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The 2012 expedition was a major undertaking involving 2 film trips in Son Doong and a 2 month full on expedition. Hanoi University was again excellent in their support.

We had excellent help especially from the National Park under Mr Thanh. The whole community around Phong Nha village and Son Trach villages were very supportive to all our team members.

We have now filmed with National Geographical, NHK Japan, BBC, VTV4, Quang Binh TV and Tokyo TV in Son Doong which has helped promote the Ke Bang massif to many parts of the world. This year’s filming with Vietnamese TV and Tokyo TV will continue to promote the amazing Ke Bang National Park and the caves. This project also helps the local people in obtaining a reasonable wage as porters and guides.

The National Geographic magazine article about Hang Son Doong and the caves of the Ke Bang Massif was a great success. The story and pictures won numerous awards for both the magazine as well as the website. This is an excellent advertisement for Vietnam and especially Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

Phong Nha Village 1990


In 2012 we had no problems with permissions with the great help of many people. We have now been working in the National Park now for over 22 years so we have a good relationship which is important in Vietnam.

The first thing we had to do this year was to take the National Park people and the forestry people and members of Quang Binh committee and a Vietnam film crew down Hang Son Doong. This was a real eye opener for many of these people and helped them understand the conservation issues and just what would be required if ever this cave is open to the public. At the moment no one is allowed into Hang Son Doong or indeed to the entrances. No one has been into the cave without our team accompanying them.

No tourists are allowed to go even to the entrances. This is strictly controlled and although websites promote tours to the biggest cave in the world these are all utter lies!! Maybe one day Son Doong will be a tourist cave but at the moment it would require major investment to produce what would be a mind boggling show cave. I would love to see the cave kept in its present condition but understand the realities that may force this to change.

Our next task was to accurately GPS a number of caves we discovered pre GPS days. This was interesting because we now have a digital map of all our caves which will assist us in the future in the search for caves. We have a greater understanding of the hydrology of the area but there are still many unanswered questions.

The actual main caving expedition was a great success. We all had a really fantastic time especially the jungle adventures with our guides and porters. We discovered over 21km of excellent and varied caves in our 8 week expedition.

With the help of Hanoi University, we had a member of the University with us in one of our groups in the jungle. This is a great learning experience for many of these students. Mr. Bac, Mr. Hanh, and Mr. Phuong have all played an important role in the success of the expedition.

During the first 4 weeks of the expedition we had 8 members in the team but the last 4 weeks of the expedition we had 11 members in the team. This gave us the opportunity to send 2 or 3 teams into the jungle to search for caves. All team members had long jungle stints on this expedition. Many of the new caves involved long walks up to 3 days away. With the aid of modern medicine the team just about managed to return home in one piece, though a few younger bodies next trip may help.

We didn’t manage to find the master cave to the Chay River resurgence but we opened a new area in the search for this elusive system. We have left numerous new caves and our guides are actively going out to the jungles in searching for caves. We may have to change our approach to time out in the jungle on future trips. To really spend maximum time in the area a base camp in the jungle 3 days walk in, stocked by porters for up to 15 days would be a possible solution.

We owe a huge thank you to the men of the Phong Nha village who act as guides and porters for all our team. Without their considerable assistance our success would have not been possible. The highlight of any caving adventure is who is on the trip and the local lads are always nothing short of brilliant.

Phong Nha village 2009

I would like to thank all team members for their considerable hard work both before and during the expedition. Exploration of new caves in the park is not generally easy nowadays and this last expedition was possibly the toughest of the last 22 years.

We also discovered some pottery in a cave which is now thought to be up to 2,500 year old. The Vietnamese archeologists are pretty excited about this find and we hope to return to take them into the cave.

We plan to return in 2013 for filming but maybe a quick recce. The next main expedition will be 2014 for 6 weeks.

Howard Limbert


2012 Report


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