AREA 14: Tua Phinh

TP1 Ta Chinh

The dirt road towards the north from Tua Chua gets worse, and even unsafe, as it’s also muddy and there’s a deep rift below.

The entrance porch, in which a small river disappears, lies close to the road in the village of Ta Chinh and is flanked by two high bamboo trees. The grey walls in the entrance area are well polished, hampering the climb down. After about 30m, a 15m pitch was abseiled, leaving the local Hmong kids behind. It was new years' eve 1997.

Below the pitch there's a small basin, followed by a spacious gallery. At the end, the narrowing passage is choked with soil, bamboo and debris supplied by the river during the rainy season. Below this choke a crawl through a narrow and muddy tube gives into a little chamber which looked like the end of the cave. The way on lies behind a boulder which looks like the wall of the chamber. Climbing up and down boulders then leads to a slope, where the cave widens and a small river is found. In this water, a white freshwater crab was found, as well as tadpole-like creatures. A 4m step gives into a room, where a P7 above a basin leads into a canyon. The way on is a series of steps and small basins. Two consecutive P8s give way to a larger room, where the way on lies underneath a polished natural bridge (P7). A natural ridge brings you to a widening porch of a wide chamber filled with huge blocks. A perfectly flat slope brings you down to a more horizontal gallery. Here the way on is obstructed by boulders and flowstone.

Behind these obstacles lies a beautiful master cave, now dried out. The bottom is covered with pebbles, progression is easy and big fun. Here and there the roof comes down, necessitating small crawls. On the northern side, boulder slopes (possibly inlets, not checked) join the cave. We stopped exploration in a wide chamber, filled with blocks, but the cave goes on.

Our best New year's present so far!

Pitch Rope  
P15 25m 1 Natural Thread + Tape 
1 Gloch 
1 Bolt
R8 Slope 15m 1 Natural Thread 
1 Bolt
R6 20m 1 Natural Thread + Long Tape 
1 Bolt
R5 10m  1 Natural Thread + Tape 
1 Bolt
24m No ropes 
1 Natural Thread , 1 Bolt 
1 extra bolt could be useful 
1 Natural Thread, 1 Bolt 
P7 Stone Bridge 10m 1 Natural Thread, Tape
P14 Slope 16m 1 Natural Thread, 1 Bolt
Click here to view a topo of Ta Chinh (59 kB)

February 2000:

Day One:
Christophe and Vince start rigging the cave whilst Peter, Lieven and Steve explore drafting holes further north of Tua Phinh. The muddy 'rabbit hole', a 50cm high flat crawl on top of debris close to the entrance area, turned out to be completely washed away (compared to 1997-98). The appearance of the boulder choke behind it also changed. The known galleries were rigged and Terminus 98 was reached. A wide gallery followed a climb down huge blocks. The passage gets wider and is obstructed at some points with massive blocks. A mud slope across the passage brings us down to the western side, at the bottom of some large white flowstone, where a series of pitches starts going down. We went back because lack of rope. On the way back we got lost in the wide gallery; side passages joining the main gallery and the large blocks confused us. We decided to go back to the flowstone, and eventually found our way out. We decided to mark the track with reflectors during the next trip (El Sendero Luminoso).

Day Two:
Vince and Xtof survey the new passage, whilst Steve, Lieven and Peter rig and descent the pitches. On the bottom, the passage becomes wide again, after a squeeze between flowstone. Another series of deep pitches (estimated at 50m) is reached at a depth of -290m. Again we go back due to lack of rope. Because of continuous rain, no work is done in Ta Chinh for 4 days. Eventually we decided to go for a last trip, in order to try to get as deep as possible and retrieve gear that was left behind. In the entrance porch, it rained from every crack in the ceiling and a small stream disappeared down the P15, nothing too bad, we could go for it! When we arrived at the 'rabbit crawl' we changed our mind; the passage was filled half way to the ceiling and collected water from both sides. Christophe estimated the sump would close itself after another 4 hours. Whilst Steve 'volunteered' to be the guardian (angel?) at the sump, Vince, Xtof and Peter decided to rush down the series of steps and down the two P8s in order to get the ropes out. Vince, who was in front, decided also to unrig the P7 and the slope towards the master cave, since he left behind his descender out there. The item was found after a while (even the passage down the slope started to get flooded). The climb up the P7 underneath the natural bridge ('horse back') wasn't easy, since all of the water is collected here and formed a cascade. It became clear how that bridge was formed.
We made it back to the sump in 80 minutes, where the water level rose faster than expected. Steve, who had noticed that it wouldn't take 4 hours as we estimated when we went in, designed an evacuation plan. He just finished scetching on survey paper when we arrived. Inside the cave, the remote pitches were left behind rigged. Some survey equipment was left on the flowstone as well. We hope to find it back there during our next expedition.

December 2000: Ta Chinh cave reaches -402m

Development: 2015, Denivelation :  -402

After having abandoned exploration during the 2000 expedition (the siphon near the entrance flooded due to unexpected rainfall) we returned to finish the job. At the end of December 2000, we're back on the plateau and are welcomed again in Xin Thang. Dorien starts the exploration of the cave by falling 4m down the entrance. The ghost of the cave again proved to be merciful, she was a bit hurt, but nothing too serious. The siphon passage was dry again and filled with mud half way. We go down to -300m, where we prepare the anchors for the descent of the next day. On our way back, we found back our bag, 60m lower than where we left it earlier this year. Even though it was tightly closed, the bag turned out to be completely filled with mud and small pebbles, again testifying the huge discharges that pass here in the rainy season.

The next day, Christophe and Vince continue the exploration down a P5 and a steep black slope of 25m in which contrasting white fossils can be found (the same type as we later found in the 65m entrance pitch of Can Ty, further north). Here and there the water has cut itself through layers of brown flowstone, showing a beautiful pattern of concentric circles, up to 1m in diameter. They again arrived in a dark and spacious gallery with large blocks that goes down. It seemed to go on forever, straight to the Da River. Then, the cave becomes more horizontal, again a riverbed. The ceiling suddenly gets very low, followed by a dry, V-shaped siphon with mud and pebbles on the floor. Suddenly, the end of the cave seemed near. The gallery is now just 2m wide and horizontal. It gets narrower and another dry siphon is passed, which is longer and muddier than the previous one. Then again the passage becomes more spacious and the walls more clean, as if the cave decided to show it's known morphology again. A pitch of 7m is descended after which the gallery again becomes narrow, one needs to crawl 30m on hands and feet and pass yet another sandy siphon. Then, a climb down cleanly polished walls leads to a small basin. From here, the first team started to survey back to -300. The remainder of the exploration was left to the second team (Peter and Manuela), which was met below the wide gallery.

The first team leaves the cave and goes back to Xin Thang, where everyone is very curious. They are happy to tell that the exploration is not finished yet and that they hope the cave will go deeper than 400m. Using a pocket calculator (there is no electricity here to power our computers) we calculate the depth of the deepest point reached. The basin was at -386, a lot deeper than we had estimated. Impatiently we await the arrival of the second team who arrived a few hours later.

They had reached the final sump after a swim in an active river. Ropes were removed and taken up to -300m. In the sump, they noticed cave fish and strange frogs with long, white tails. Peter thinks they might have reached down to -400. Whilst the second team is having their late night dinner, the others impatiently process their survey data. The cave of Ta Chinh sumps at -402m, after 2015m of development through magnificent passageway. It could be the deepest cave of Vietnam at that moment!

The next morning a large party goes down in order to retrieve all ropes and to make some pictures. Do Tuyet, geomorphologist and the leader of the Vietnamese party wanted to see the cave with his own eyes. His 61 years of age did not stop him from going down to -200! I've rarely seen someone being so tired as Tuyet when he came out that night but rarely seen someone radiate so much happiness and satisfaction!


TP2 Chieu Tinh  1

Follow the river, full of large rounded boulders, to the entrance porch. The river is dry in winter, but it is clear that during the rainy season an enourmous discharge disappears into the cave. Two children of the man who took us to the cave were carried away with the flow and were never found again. Towards the doline, which lies in fromt of the entrance, one has to search for the way on though blocks as large as an average Vietnamese house. These actual entrance is hidden behind those blocks and it’s dimensions can only be estimated from inside. Here, follow the bed to the right side, where a series of steps (one rope required) brings you down along a joint. A turn to the right (allmost 90°) brings you to a less high passage following the bedding plane. After 100m, another 90° turn to the right gives into another joint, where the ceiling is again high and the bottom covered with blocks. Another turn to the left leads to a worn out passage where some large tree trunks can be found. From here, several pitches lead down to a lower level where the ceiling is again high. The piches can be avoided, using a side passage. At the end a P6 (1 spit), opening like a bell, can be descended, giving into a pool. From here another gallery, somewhat smaller, starts. After a turn, the aspect of the cave changes; the following gallery is more horizontal and the bottom is more sandy.  Small inlets drip from the walls and the ceiling gets really low.  This passage ends at -92m on two basins which are part of a sump.

Click here to view a topo of Chieu Tinh (58 kB)

TP3 Chieu Tinh  2

Where the main river in the valley meets the carbonate rocks, it disappears into a low cave entrance, which is choked with mud after just 1m.

TP2a Hang Cho 1

From Ta Xin Thang, follow the main road back to Ta Chinh. Where the valley gets narrow, just outside the village of Ta Xin Thang take left to Hang Cho – Pao Tinh,  follow the old path above the road (road build in 2001). The cave entrance lies on the hill slope on the old path, just before you reach the first houses. It is a fossil pit of about 15 meters deep with no way on.


TP3a Hang Cho 2

<><>From Ta Xin Thang, follow the main road back to Ta Chinh. Where the valley gets narrow, just outside the village of Ta Xin Thang take left to Hang Cho – Pao Tinh,  follow the old path above the road (road build in 2001). Continue to the village center and stop at the saddle between the two valleys. When looking at Ta Chinh from the saddle, you see a doline in front of you, located on a fault heading straight to Ta Chinh. There’s a bamboo trees at the bottom of the doline with a first pitch. The main passage lies behind a second pitch, located at the northern side of the doline. The pitch dips 60° and gives into fault passage heading towards Ta Chinh. During the rainy season a small streamlet flows to Ta Chinh. The end of the cave is a muddy sump. A small climb here leads to a second sump with a lot of CO2 in the air.

TP4 Hang Cho 3


From Ta Xin Thang, follow the main road back to Ta Chinh. Where the valley gets narrow, just outside the village of Ta Xin Thang take left to Hang Cho – Pao Tinh, follow the new road build in 2001 till you reach the first houses. Continue till the first U-turn in front of the village. The fossil pit opens close to a bamboo bush on the right side. The pit is 12 meters deep and choked at the bottom.

TP5 Hang Cho 4

Development:   85
Denivelation :  -50
Intercalation between thinly bedded layers of limestone, sandstone and schist. From the road you walk through the village, behind it there is a valley to the left. From there you can see a doline almost at the bottom of this valley, adorned with beautiful big bamboos. You will find the entrance between some blocks. First one has to climb down +/- 7 m into a small chamber with a plated ceiling. At the bottom left side there is a S-shaped squeeze with a very strong draft. After the squeeze you enter a boulder chamber, where you will have to find your way down to the top of a 10m pitch, to be rigged with tapes and a 20m rope. Further on there are some steps to climb down and some small passages. The cave ends on a tube passage with a bedding of water and mud. The continuation is too narrow.
Bats inhabit the cave.

TP6 Tua Chua Phung

Development:    30 (est)
Denivelation :  -10 (est)

The wide valley south of tua Chua Phung village, develops along a main fault. The impressive canyon ends in the valley where the river disappears into a wide field with several sinkholes which are all choked. Further to the south, several dolines and sinkholes can be found, all choked. One a bit more to the side and slightly upward is interesting; its entrance is right onto the fault. It was briefly explored till the way on was too narrow. Behind the obstruction there is a pitch with water below.


TP7 Lau Cau Phinh 1

Development: 208
Denivelation :  -99

When going down a steep rice field you get to the entrance of Lau Cau Phin 1 situated in the village of Lau Cau Phin, in the area Sin Chai. Climbing down the boulders in the entrance porch you arrive into a chaotic room where several leads start. They all end up into the same pitch (P25) at the bottom of which a new lead starts off (direction south-east). The lead gets smaller due to massive flowstone. In between the flowstone deposits, next to an inlet, a new pitch (P42) can be descended. The pitch opens up really wide while descending the rope. At the bottom there is a small pool and running water. Next you enter a squeeze giving access to quite a big room where there's plenty of bats hanging from the ceiling and speleothems everywhere. Mud is piled up at one side of the chamber while on the other side the river is still running. The ceiling gets low again at the end of the chamber and climbing down the big boulders you discover that the only possible way through is filled with mud. 

TP8 Lau Cau Phinh 5

Development:   57
Denivelation :  -46

Lau Cau Phin 5 is one big fault... The fault is east-west aligned and all the pitches that were descended were rather narrow but very wide in this same east-west direction.The cave can be descended starting from a tree and some boulders lying above the entrance pitch. This pitch is immediately followed by a second one in which a block is squeezed between the walls. On the bottom of these pitches dead leaves and humus is piled up.  Next the cave gets even smaller and the walls sharper, but still going down in the same direction. After some more smaller descents the cave is choked with mud. An inlet is seen right above a flowstone but the water disappears immediately into the muddy end.