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 TUNG KHIEN CAVES

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.

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