Northern Lao - European
Cave Project   

  Laos 2006  Expedition to Vieng Phouka

Expedition time: 4.-16. February 2006

Pre-expedition of Joss to Phounsavan Area from 25.1.06


Joerg Dreybrodt, Michael Laumanns, Helmut Steiner, Wolfgang Zillig, Liz Price, Jos Burgers

The expedition continued to explore the Vieng Phouka district after the very successful expedition in 2005  which revealed the longest caves of Northern Laos with the Nam Eng system. The first two days focused on the ridge nearby Nam Eng and three water caves were found with each about 400 m length. Sumps and siphons marked the end s of the caves and diving is needed. The Tham Nam Pob is suitable for tourism with nice waterfall cascades, active dripstones and just nearby Tham Nam Eng.

The new area Phou Lek ,about 1,5 h west of Vieng Phouka, was visited with the next two days. The road was under construction and made the journey on some parts difficult. The villagers gave various information about caves and even our experienced guides had difficulties to to achieve an overview what means "not far" and "big-small" In order to avoid an "short" 3 h hike we visited the nearby cave and decided to obtain more information in the villages in the neighbourhood. Tham Ban Tung with 400 m length proofed to be a typical cave for the area. The main cave about 10-20 m wide passage was oriented parallel along the ridge with several entrances. The effort of the villagers to catch bats resulted in impressive bamboo podests and poles that reached 10 m high to the ceiling. The night was spend in a local village. After having a bath in the nearby river, times passed by with walking through the village, sitting around a f ire, playing with children  and  having a dinner with the local Lao-Lao-Spirit .
The next day we surveyed Oung Pra Ngiene with 513m lenght. Some parts had to be free climbed  in front of 10-15 m drops. We were able to put a hand line, because of the good Laotian skills to manage slippy slopes with Gecko style in rubber slippers. The cave still continues and a rope or longer ladder is needed.

The connection of the Tham Nam Lot cave to three entrances on a higher level was the highlight of the  expedition. This resulted in a nice three level system with in total 7 entrances allowing various underground crossing of the isolated mountain, large drip stone filled chambers. The system was pushed from 1.4 km to a total length of about 2.5 km.  Also the bio-speleological collectors were happy with an abundance of insects and sceletons in the size from bats to complete rats. The size of passages are the biggest in Northern Laos with width of 20 m and ceilings heights about the same. The area was closely investigated, but no other longer systems found. Villagers give information about caves further away and longer hiking is needed. In total 4 days were spend in the so called Nam Mai area.

 The survey of the huge 250 long, 100m wide and 100m high Tham Phoulan chamber is still undone. One group of the expedition approached after an 2.5 h walk the mountain with the 200 m higher cave entrance. Villagers were ready to renew the rooten bamboo stairs along the steep mountain slope when suddenly one villager mentioned a water cave on the foot of the mountain. The Tham Kout (porcupine cave) with muddy squezzy passages was surveyed to a length of 380 m.
The other group found a cave few hundred meters opposite Nam Eng  with 400 m dry passage on two levels called Tham Pui. The 5m wide cave passage leads straight 200m in to the mountain, ends suddenly and heads back on a higher level to a second entrance nearby the main entrance.

Conclusion: The Laos 2006 expedition surveyed 5 km of new cave passages resulting in total 14 km cave passages in the area. A better understanding of the potential for caves  in the area was achieved by the intense visit of two areas around the known long caves and the new area Phou Lek. Three of the surveyed caves (Tham Nam Pob, Tham Pasat upper entrance,  Tham Pui) are suitable for tourists and located close to the Nam Eng and Nam Lot caves that  already used for ecotourism. Every village knows about cave entrances and there seems to be an abundance of caves. Few reliable information can be extracted about the distance to the cave and estimated length. This leaves the task of pushing further in the jungle with 2-3 hour hikes or to wait until more roads are build and areas are easier accessible.

The support of the Ecotourism project and the European Union for the arrangement of permission, transport and guides is greatly acknowledged.  Special thanks to Rob Murdock for his help.