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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.

Andy

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