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