4 - Laos-Vietnam Karst Reconnaissance
A great day! A stunning location! Rewarding sun rise!
We spent a day in a 4-WD truck wandering around in the karst, fording streams and negotiating mostly dried-up buffalo wallows. But so far, the caves near Vang Vieng that we got into, in truly world-class karst - are interesting but not of similar stature to the karst itself.
Lao standards for a "developed" cave are rather minimal and there are quite a number of caves that are "developed". More are "opened" every year. That mostly means you pay 10,000 Kip (about USD $1.50) for entry and you have the run of the place. You can rent a "guide" for a bit more (often a teen-age girl, but occasionally a young man who is very knowledgeable about his cave), and a headlamp if you don't have your own. Many of the caves around Vang Vieng are over visited. There are usually no formal paths or controls once you are inside. Most are being tracked up and trashed by casual visitation. Most are "operated" by local villages. There needs to be some education of the responsible parties who do not realize that those parts of "their" cave that are most attractive to tourists are gradually being destroyed by visitors. The resource is not renewable. Cave temperatures are about 24 degrees C. In many you are likely to wade through water.
Most of the caves we got into are fairly close to base level and are not especially scenic. Either they are seasonally flushed with a vengeance in the wet season or they are dry with dusty speleothems. There are complex small caves similar to the "foot caves" in SW China and some BIG conduits, often floored with large cobbles and occasionally nice gours and cave pearls. There must be some higher pieces of old trunk passage in those hills that contain wet and scenic formations.
I did not try to take pictures in the dark portions of caves that did not have electric lights. I was not really equipped for it and was more interested in getting a feel for more caves rather than devoting time to cave photography in one.
The French cavers have been exploring for years in Laos, and I'm trying to find out more about what they have found. Most of their efforts have been in the east, along the Vietnam border where huge river caves are known to exist. That's the way we are headed.
We sat by the river tonight and watched the sun again set beautifully behind the karst mountains, and saw multiple clouds of bats come out of some cave off to the west of where we were sitting. They were fanning out in both directions along the river.
View from our hotel room in Vang Vieng
Footbridge across the Mekong to Tham Jang (Jang Cave)
Resurgence from Tham Jang. The entrance is on the hillside above.
Inside Tham Jang. As with most Asian caves, colored lights enhance the experience for visitors. There is a pathway inside the cave, but no controls or suggestions to discourage visitors from wandering off the trail.
Dwight and Terry plotting the days adventures.
Karst hills on the way to several caves.
A limestone hill containing acessable foot caves on the way to Poukham Cave.
Sign to Pha Daeng Jin Naly Cave. It appears to be made out of a flattened oil drum.
The road to Poukham Cave a month after the rains stopped.
Sign at Poukham Cave, where you pay fees.
Poukham Cave - entrance chamber.
Poukham Cave - shrine in entrance room.
Poukham Cave - local family and reclining Buddha.
Poukham Cave - the way to the back parts of the cave. You need a light to get to some pretty formations, and a rope to climb down to the river level.
Poukham Cave - the resurgance is a GREAT swimming hole!
Karst on the road to Nang Phom Hom Cave. This translates "Cave of the Girl with Perfumed Hair" an old Lao folk story. It is a complex small cave with an active stream, again in a beautiful setting.
River karst north of Vang Vieng
Road to Tham Nan Xang Cave.
Two caves, Tham Hoi (Snail Cave) and Tham Nan Xang (Water Cave) form a single system that is separated by a siphon. The villagers have rigged a rope along the ceiling of Tham Nan Xang and will rent you inner tubes. You can pull yourself quite some distance inside. Tham Hoi, the upper dry entrance to the system, leads to several kilometers of active stream passage after 800m.