had rice wine in it!
Ho Nui (named by Nguyen, the only porter’s name I could remember due to an association with the New Inn at Clapham) was enormous. A huge boulder filled incline leading down to the cave mouth. It was hard to decide at what point the incline became the entrance. Much discussion took place as to the cave name. Aeroplane cave due to its dimensions, but Nguyen had the final say. It was to be Ho Nui (Mountain Lake). A fantastic name for a cave in which we were desperately seeking water with no avail. The camp was quickly set up. Tarps acting as funnels to catch drips of water were laid. Off we went to start surveying and taking photos. The MDL was fantastic, taking clino, distance and direction in seconds. Using this kit gave us much more time to explore. The cave was awe inspiring, with beautiful crystalline caverns, pristine formations and a real feel of being somewhere special. Unfortunately no way on was found, but the sheer scale of the cave was still impressive. Having taken many photos, one of, which was a crystallised imprint left by a primate we left for camp. Another great camp, but a lack of water meant we could only stay the one night.
The next day a smokey cloud produced by our fires overnight hung eerily above as we started the steep assent from the camp. The walk back to Hang En and our final night out didn’t seem so
hard. Maybe it was because we were more familiar with the terrain? Back at camp Khung, Andy and two porters set out on a recce trip. Andy soon
returned with tales of horrific exposed climbs with no protection. Khung and the small team carried on. The following day with Khung and co still not back,
we had to leave to meet the jeep. Khung and the porters were collected at the roadside the following day, tired but in good spirits. A fantastic few days. First impressions – don’t come much better.

Hang En

 Climbing in Hang Vu Ca Tau

 Vu Ca Tau is located about an hours walk upstream from Hang En. It was first explored in 2006, the way on been blocked by a steep calcite climb. A possible continuation had been spotted by the team high up in the roof but a bolting kit would be needed to get up it. We returned to complete the project with only a small climbing rack and an old static rope to play with. We did have a bolting kit but as our bolt driver had snapped the previous evening in Hang En, it was rendered useless.

The walk up the En valley is breathtaking, with the massive entrance of En dominating the classic jungle landscape. The river meanders between groves
of banana trees, elephant grasses and rolling limestone hills, making the approach to Vu Ca Tau unforgettable. The entrance is approximately 30 metres above the river and is full of stals and gours. Apparently it is also full of water and fish in the wet season, hence the name. As we walked up the passage Howard warned us that a climb down was super slippy due to all the guano. As he told us this he plummeted down the slope and smashed his neck. It swelled up for a few hours and went stiff but seemed ok later on. We all took it as a warning and took more care on the steep slopes and climbs. I would spend the next hour climbing the muddiest and most greasy climb ever! The block of calcite offers 2 possible routes of ascent, the first being straight up the central dominating crack. This was completely un-protected and extremely slippy. In fact the whole monolith would have been easy to climb on if it was clean rock, but as luck would have it, it was greasy, slimy calcite!
We chose the second and less obvious route up the left hand side, passing a huge perched block. As there were zero foot holds and the surface was like glass, a number 6 wire and a thread secured a rope to stand on. With Sweeny and Clarkey spotting, the move up to the block was much easier to commit to! The block looked secure enough so a number 3 Camelot backed up with a smaller number one Friend underneath secured an etrier to help with the bold move around the block. Above the block I was dismayed to see that it was precariously balanced on two smaller boulders, both well jammed in. 30 seconds ago I had had my whole weight pulling on the front of the boulder…shit!
Behind this hanging death was a ledge, on which I re-grouped and rested. The climb going on was along a sloping, greasy ledge. I cleaned my boots of
mud and rigged a traverse line along the 5 metre steep and sloping ledge. The guys below all lay down on the floor to watch, Sweeny the possessive
constantly shouted that he would kill me if I had to sacrifice any of his Kevlar bolts to the route! Just as I reached the end of the ledge, I fully ran out of pro
and rope, I was at full stretch looking at the possible way on, it didn’t go. As I descended the awkward traverse the lads spotted a hole in the roof that would certainly need a bolting kit to be gained. Gutted!
Well, we pulled through the rope and de-rigged the climb. It should be noted that Sweeny got all of his gear back, but still complained! The jungle lads were impressed with the climbing but face was lost a few days later when I backed off an awfully exposed climb with 15 KGs on my back, 80 metres off the deck. These fellas are hard as nails, we should have asked them to gain the hole in the roof!

Hang 11
Near Son Trach in Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province. Explored by Debbie Limbert, Robin Sewell (Sweeny), Andy Mackenzie, Howard Clarke and Peter Whitaker. 05th April 2007. Write up by Peter Whitaker.
Summary – an interesting little venture explored over a few hours with a team of 5 yielding 262m of varied passage on different levels. The cave featured a large proportion of distracting inlets, boulder chokes and breakdown passage. On the plus side there were 3 going leads, one of which was in a large phreatic passage. 
We were travelling back down the road from meeting Howard Limbert and his damp team who had been camped in the entrance of Hang En for a few nights. Andy Mackenzie had only just acquired his shin injury which was to stop him from caving for most of his holiday, and was getting in as much bravado caving as possible, before the gangrene set in. Gangrene, that was, if he was to believe our taunts.
We were running out of options for caving that day in our jeep team. Some of the guide’s leads were turning up with scrabbles in the jungle with very little caving. Like the daylight chambers at the bend in the dry stream bed. Being a Vietnam novice, I volunteered to check it out. A crawl through a tube over stream debris led to some shattered connecting chambers, disappointingly complicated by daylight from various directions. This was more like jungle river overflow development, blessed with water in the wet season. As a last ditched effort to push any possible cave from the fruitless venture, I climbed feet first through a hole in the floor onto a ledge in an ominous looking small chamber. The smell of the place was not something I recognized. It wasn’t quite like rotting vegetation or bad air, just something disturbing. The floor was bare sand, apart from a manufactured pile of leaves and wood in the centre. It looked like a nest! I remembered throwing a rock at a wasps nest in a quarry on Skipton Moor in my youth and contemplated throwing a rock at it to make sure but I didn’t know just how fast defending snakes could strike. I didn’t really fancy a shot at the Darwin Awards – an annual joke ridiculing stupid and foolish accidental deaths of the year where people remove themselves from the gene pool - so I maturely made a retreat from the chamber. We explored another small cave at the end of the river bed and made our way back towards Son Trach.
At the km 11 marking on the road back from Tra Ang Bridge to Son Trach, we came across the other jeep team; some were kitting up for exploring. There was a cave approximately 40m from the road, up a path to the base of a cliff, on the right hand side of the road, if looking away from Son Trach. They had already been for an initial look and found a pitch. After a brief discussion, we decided to rearrange the teams and continue the exploring. The locals warned of poisonous snakes in the cave. A stooping entrance soon enlarged into a chamber. Left led along the top of a slab to a second entrance 20m from the first. The route from here back to the road was blocked by the vegetation. The way on was a climb down the slab, which was covered with flowstone; a broken stal was useful on the climb. The chamber led to a big stal and narrowed beyond; a pitch in the corner was the way on. The pitch started with a slot, but enlarged to follow one of the walls, which was very abrasive. The pitch included a ledge and deviation and measured 10 m in total.
From the bottom of the pitch, the rift continued in 2 directions. Facing away from the wall, right led 3.5 m to a 12 m climb down to a sumped pool. The thin pool lay underneath the passage facing in the same direction as the main continuation. From the bottom of the pitch leftwards was the main continuation; the rift continued for a few metres where it joined a stream passage. This continued for another 10 metres where it reached a T junction. Right led 20 m upstream a canal to an inlet waterfall. A bypass before the T junction led to a window partway along this canal. Left at the T junction was the main and downstream continuation. This was a 6 metre wide tunnel passage over sharp gours. The tunnel passed a few side passages, notably an overflow on the right hand side and a steep inlet passage on the left. The team divided to thoroughly explore the alternatives. Peter looked at the inlet passage. Andy and Sweeny explored forwards and Debbie and Howard C surveyed, with Debbie directing the whole venture from a central boulder in the centre.
The inlet passage climbed steeply up a mud banking; small branches with some interconnections led off from this but there were no significant developments. The cave was more interesting for the wildlife eg Peter noted a small mud choke ending in a spider and a poisonous centipede, creeping up on each other in the dark.
From the central boulder, forwards and to the left led along an ascending slab to a hole in the roof. Through here led to a broken bedding passage, a large log featured across the passage. Andy pushed past an assortment of debris to find a further entrance after approximately 40m. Among the breakdown, Sweeny explored an ascending rift, assisted by Peter. This fruited approximately 25m of passage but it involved some desperate climbing and wallowing past spiders in what was obvious minor passage.
Debbie found the main way on. From the central boulder a small opening on the right hand side opened out into the main continuation forwards at floor level; this continued with a muddy floor but soon reached a deep pool. The end of the pool was out of sight round a corner and this was left as the main going lead for the cave.
The team decided to exit via the newly found entrance, which was essentially a boulder choke. Howard and Peter exited through the entire cave and cleared up the loose ends. The overflow on the right hand side was a miniature version of the main passage and trended down over many short gours. This joined a larger passage which in turn intersected a large 7m diameter booming phreatic passage. This phreatic passage ended in a lake/ sump which was left as a going lead.
The waterfall at the end of the canal joining the T junction was also climbed; this proved to be a precarious 6m muddy climb, however it did yield another going lead. At the top of the climb the inlet continued 25m upstream to a thin lake or sump (the termination was out of sight again).

Hang Khy Re


Hang Tang Shaft
Phong, Tang, Lou and their jungle boys, have been an invaluable asset to our work in Quang Binh. They have turned up fantastic caves such as Nuoc Lanh, Salt and Pepper Pot and Nightmare Shaft. I was quietly confident when Tang commented that he had found a shaft that had a 20 second (?!) drop for a stone. Due to translation problems I think we set out to look at 2 caves and recce the shaft on the way back to Son Trach but we soon worked out that we would be heading out to the shaft straight away.
Phong had guided a return trip back to Hang Nightmare and as that was the main objective 95% of our rigging kit and rope was away on that trip. We only had 20 odd metres of rope and a couple of slings to go and check out Tangs shaft.
At about kilometre 4 on Road 20 you take a path right (on the north side of the road) and down to a dry streambed. A steep climb takes you on quite a confusing circular track to the top of a hill in a great position, with great potential for deep and pretty long caving. The 3 hour trek up was steep and slippy due to the constant rain experienced this year in Quang Binh. We all sang along to Hotel California – Liem’s cheerful contribution to the wet day - and tried to learn the Vietnamese words to Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh!
We arrived at our campsite at around 3pm and decided to set up our hammocks and wait for the morning to come, with hopes of better weather (and less leaches!). The afternoon passed in a drunken haze of rice wine chamma chams and the classic pork fat snacks that the lads always turn up. The actual camp at the shaft is superb. It has 2 bamboo shelters and a good water supply. The jungle around is filled with monkeys, weird skunk looking cat things, birds and plenty of insects. There was much talk this year about Burmese tigers, luckily there are probably not many in the area surrounding Tangs shaft. There have, however, been a few sightings in recent years in the entrance of Hang En.
Mr Tang was the sensible one, he sent us to bed early and said we needed to be fit (not pissed) for our visit to the serious shaft the next day. We had a wet night in our hammocks but were well rested and excited in the morning to hit the shaft and start playing! We had breakfast and set out for the shaft.
The shaft is 30 minutes from camp and the walk in is not too arduous, something to remember for the return trip with half a k of rope! Tang found the way through the forest with no problems, his navigation was superb. As we circled the shaft on approach the ground dropped slowly until we were right above it! What a sight, the classic pothole. Getting a GPS reading and cross checking the map we realised that the shaft is located about 2 kilometres from Hang Vom’s stream way and is at 800 metres altitude. For anyone who knows the area well it presents the prospect of possibly the greatest through trip in the world! If only we could get into Vom via this…
We could only get close enough to see that the shaft drops vertically with solid walls boring down, a rope would be needed to investigate. Around a tree, a walk along a ledge, another tree and we were sat looking down the hole. I am not sure what emotion was strongest, the excitement of looking down a huge hole in this location, or the frustration of only having 20 metres of rope!

 The shaft is a beautiful elongated oval shape, approximately 8 metres wide and 25 long. We could confirm that it drops away for at least 120 metres. The rocks were dropping for 7 seconds and then rattling on further. My arse started to twitch, even if the cave caffled at the bottom of the pitch, it would be a truly amazing experience to descend through the mist and into the darkness below. Plenty of photos and videos were taken to excite the next expedition to the area. We left the shaft and made a start back to Son Trach discussing what would be needed to get down. Plenty of bolts and slings and an endless supply of rope!


 Hang Nui Tre

After we were unable to descend Tangs Shaft due to lack of ropes, Mr Khanh and Mr Phong showed us a couple of entrances near the Tra an bridge. 
The first Nui Tre was at the end of a small stream bed. The entrance was quite large, a 30m wide and 10m high arch. Inside the passage descended steeply over boulders. A climb down through boulders landed in a small chamber. Across the chamber it was possible to climb down the far wall and descend into a silted up passage. The small stream flowed across the floor, but there was no passable way on without digging. The passage at this point is very small. 
We also explored a couple of sink areas in the dry stream bed, but there was not much visible bedrock only a jumble of boulders, and no obvious passage.
Ruc Caroon

 Nightmare Shaft

1. Another game of follow the Phong through the jungle and surprise! Another good looking cave. It has to be said there has been a pattern developing in Phong’s cave finding ability. A few days prior we had pushed 1200m of new cave between Hang Thung and Hang Tra Ang . This time he had lead us to a very large shaft 400m altitude in the Phong Nha Ke Bang Massive in another gap between our New cave Hang Circle and Hang Tung. After a small rece by me and Snablet Watto and Deb we had decided that the shaft was probably around 150m Deep with a 30/30m passage booming of into the distance.
Back in Son Trach. After little persuasion Sweeny was chosen to represent the shaft bashing team. A passtime he has taken many years to master! He was joined by me and Snablet Mcnab. Then of we trotted with 200m of rope an assortment of rigging kit, and the obligatory bottle of spirit to keep us warm in the frosty Son Trach nights.
2. After a fantastic walk once more. We removed our water proofs thermals and balaclavas and donned our finest down apparel. No not really but if we
had any of these items they would all have been used. The Sweltering Vietnamese jungle had turned into Yorkshire on a wet November day.
The unseasonal climate didn’t do anything to dampen spirits however!!! After a wet sleepless night only made better by the thought of loose vegetated shafts to descend. We pulled ourselves together and set forward to climb up to the entrance. Walking up artery severing slime stone was then followed by what was aptly named rattan crawl, a short crawl in the jungle through rattan scrub and thorns. This reached the high point of the walk at 400m after a short descent through bamboo we climbed again back to the entrance to speculate ones more before our assault.
Sweeny quickly donned his harness and descended to the point we had reached 3 days before. A solid tree belay was made and 4 other pitches were
descended to a solid ledge aprox 50m from the floor. This last pitch was rigged from an awesome overhang to give a truly world class pitch of 46m
landing on the floor 120m from the surface. However the descent came with all the usual added extras of moving rock, mud, ledges and boulders.
Associated with an unprotected vegetated shaft.
Sweeny took it in his stride and dealt with it in his usual approach, donning his golden gloves of perpetual pleasure. Demonstrating shaft management of an astounding calibre. After much shouting from above and several kilos of mud, rocks, and sweat Snab and myself had landed on the floor. A yelp into the void visible now at the foot of the downward slope echoed onwards for what seemed an eternity. The only problem was there was a perched river. ‘Yes a perched river’. A phenomenon known only to water engineers we would learn on our future trip. Being the only swimmer of the group, I was laden with the illustrious task of prospecting the cave for future. After swimming of downstream for 150? M. In fine Quang Binh river cave I decided that enough grabbing was enough!! We decided that another trip was needed as we had no wet suites no survey tape only a Disto, and a very wet cave with a booming echo. Showing no signs of yielding as of yet. Donned in my finest birthday suit I exited the perched river/lake/pond/up welling/. We sat and admired the superb chamber 60/70/100+ high, before climbing out to return to camp for tea and medals.

 3. After another smooth descent down nightmare shaft complete with rubbing ropes and falling mud rock and sweat we pushed on forth 300 ish metres downstream continually swimming. Passing fine flow stone columns and cascades into a terminal sump. With two small inlets above choked with silt and flood debris.. So off we swam back to investigate the potential of a small passage upsteam. This was again another sump. To be precise the water from a cave we explored a week before known as Hang Circle. After a last look out of the fine chamber to the pitches above and a moment of contemplation. Sween decided to ruin my whole trip by exposing himself in front of our idealistic view out from the chamber. Another piece of the jigsaw of Phong Nha cave system compete.


 Hang Tron (Circle Cave) 

Phong Nha System; Son Trach; Quang Binh
Deb Limbert, Robbie Burke, Ian ‘Watto’ Watson, Pete Whitaker, Mr. Diep, Peter
‘Snablet’ MacNab.
Located at the foot of the Hang Thung enclosed valley, the Hang Tron entrance was not the easiest of entrances to find. Our guide Mr. Phong disappeared off through a bamboo thicket leaving us perched amongst some pinnacle karst savoring a cool draft issuing from small fissures, a welcome relief
from the heat of the Laos winds (and a good sign from the cave somewhere below). Mr. Phong was scouting out the route to a cave he had visited ten years earlier whist collecting wood and animals from the forest. A whooping noise from below and to the right, Mr. Phong must have found the path. Our porter, Mr. Tintin, blazed the way. The whooping obviously translated as “turn right at the rattan vine and go over the gnarly boulder pile until you meet the obvious overgrown trail”. A glimpse through the forest of a white cliff face ahead hinted that we were close, as we rejoined Mr. Phong in a small clearing. Some delicate pinnacle and boulder hopping led to a sizable fossil entrance, it looked good, very good.
The usual formalities and preparation ensued, and we were shortly surveying our way down a boulder strewn borehole into the unknown. With excitement mounting we soon reached a chamber with a lake, or was it a river? Time for wetsuits? Not quite! Deb shouted back that she was in a dry fossil passage with a howling draught. A consensus was quickly reached that surveying in dry passage was easier than surveying whilst swimming. We scrambled up a mud slope into a very pleasant decorated passage, which rapidly revealed a large chamber. The source of the strong draught was soon discovered, as a further antechamber opened out into a daylight rift. We cracked open a flapjack and a packet of gummy bears, whilst discussing the merits of surveying with the expeditions new Disto laser measurer, (kindly sponsored by Leica instruments). With over 400m under our belt, we eagerly headed back to the main lead, with visions of river cave heading of into the distance, filling our heads. 

From the lake chamber we swam following the largest passage into a typical Quang Binh river passage, we were heading upstream. Pete checked out a dry inlet, and vanished for an eternity. We were just about to send out a search party, when Pete returned with a full and detailed report, “What have you  found Pete”– “A passage!”, “Does it go?” “Yes!”.  through some great passage. After negotiating a short fun section of rapids we continued up the main river through some great passage.

After negotiating a short fun section of rapids we arrived at a collapsed skylight, which cast spectacular sun beams across the next swim. Unfortunately this turned out to be the final swim that ended in a boulder pile with glimpses of daylight beyond. This was thought to be the other side of the boulders and tubes, which Jrat and Carl got into during their 1994 recce.

Backtracking, we checked out all the side passages and oxbows. We wrapped up the survey question marks, as we excitedly headed for the down  stream unexplored passage. Unfortunately, a 60m swim through a low arch, revealed that diving would be the only way to continue exploring the main downstream passage. We checked out the remaining stream passage which rapidly degenerated into low airspace ducks, these were soon abandoned and generously donated to the next generation.
We returned to Pete’s lead and surveyed our way along a very Dan-yr-Ogof (ish) passage, it even included the ‘Bakerloo Straight’. We remarked on the
similarity, and turned a corner, only to come face to face with the ‘Green canal’ (at Welsh temperatures). This is more concluding evidence to prove Martin
Holroyd’s hypothesis; ‘The cave in your thoughts will become the cave you discover’. We must remember not to talk about British caves when exploring in
Vietnam. Through the green canal the passage led to a boulder slope running in from the left, which brought us full circle back to our original entrance.
For the sake of completeness, we carried out a photographic record of the cave. The majority of this took place up the dry passage and big chamber, in
which we had stopped for gummy bears earlier that morning. Robbie organised the proceedings, as artistic director and photographer, using Watto as his muse. The rest of us operated the flashes. We were busy working through a catalogue of Leica disto sponsorship, spectacular formation, big chamber, and backlight passage shots, when the photo shoot came to an abrupt end. The photographer innocently remarked that the shot looked good! except for a certain part of the model’s anatomy being overly enhanced by the consumption of a popular alcoholic beverage. At which point the model in question exploded, the gist of which was, where the camera was going to be inserted if the last photograph was not deleted immediately. This reduced the rest of us into hysterics. When we eventually stopped rolling around the floor, the passage was consequentially named ‘Grumpy Bear passage’.
We had successfully put 1.2km of classic Quang Binh caving into the bag on our first jungle outing, and were pretty pleased with ourselves. The discovery
of Hang Tron completes another piece of the Phong Nha hydrological jigsaw. Hang Tron along with Nightmare Cave and Hang Tra An (with the exception of a few unexplored sumps) accounts for the main Phong Nha river from the Ho Chi Minh highway to the Hang Thung Valley. Although a large percentage of the Phong Nha river system has now been explored, there still remains the elusive link between Hang Thung and the Hang En valley. This will no doubt be a focus of future expeditions and involve some exciting caving and jungle experiences.

Phong Nha System Overview

 The Phong Nha system starts about 40 kilometres south of Phong Nha Cave.

Near to the Vietnam/Lao border a series of streams and rivers enters the limestone. The area was first accessed from the village of Ban Ban at kilometre
44 on the road 20. Heading east from the village a few small streams are noted. These all enter the limestone and find their way into Hang Khe Ry. The entrance to Hang Khe Ry is a large dry entrance. A large dry passage continues and soon leads to the main streamway. This cave forms a major part of the Phong Nha system. It is almost 19 kilometres long and eventually emerges in a small valley beyond Hang En. To the east of Hang Khe Ry, Hang Khe Thi is reached. This river joins Hang Khe Ry several kilometres into the system. The final sink to the east is Hang Khe Tien. This has only been explored for about 500m, but the water is believed to eventually connect with Hang En. The next expedition plans to continue exploration of the Khe Tien area.
Hang En is the next major cave in the system. A large river enters and flows through Hang En before joining with the water from Hang Khe Ry. Upstream of Hang En, a few short caves Hang Vu Ca Tau, Hang Khanh and Hang Hong form part of the system. Water from these caves joins the river leading to Hang En. Hang En has one of the largest sections of cave passage in the system. At one point the passage is 100m wide and at least 50m high. The cave is very spectacular. Exiting from Hang En, you enter an enclosed valley. The water from Hang En and Hang Khe Ry combine, and disappear underground in a mass of enormous boulders. Attempts to pass the boulder choke have so far been unsuccessful. There are a number of high level caves above Hang En and Hang Khe Ry. Hang Long, Hang Phong, Hang Doi, and Hang Ho Nui are all very well developed caves, but are not connected with the current drainage of the Phong Nha system. Often well decorated most of them end in calcite blockages.
The next cave in the sequence is Hang Toong. This cave was explored in 1994. The water from Hang En and Khe Ry passes through an unknown section of cave before it is found in the 3 kilometre section of Hang Toong. Finding a way into this unknown section of cave is still a priority for the expedition. The water emerges from Hang Toong, and continues to Hang Tra An. Until 2007, the caves of Hang Tron and Nightmare Shaft were unexplored. The  exploration of these caves completes the link between Hang Toong and Hang Tra An. Hang Tra An was first surveyed in 1992. It is about 600m long, ending in a sump. In 2001, the team explored Hang Nuoc Nut. A dry entrance leads into a very well decorated cave and a large stream passage. 2.2k long the water emerges and flows above ground to join the Tra An river. This large river flows on the surface for 4km until it enters the Phong Nha cave.
The water disappears into a large jumble of loose rocks and tree trunks. The water enters in lots of places and we have been unable to find a way into the top end of Hang Phong Nha.
Above this area is the entrance to Hang 11. This small stream cave is not yet fully explored, but must connect in some way to the Phong Nha system. At the bottom of the road 20, 3-4 kilometres before Phong Nha village, there are a number of small caves on the edge of the limestone. Hang Duc contains a
small stream, and was explored for 1.3 kilometres. It ends in a large sump pool at the down stream end. This may also feed into the Phong Nha system.
Hang Phong Nha is 7.7 kilometres long. It has long sections of deep water passed by swimming, some sections of wading and walking along sand banks, and nearer to its exit some well decorated dry sections of cave. The first full exploration and survey of the cave was completed in 1992. In 2003, whilst working on the entrance to Phong Nha, the locals uncovered a dry entrance some 100m above the river entrance, Phong Nha Kho is a large dry well decorated section of cave 980m long which ends in a 10m pitch down to a lower level and a final calcite choke. This cave has now been opened up to tourism.

 To the West of Hang Phong Nha lies the Hang Toi system, comprising Hang Toi, Hang E and Hang Hung Thoc. Hang Hung Thoc lies near kilometre 14 on road 20 and is 450m long. It is in an area which obviously floods in the rainy season.

The entrance is very close to the end of Hang E. Water flows through Hang E 740m long, resurges and enters Hang Toi which is over 5 kilometres long, and is a very large impressive cave. It is believed that the Hang Toi system is formed by flood overflow from the Phong Nha system. When water levels are high, the choked upstream end of Phong Nha cannot take all the water, which is believed to overflow to the Hang Hung Thoc area where there are many places for water to sink.


Hang Vom System Overview

The Hang Vom System (HVS) is probably the greatest caving system in Vietnam and perhaps the world in terms of size and splendour. At over 35km
long the HVS has never been traversed as a single caving trip from top to bottom. This is one of the aims of the 2009 expedition. The uppermost sink for the HVS is Ruc Caroon. Access to the sink is via road 20 from Son Trach to Lao. The village of Ban Ban is a minority village of the Ruc people. This small group of people, until very recently lived in cave entrances and hunted food in the jungle nearby. These people are therefore excellent guides for the upper reaches of the HVS. The walk down to Ruc Caroon from Ban Ban takes about 1 hour until the river is reached.
The boulder strewn entrance of Ruc Caroon gives no impression of the caves that lie ahead. Once inside the cave enlarges dramatically and the typical grey solid limestone is encountered which is seen throughout the system. Huge gours and stal deposits are present in large numbers throughout the majority of the HVS in this quality limestone. The first section of Ruc Caroon is only 1km long and ends at the huge exit passage around 100m wide and 80m high in a large depression. In this depression the large river disappears in the boulder floor. Crossing this enclosed depression you finally reach the main river of Ruc Caroon. This major river cave can be followed initially passing many side entrances before finally all coming together as a large single river passage. This section of Ruc Caroon is 2.8km long and ends in a huge sump pool 40m across. The water is not seen again until it reappears again in the final cave of the HVS around 8km away.
In the wet season the river is up to the roof of the initial Ruc Caroon passage and therefore over 50m high and 80m wide and according to the locals flowing very fast. This enormous river at this time cannot be all swallowed up in the downstream cave and thus the entrance backs up and the river joins the rest of the HVS as a flood overflow. We have only explored these caves in the dry season but it must be an incredible sight to see in the wet season around August and September.
There are a number of high level dry caves above the active system such as Hang Cung ,Hang Klung and Hang A Cu. These large now abandoned caves
are around 50m above the now existing river level. Once however the river must have flowed through these caves. All the high level caves explored in
this area are relatively short(around 1km) and all end in stal blockages. The main cave that is regarded as the start of the HVS traverse is Hang En or
Hang Pygmy as we call it to distinguish it from another Hang En in the Phong Nha system.
Translated it means Swift cave due to the large numbers living in the roofs of the huge passage. Vines are seen near the entrance where local are able to
climb up to the roof arch over 100m high and collect the birds for eating. This cave is really huge and in fact daylight can just be seen throughout its 1km
length. During the American war the local people lived here and a school was set up near the entrance in a huge gour. The cave has been attacked from the air but we were told no one was killed during any attack.
Vegetation is seen for the first 300m in the cave due to its enormous size allowing daylight in. In the dry season, only small amounts of water are found
in the lower reaches of the huge main passage, but is believed that this fills up dramatically in the rainy season. Passing through Hang Pygmy is achieved by climbing up large gours and boulders to emerge in a steep doline .Sections of the cave have been measured at over135m wide.
The local people have forced a difficult path out of this doline not knowing that a cave is present at the base. This cave Hang Over is 3.3km long and the
small entrance is very misleading considering its huge dimensions inside. One passage just inside the cave is over 130m wide. Hang Over is very easy going and the flat floored passage with very little water in the dry season makes for very pleasant caving in passage mainly 40m wide and high. This exits deep in the jungle but only 100m away is another huge entrance called Hang Ho (Tiger Cave). The short jungle section between the 2 caves is very bad for leeches.
Hang Ho entrance is 80m wide and slopes down on boulders to reach a small stream .Just before reaching the stream and a number of swims a passage on the right leads to more fine caving and another exit in a streambed. This streambed leads to another cave Hang About which is an upstream feeder into Hang Ho. Downstream in Hang Ho is excellent caving in beautiful smooth polished limestone. A number of swims are passed until the exit of Hang Ho is seen. At this entrance, huge trees around 60m high grow at 45 degrees due to the draught that emits from the cave. Following the stream bed downstream from Hang Ho is very difficult due to the incredibly slippy nature of the rocks.
Around 500m from the exit of Hang Ho the water sinks in a cave which has not been pushed to a conclusion. A little further down the valley a huge boulder slope is come across and a small entrance can be found into the main continuation of the HVS called Pitch Cave. This entrance is difficult to find and a much larger one can be found by climbing up and around to the left facing downstream. This large dry entrance leads into Pitch Cave which is a huge rift over 60m high for most of its length. A stream is then reached which can be followed down a few climbs to a sump. Just before the stream is reached a 30m pitch up leads to a high level passage and an exit over the sump. However it is not possible to climb this pitch without rigging from the top. A difficult bypass in dense jungle can miss out most of Pitch Cave and if one can find the small entrance to Pitch Cave in the Col (Vandal’s entrance) it is possible to bypass the pitch. After Pitch cave a very steep descent where a rope is useful leads to another stream bed where the water from Pitch Cave exits. This water sinks in boulders but on the right of the streambed and 10m above the water is one of the many entrances to Hang Duat.
This fantastic Cave is very complex with many levels of development. At just under 4km long Hang Duat is a truly fabulous Cave with sections of active
streamway and higher levels which give the name to this cave which translates as Maze Cave. There are a number of exits to Hang Duat but if the
main downstream passage is followed a huge chamber is reached where an exit to the left can be taken. In low water conditions a short duck can be
passed to lead back to the streambed and the main exit to Hang Duat. The next section of streambed is again very slippy and after another 500m an inlet
on the right is picked up which is fed from another important cave called Hang Dai Cao. This section of the HVS has many tiger prints around the cave
entrance which adds to the excitement of caving in this area.
Hang Dai Cao is the cave we used as a base camp to explore most of the upstream HVS. It can be reached from road 20 in around a 4 hour walk which
many of the jungle guides know and use the entrance a camp for there excursions in the jungle. Hang Dai Cao is another splendid cave and is
another feeder into the main HVS. The water in Hang Dai Cao comes from an unknown source and the upstream exits have not been fully checked out for
further prospects. Hang Dai Cao is an excellent cave for camping in and we have used it as a base on many expeditions.
Downstream of both Hang Duat and Hang Dai Cao is 2km of streambed which is again slippy but leads to the impressive entrance of Hang Ba. This is an extremely large bit of passage typical of the HVS. At 1km long Hang Ba so named because of its 3 large entrances on the downstream exits. Much of the cave can be done by climbing on boulders above the water and taking the largest exit. However swimming is easier and it is very spectacular to exit from the middle entrance with daylight entering from high level avens. This amazing place exits in a huge enclosed doline with large cliffs surrounding a
large lake with a nice beach. After another short section of cave called Arch Cave which is only 100m long the main downstream entrance to Hang Vom called Panthers entrance is seen. A 500m swim is the easiest way to reach this quite spectacular place.
The next section and the final and longest in the HVS is without doubt one of the great sections of cave anywhere in the world. At over 15km long this
section has both huge river passage often over 50m high and wide as well as huge high level passage with enormous stal formations. After around 200m from the Panthers entrance a large fast flowing river is met which powers out from a sump. This is thought to be from Ruc Caroon and around 8km away. Much cave awaits to be discovered in this missing section and a diving expedition is planned for 2009.
Downstream the cave increases in size with the roof and walls often out of sight. After just over 1km using a large shelf to traverse the passage a huge
left hand bend is reached where due to the immense size of the cave passage the way on is very confusing. This area has not been fully checked out and a return may yield further passage. After another 500m the passage suddenly changes character and a 10m wide canal with a 350m swim called the hall of bright carvings is followed until again daylight can be seen. Only 100m separates this exit from the next entrance. This leads into the main upper river
gallery. After around 2km an inlet on the right is reached called Pretentious inlet which was used as a camp in the initial exploration of the system.
Downstream of this inlet the cave is generally 50m wide and high at least and is followed for around 4km of splendid passage involving many swims and
cascades to emerge at the Daylight Beckons.

This is where an enormous shaft around 240m high enters and is a splendidlocation. Because of the daylight entering here it was possible to see the walls and roof of the huge cave and high on the right hand wall downstream a large high level passage can be entered by climbing on a shelf. This passage isvery large with excellent formations. As it is around 50 to 100m above the river passage it is mainly dry but in the wet season water does flow in this passage which is quite a sobering thought. This continues for around 6km in huge passage before exiting at the base of a cliff. Nearby the exit to this section of cave another cave called Hang Me Bon Con can be found which has over 800m of high level passage with excellent formations which must connect with the rest of the high level passage in Hang Vom but has not yet been connected.

Back at the daylight shaft the main river passage continues in fine style for another 2km to finally reach the immense exit of Hang Vom (Arch Cave) This exit has an enormous lake the 4th largest underground lake in the world and the sight of the jungle and the huge entrance which is around 80m high and over 100m wide is without doubt one of the greatest locations I have ever had the pleasure to see.

Hang Vom is a truly a remarkable cave system and it is hoped that with further expeditions planned more of this amazing cave will be discovered in the near future. 

 The Exploration of Cha Lo

One of the biggest finds of the 2005 expedition was the entrance to Cha Lo cave in the province of Minh Hoa, Quang Binh. Unfortunately at the time we did not have permission to enter the cave. So in 2007, the same team, of; Adam, Howard, and Watto returned. Cha Lo cave is visible from the road between the village of Cha Lo and the border to Laos. It appears to be an entrance over 100m high and about 20m wide however; when we reached the entrance we found that it was actually 2 entrances; a lower one at stream level, and an upper one, used for camping by the military; that connects to the lower via a couple of, as yet undescended, shafts.

The upper cave is a few hundred metres of large dry passage, nearly all in daylight, while the lower cave is 4.5km of well proportioned streamway. The streamway commences as a passage 30m wide and 10m high; though this quickly enlarges; into a fine high canyon; Thunderball; this was quickly explored to a log choke and dry side passage after 500m. The choke was passed; to a short swim; which was followed by a short swim to a large chamber; with daylight at the far end, and a mud and boulder slope disappearing up out of site on the left. The water appeared to sink into a sump on the right wall.

Watto pursued some dangerous climbs over large boulders, to regain the streamway and determine that the sump was not. It was simply a short swim, providing a much simpler and safer alternative. The daylight we had been able to see, came from a shaft; Moonraker; nearly 80m in diameter, which landed on a ledge 20m above, and to the left of the stream. Following the stream past a large, cold inlet on the right; led quickly to an area of rapids and a sump, easily bypassed by a climb. Returning to the inlet we swam 2 lakes to a continuation up boulders above water level. It was time to leave and find some accommodation.

Driving back to Cha Lo we stopped at the first house, to ask if there was anywhere to stay. This being Vietnam, the answer was; of course; yes, and;
stay here. We then adjourned to the restaurant of 2 years previous, the small wooden shed having been replaced by a large concrete shed, though the menu still consisted of a single item, and the liquid refreshment of beer or tea. Here we met the local police and border guards so we could register in the area, and meet the garrison commander in the morning.
The following morning saw us at the border post for meetings, and checking of permission; before we were accompanied to the cave to be met by a camping crew from the army. We were shown the upper entrance, which we explored and surveyed, then returned to stream level, to continue the exploration of the stream passage.
This time at the log choke we followed the dry right hand passage; a short well decorated oxbow which descended over gours to rejoin the stream; and
so on to our limit of the previous day. Downstream continued up a climb and down the other side to rejoin the stream in a passage 5-10m wide and 60m
high, and straight for 300m; The Laserace 300; of mixed swimming and wading. This marked our downstream limit for the day as we wished to check out the inlet back at the large daylight shaft.
Upstream we climbed out of the second lake, up the boulder slope, into a confusing area of rifts; Dr. No Way On; with drops to sumps. A sharp left turn through a narrow passage took us over an exposed and sharp climb, via more sharp rock to yet another swim. We exited this lake at a boulder choke. A short climb up, then down led to another apparent sump, though a short duck led to a steep and very sharp climb out of the water; continuing upwards we
found a 7m pitch returning to water. Here we left the cave for a pre-arranged rendezvous back at Son Trach, with the passage wide open; both up, and down, stream.


The following day an alternate team of Adam, Andy, Snablet, and Howard C returned to Cha Lo having acquired additional permission. Entering the cave in the afternoon we continued surveying downstream. A short distance further, a large ramp led off to the left, and the stream continued to a huge bank of mud and trees; and another sump. A swimming sump bypass, connected with the gour filled chamber; Casino Royale; found up the ramp. A short further recce spotted the downstream side of the sump, and daylight a few hundred metres distant. Returning to the village we sourced alternate accommodation with relatives of our original landlady, her husband having returned. The following day Andy’s foot was not looking well, so he was  reluctantly persuaded, to socialise and discover more entrances, rather than discover further cave passages.

So it was a team of 3 which explored further downstream through yet more swims and via a couple of daylight shafts; The Living Daylights; to the downstream exit and lake. We returned to the village with a successful through trip under our belts and a few photographs. Andy meanwhile had had a successful day of drinking, and had some entrances to visit the following day.

While Andy re-found Hang Ma Nghi and Hang Thuy Van (2005), Adam, Snablet and Howard C continued the upstream exploration of Cha Lo. The pitch was dropped, to a pool, which met a rift connecting back to the stream. Downstream led quickly; via rapids; to a sump. Upstream led; via rapids; to yet more swims, and some squeezes between boulders, into a large chamber; Sixteen Candles; eventually climbing up via razor sharp passages, to yet another pitch down, or alternate traverse; lacking equipment we returned to explore a side passage on the true left side of the high level. The sharp rock here claimed one casualty; so we left; minus a little blood, with the way on lost among a confusing array of chambers and sumps, either; apparently static or having multidirectional flow. We exited with only minor route finding problems. We returned to the bar for refreshments and to write up our discoveries of the last few days, and were joined later by Andy; fresh from his re-discoveries; and Howard, Deb, Watto, Robbie, Sweeny, and Pete; having exhausted reasonable leads in the Son Trach area.

The following day we re-entered Cha Lo en masse; less Andy’s foot; Howard, Deb, Robbie, and Watto to take photos in the large gour chamber downstream. The rest to continue exploration upstream; unfortunately; the pitch led directly to a sump with no way on. The traverse led to rifts, an interesting tobbogan and a long swim; Solitaire; to a boulder choke with squeezes at stream level and finally to a further sump; a slight anticlimax to a thoroughly sporting cave.


During our visit to Nghe An Province we came to the district of Tan Ky. The local people knew of a series of caves they called Tung Khien. We were first shown the longest cave in the area the entrance to which was a wet weather sink. A short section of stooping passage leads to a T junction. The left passage was explored on the first trip, leaving the right hand passage for later. The cave soon opened up into nice dry walking passage. A couple of side passages were pushed, leading into well decorated chambers. Continuing on, a small rift on the right dropped down to a 10m section of passage  sumped at either end. The main passage continued, traversing or climbing over a section well frequented by bats. Not a place to go into the pools. Another entrance was noted in the roof.

 A 7m climb was descended, using a hand line to join a stream way. Downstream after a brief section of cascades, the cave exited. Upstream, the passage continued large with pools and sandy floor. Wading through the pools, a duck was passed, to a sump on the left and a crawl over cobbles to the exit. Those unfortunate enough to explore the right hand passage near the entrance were treated to a very wet section of cave. Wallows, wades and a low airspace duck had to be surveyed. The cave opened up a bit, and the water appeared from a small passage on the right which soon sumped. The dry way continued over a collapse to a crawl towards an exit. This was sadly guarded by spiders, and the team had to distract them in order to exit the cave. Emerging into the jungle we noted a few features, and left a note in case anyone was shown this entrance from the outside. We returned through the cave to the usual entrance. The next day a small team went on a tour of the area with a local forestry worker. The first cave we were shown was a large dry entrance close to the path to Tung Khien Cave. The entrance was about 15m wide and 10m high. A steep climb down over flowstone leads into a level dry passage. The passage continued southeast for 230m before emerging again. About 6m wide with a cobble floor, flowstones and bats.

Emerging into the jungle we followed the guide as he cut a way back to the usual track to Tung Khien cave. Heading back up the cobble track we were shown a small resurgence, which we thought might be linked to Tung Khien. However this now seems unlikely. The entrance is very wet and low. The next cave was a short unpleasant section of cave. Dropping down through boulders we found a bigger passage. Straight on led to a small sump, a passage to the left led into two calcited bat chambers. Approx 50m long. We reached our exit from Ting Khien cave and retrieved our note from the previous day. Our guide was impressed that we’d managed to go so far underground.

Nearby was another resurgence, a stooping entrance with a deep pool. Our guide said the water came from Tung Khien, but this was not one of the exits we had explored We were then shown a couple of lead mines, one dry and one wet. The dry cave had signs of use by the local people. Initially 6m wide the passage soon narrowed to about 3m wide. Explored for about 300m the passage ended in a calcite choke with some very large spiders. In the interests of caving we pushed our way through a low wet muddy pool, only to find ourselves back at the main passage. Some pits had been dug in the floor apparently for lead. The wet lead mine cave was explored for 340m and at the time was being actively worked by the local people. Entering through boulders you drop onto a bamboo ladder. Continuing down through the choke you emerge at the edge of a low muddy wade. After a few metres the passage gets taller. Passing more boulders and another wade, the next wet section can be traversed, a tree trunk being used for a bridge at one point. The passage develops into a nice canyon with a flowing stream. Around a bend and we entered the mining area. Small groups stand in the pools created by small dams, and sieve the slurry in search of lead. Unable to communicate beyond hello, we surveyed through this candlelit section to another small chamber. The passage here became more unpleasant. Chest deep muddy water with lots of floating objects soon thankfully sumped! A high level oxbow and a way off the chamber were checked on the return. Walking back to the forestry house, there was a heavy downpour. No doubt the miners would have encountered a rise in the streamway. Luckily our jeep could still pass the muddy roads, but with not enough room for all, there was more walking before the hot shower and cold beer.

Tan Khy

The previous evening’s caving in Thung Khien had resulted in that cave being pushed to it’s upstream exit leavingn the downstream ‘peach’ as the onlyongoing lead. In this circumstance it made sense to split resources withHoward, Ian & Andy continuing exploration/surveying whilst Deb & myself went walkabout to see if we could indentify any other likely looking sites in thelocal area.

A guide arrived at 8am prompt. The general plan was to spend the morninglooking at any entrances, GPS their location & then return to any prime site inthe afternoon. This was the first time I’d been able to look round in daylight.The surrounding area consisted of small rolling hills in a verdant, wellcultivated setting. The immediate impression was that any undergroundsystem would be compact & hydrologically interconnected.

The first entrance was down to the left of the final steep path to Thung Kien. Ashort burst of head scrathing & couple of false starts before the guide led pasta 2m x 8m limestone outcrop from which a small stream flowed out of a verylow &frankly somewhat uninviting entrance. A half-hearted look revealed apossible very low ongoing passage which would require total immersion toinspect albeit the soft silty floor looked easily diggable. Much oohing & aahing& enthusiastic thanking of the guide before mentally binning this site &indicating we should now move elsewhere.

A 30min walk led to the second entrance. This was much more impressive, a7m x 5m gash accessed by a climb down on the right-hand side. The flat floorat the bottom led off into sizeable passage. Via our Uni translator weestablished the cave was known as being relatively short but in view of thelarge dimensions we decided to survey before moving on. Several large legsunder an ammonia reeking bat colony led to a daylight rift climb upwards.Looking out into dense & sharp foliage meant an easy decisison to returnback the way we had come.

Back along the Thung Khien track but at the T junction leading to the village aleft turn led up the hill along the edge of what looked a banana plantationpast a cave entrance that the guide was still used for mining lead beforetaking a 90% left to behind the hill facing Thum Kien. A substantialresurgence cave was shown &, described by the guide as the downstreamend of Thung Kien & therefore presumably where the other team would exit(this later however proved inaccurate). Based on this we moved onwardscrossing a pleasant clearing past some stilt farms before turning left through a second clearing.

The collapsed frame of a small hut appeared in the far corner & wasimmediately recognised as being just behind the upstream exit from ThungKiem! The guide explained he now needed to get off & wondered if we wouldbe able to find our way back ourselves? Confirming we should be ok hedisseapeare3d whilst we headed back. A flapjack break ensued beforechoosing the more pleasant, dry option first.

The cave proved to be an interesting & pleasant 300m of surveying with acouple of calcite eyehole squeezes & 2 oxbows before ending at a completecalcite blockage.

The higher & wetter 2nd entrance dropped down a fixed 3 runged wooden ladder that really needed about 4 more rungs to have been safe. Beyond this entrance climb the cave continued a climb 3m x 3m shaft over large car-sizedboulders onto a shingle floored chamber, the only way being a wet doglegcrawl. This led quickly to a large but gloomy lake spanning a 4m wide x 1.5mhigh passage. This was par for the course, being a crap swimmer with nobouyancy aid meant you where always guaranteed to end up in deep waterdespite the most unlikely setting.

Usual winging through cold water which luckily proved to be mostly only chestdeep with just a couple of short swimming stretches before, 20m forward, thelake ended and a pleasant meandering passage headed off in a distinctivedownward trending fashion. This increased 3m x 3m before a chest heightfalse floor bisected the passage at head height. Following the higher route wedropped down in what was now a smooth walled rift with flowing watercascading down drops before opening into a small chamber with gravel bankspiled against both walls. Here we met the first of 4 vietnamese miners siftingfor lead. They took the appearance of 2 foreign cavers trailing surveying tapecompletely in their stride, far more say than had 2 vietnamese caverssuddenly turned up halfway down an NCB pit!

Continuing the rift passage slowly decreased in size to eventually it taperedout in a deep wet rift. Quick exit into the evening & walk back to the campsite.


Nui Thanh was another small semi-show cave complete with initial steppedentrance & a primitive, generator based electric lighting system. Why anyonewould go to the trouble of erecting concrete steps is unclear as it appearsunlikely the cave would ever be able to attract sufficient visitors to justify the effort.

The ‘tourist’ part of the cave was an easy dry rift breaking out at regularintervals into chambers of ever decreasing dimensions. The passage showedsigns of water flow in the wet season but for the present had a mostly dry &sandy floor for the surveyed length of 420m where it ended in a final smooth walled chamber with no exit.

About 60m before the final chamber, a low crawl on the right hand side wasfollowed for a short distance before the survey team decided the combinationof a low rocky crawl & standard dress code of shorts & T shirts simply didn’tmix. Leaving a muttering motley bunch of malcontents behind I continuedalong the crawl into small chambers & along the bottom part of an “over &under shotgun” passage, the higher of the two being sharper & connectingwith the lower via regular skylights. 10mins by the watch & as agreed Ireturned to the main group.

There was a definite lack of enthusiasm to say the very least. However Debconfirmed she would come for a look & reversing the route quickly led pastthe furthest point reached. The passage continued in much the same vein &after some 20mins of crawling broke into a 5m x 5m very bouldery chamber.The way on was not initially obvious but with Deb acting a lighthouse a wayon was eventually found leading to a pleasant sandy floored & stronglydrafting 2m x .5m rift.

Using lighthouse Deb to reverse back to the chamber it was obvious thatcontinuing on without surveying was not going to prove a constructive of timeso a somewhat gingerly return was made back to the main passage where therest of the group waited.

We guessed we must have covered about the same distance again as thesurveyed 420m. The cave was left as a going concern & the drafting final riftpassage may indicate that it would shortly exit. Or not.

 Hang Cha Lo

 Hang Mo

Near Thai Minh in Tien Ky District, Nghe An Province. Explored by Adam, Snablet, Mr Tu, Howard Clarke and Peter Whitaker. 13th and 15th April 2007. Write up by Peter Whitaker.

Summary – a fine river cave mostly in a railway tunnel sized passage. In the dry season the stream is very slight. The cave is easy going and mostly sandy floored. It had recent bare footprints along most of the length of the main passage, probably from a local hunter. Of all the caves in this district, this had the most potential for tourism, although there were no easily accessible splendid formations. It is more of a “tourist cavers’ cave” than a “tourist cave”. Its beauty was in the fine tunnel passage and colony of bats. Visitors must be capable of some basic scrambling as there are large boulders near the entrance to be negotiated.

 This cave was the first we explored in the expedition’s first visit to this district.After getting the go ahead from the province authorities, we visited the Tien Kydistrict headquarters. This was promising from the outset, as there was a largekarst feature in the central fountain. The officials were keen to show us photo’son the wall of a committee day-trip to look at scenery and caves; they asked uswhich cave we wanted to visit first. We pointed at the series of photos showingthem crossing a pretty meadow and entering a decorated cave and indicated thatwe would like to survey that one first. A bustle of activity within the committeerooms followed – comrades were gathered from stuffy rooms at the prospect ofaccompanying us on a boys jolly. It really did turn out to be a boys jolly - a girlclimbed into their jeep and was pushed chauvinistically back out; the space wasrapidly filled by another male committee member. 

We followed the committee jeep from the town, through villages in the country to the eventual turn off the road onto a farm track. This continued flat for a few hundred metres until it reached a stream. As we donned the caving gear, the committee men got into the swing of things. They passed around alcohol and the atmosphere got more jovial. The cave was a very short distance up the stream from the road; this stream issued from the cave entrance; stream level was blocked by boulders, so access was easily gained by climbing over the boulders to drop back into the stream.The route into the cave soon came up out of the stream to pass over the top of a boulder choke; which showed recent evidence of people – candle wax, glass and food wrappers were present. This boulder choke lasted for around 35 metres, before dropping back down to the stream. We were now in a sandy tunnel, around 3 metres wide, with a small stream running along the bottom. We could follow a single pair of footprints. Peter scouted ahead; Snablet drew, whilst Howard and Adam operated the survey instruments. The committee men were having a real adventure, keeping up with Peter and enjoying their day out of the stuffy committee rooms. When they realized we were in it for the day, they exited to the nearest café with Mr Tu to spend some miscellaneous expedition money.

The surveying continued for over a kilometre, with the character of the cave remaining the same – a large phreatic tunnel, sparsely decorated, with pebbles and sand on the floor. The going was quite easy and we followed a single set of footprints throughout. There were notably many bats roosting in the cave; Peter particularly noticed them when, whilst surveying through a constriction, one flapped past and used his face as a springboard for a floppy, leathery winged exit.

 Upstream in the main passage continued in the form of the railway tunnel, although it was noticeably smaller since the junction. It did contain some long survey legs, in the order of up to 65m, made possible by our laser surveying equipment. This main inlet yielded just over 710m of passage to its  conclusion. At parts, where the shape of the passage altered at corners, the bats had taken good advantage of this and used its secluded nature for roosting. The smell of guano among the humidity here was overpowering and it was around here that Peter had his encounter with a bat whilst in a constriction. The constriction seemed a good place to leave the surveying that day. The team returned 2 days later, but without Snablet who had gone back to New Zealand. Mr Tu capably accompanied the team and made himself very useful, during the exploring, surveying and photography.Continuing the surveying, the team found that the constriction formed a dog leg and the cave soon returned to its lengthy form with a 75m leg. However, as this was a diminishing inlet, the open sandy floor gave way to being more boulder strewn and was less like a bored tunnel. Small climbs became involved. The team passed a flowstone inlet on the left around 120m from the end and encountered a stooping passage feature. The cave opened out beyond but it was apparent that this main inlet was closing down. The passage narrowed predictably and the team came across a boulder choke. This was pushed for 15m unsurveyed until it completely choked.

The team took many photos on the way out; many of them show the fine tunnel shape of most of the cave. It was a cave of considerable beauty, although it is questionable and maybe unlikely whether this beauty would be apparent to non cavers expecting dramatic “showcave formations”.

After approximately 600m past the boulder choke, the cave split into 2 inlet streams, with the right hand stream being the major contributor of the flow. The left hand inlet continued for approximately 150m before becoming impassable. It continued in a diminished form of the main streamway and took the form of a rift rather than a tunnel passage at turns. The passage terminated soon after some impressive crystal walls, clean marble and some flowstone constricting the passage. A climb up and over some flowstone and boulders in the passage degenerated into a hands and knees crawl for approximately 60m at stream level; this diminished further and until it became a boulder choke with very little potential for further development. By this point the issuing stream was negligible. In a further effort, the surveyors found a breakdown chamber at a higher level, from the start of the stream level crawl. This also had little potential for further passage, especially in light of the main passage continuation 150m behind us.

Tourist caves of Thanh Hoa

 We set out from Thanh Hoa’s provincial town to visit our first district - Vinh Loc. Here we were to base ourselves for the next few days to explore three possible areas of limestone. The committee were very helpful, they found us fantastic accommodation and gave us local lass Miss Thuy to act as a guide and take us to our first cave’s location.

The parking for the first cave was right outside the main gates to a local (seemingly all female) temple. The block of limestone we were looking at was probably a km square and didn’t present much potential for a British caving team! As the usual jokes passed around – “Do you think we need wetsuits…” etc we started to climb towards the top of the karst block. The entrance, about 4 metres wide and 3 high, opened into a decent size cavern with concrete and steps throughout. There were many small temples and statues of the Buddha dotted around. The draught in the cave came from another entrance 30 metres away. We had obviously come to see one of the temple’s shrines. Sweeny the beaver pushed through a small passage at the back, to crawl enthusiastically through what Deb described as a bats urinal.


We took some pictures of the Buddha sporting a Petzl tackle sack and headed back to the van. The Song Ma River is the largest water course in the district and is surrounded by rice paddies, water buffalo and quarries, all being tended to by hard working locals. As we followed the river west we were impressed with the karst close to the banks. There was certainly potential here for some decent sized caves. Robbie and I stared longingly at the abundance of class routes heading up the karst towers and discussed the potential for a successful climbing expedition in Vietnam.

The drive to this next location was somewhat amazing; the scenery was great but more importantly Mr Quangs driving was unreal. He took us over 6 foot wide roads with water on each side, negotiated 90 degree turns with no space and took us along a 4 wheel drive track to a local show cave! Across the paddies a wet cave was pointed out and we were told that it was 200 metres long and tourists were taken through by boat as part of the tour. We had spotted the downstream entrance at the other side of the karst block and decided to visit the cave higher up the hill.

The walk from the car was short but impressive; the local family running the cave tours have built a full docking bay similar to Phong Nha, Ke Bang, for the boats going to the wet cave, and also a limestone path up towards the dry entrance. We were amused to see a steel ladder leaning against the wall and at the top a locked gate entering the show cave. We waited as the manager turned on the lights and opened the gate. Inside was the best show cave I have ever been in!

The path took us through some very hot passage, well decorated with old stal bosses, flow stone and gours. The first thing to mention would be the lighting. There was the usual neon and bright red lights to colour the calcite, but the positioning of the lights was perfect! The manager had even scaled the stal to the height of the roof to place his electrics.

After 50 metres there was a balcony viewing 2 crazy steel ladders! One down a pit and one out the other side! They were not secured and were probably quite dangerous, we sent Lady Limbert first! After the ladders there was an interesting traverse across boulders on glued-in re-bar! What a hoot, somebody had obviously taken a lot of time, and pride to make this cave tourist friendly! The cave caffled soon after but we were left in awe of the dedicated and proud locals that’s had opened the cave.


Hang Doi (Bat Cave)

During our expedition through Thanh Hoa many local people kept talking about a cave with many fish. Finally in the beautiful Cam Thuy province we were able to visit this cave and hopefully find other caves in the area. Hang Suon Ca (Fish River Cave) is aptly named and is certainly a big tourist attraction for the Vietnamese. The story goes that in the past some local people ate one of the large Carp fishes that live near the entrance to the cave and he died. Thus from then no one would eat any fish and hence there numbers dramatically increased. When we drove towards this cave we were met by numerous stalls all selling tacky trinkets and pictures of the river full of these huge Carp. Luckily they also sold cold refreshing drinks before our adventure in the cave. From the stalls we walked down to the small river and we were amazed to see a river full of huge Carp which went into a frenzy when a lump of food was dropped in the river. Tourists and we alike took the opportunity to take a few photos of this unusual site. Anywhere else in Vietnam fish have a low life expectancy but certainly not here.

The show cave Hang Suon Ca is an unusual show cave but by Vietnamese standards is fairly typical. We followed local people some very old and some babies through an intricate cave terribly lit by coloured lights. Climbing up and down stal which was slippy was no problem for the old dears in flip flops and the tourists were all having a great time. We were sweating and falling over and because we decided to survey the cave were having great difficulties in passing survey details on to the scriber due to the incredible noise from the Vietnamese who as usual were very interested in what we were doing dressed in all fancy caving gear whilst they carefully passed through the cave in their Sunday best clothes. They emerged in pristine condition whilst we as usual were filthy and hot and sweaty.

At the exit to the cave we were told of 2 other caves unexplored. One cave supposedly had the main river water and the other was a dry cave full of bats. Deb, Sweeny and I drew the short straw and elected to visit the Bat Cave Hang Doi. The entrance is very near the exit of Hang Suon Ca and is large with a width of 15m and dropping steeply into a large chamber with much stal. The climb down into the chamber is very tricky mainly due to the abundance of bat shit everywhere as well as green slime on every rock due to daylight penetrating into this chamber. Finally we made the base of the chamber into a very dry and filthy base with hundreds of bats shitting on us from high above. To add to the wonderful conditions thousands of flies seemed to have fancied a caving trip so we were surrounded by these buggers without any way of killing them. The good old days of carbide gave some satisfaction when they leapt into the flame. The only way off this foul chamber was a climb up a bat shit slope into what appeared to be into a good looking passage. Much too our surprise this passage soon left the horrors of the entrance chamber and a fine old passage continued in style. Mainly over 10m high and 10m wide this splendid passage continued for 400m to a calcite choke.

We photographed this clean and well decorated passage and had a good check of the final end. Sweeny discovered a nest of rats full of little ratlets in the final alcove but no way on was obvious. We retreated back through Hang Suon and met the other team who had trekked through jungle and over many cols to be shown a boulder choke and no obvious river cave.


Whilst in the district of Cam Thuy, we spent some time talking to villagers and trying to locate any caves in the area. There was a large entrance visible across the valley, about 100m above the valley floor. There seemed to be no-one available to tell us about the cave, so we decided to make our way there and have a look.


Crossing the cultivated valley floor was fairly straightforward, and we then took what looked to us the best line through the vegetation covered rubble slopes. The going was very difficult. We made some height and were trying to find a way to cross to the entrance when we heard lots of shouting from below. Eventually a trio of youths appeared with the idea of showing us the correct way to proceed. Sharp knives are of course very useful for cutting through the sharp bushes. They lead us to a dodgy looking traverse which we declined, and then dropped back down to intersect the large footpath up from the valley floor! We climbed a loose slope into an entrance 25m wide and 20m high. It continued to slope steeply to the back wall, with slippery lichen covered rock. One of the lads proceeded to show us his superior climbing techniques using plastic sandals. He ascended about 20m higher in the left corner on almost vertical slippery rock. Sweeney made a brave attempt to follow, before sense prevailed. A fall from there would be very serious, a 20m vertical drop followed by a steep slope for another 20m. Whilst in the entrance a very large owl was disturbed which circled the entrance and then departed. The locals informed us that at the top of the climb, there was a very steep descent! 

Please click on map below to open full size.

 Please click on map below for full size image.




Hang Khe Rhy Quang Binh
Hang Vom Quang Binh
Hang Co Ban Son La
Hang Phong Nha Quang Binh
Nguom Ban San Lang Son
Nguom Sap Cao Bang
Hang Toi Quang Binh
Hang Cha Lo Quang Binh
Hang Duat Quang Binh
Hang Lanh Quang Binh
Ban Ngam Cao Bang
Hang Thung Quang Binh
Nguom Nam Lao Cao Bang
Ki Lu Cao Bang
Hang Ca-Be Lang Son
Nguom Pac Bo Cao Bang
Hang Over Quang Binh
Pac Lung Cao Bang
Bo Luong Lang Son
Hang Nuoc Hoa Binh
Bo Nhon Lang Son
Na Lon Ha Son Binh
Basta Noodles Ha Giang
 Hang Ong Ha Giang
Xa Lung 2 Ha Giang
Mu Cai Shaft Cao Bang
Pa Ca 1 Ha Giang
Cam Thon Cao Bang
Lung Chinh Ha Giang
Ta Chinh Son La
Bang Ngam Cao Bang
Xa Lung 1 Ha Giang
Queens cave Son La
Hang Ong Trinh Son La
Ban Lay Son La
Nguom Chiem Cao Bang
Nguom Ban Sien Quang Binh
Hang Khe Rhy Quang Binh


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