Bing Cave – LAOS
Xebangfai upper cave
VIDEO: BING CAVE http://www.megaworldasia.com/videos/laos-2/
NOTE 1: During all my caving trips I use high powered, hand held flashlights (9000 – 12000 Lumens) and miners lights, made by O-LIGHT: https://olightworld.com/ In the S.E. Asia region these can be purchased at FSTOP LIGHTS http://www.fstoplights.com in SINGAPORE.
NOTE 2: Follow this link for an in-depth trip report on the main XEBANGFAI CAVE passage: http://www.megaworldasia.com/laos/xebangfai-cave-update-2017/
VIDEO: Click on this to watch a video of BING CAVE: http://www.megaworldasia.com/videos/laos-2/
According to the locals at NONG PING village (only 2 km from the entrance to XEBANGFAI CAVE) the word “BING” is the local dialect for BAT. Tham (cave) BING is the name given to the lesser known large passageway of the XEBANGFAI CAVE complex. The entrance to BING CAVE is to the left of the main cave entrance, and 100 mtrs up through the jungle clad, cliff face. From the edge of the lagoon in front of the main cave entrance the opening to another cave can be seen high up on the cliff face, and approximately 250 mtrs to the left. That IS NOT the entrance to BING CAVE. It is another cave known to the locals as “the HERMIT CAVE.” The entrance to BING CAVE lies somewhere between XEBANGFAI CAVE entrance and the HERMIT CAVE entrance. Whatever the case, getting up to the entrance is an arduous undertaking which involves a hike up the cliff face, through jungle, and over jagged rocks, before dropping some 50 meters down to the floor of the cave. The exertion of battling through the steep jungle is well worth it though as this massive natural tunnel, some 50 meters in height, is approximately 600 meters in length and is filled with huge, spectacular formations. At the far end it opens into the main cave (XEBANGFAI) passage and gives a wondrous view out over the river below.
There are presently no official tours arranged to BING CAVE. For this reason, very few sightseers have been inside it. The only tour operator presently with the knowledge and experience of visiting this cave, is GREEN DISCOVERY LAOS: https://www.greendiscoverylaos.com/ Their tour office is at the INTHIRA HOTEL, THAKHEK. They may, by request, change their standard 3 day/2 night tour to accommodate a trip into BING CAVE. But this will normally mean omitting one part of the standard tour (normally the 2 hour boat ride along the Xebangfai river on day one).
For in-depth info on THAKHEK: http://www.megaworldasia.com/laos/thakhek/
The trip through the cave:
As mentioned, the standard tour with GREEN DISCOVERY LAOS to XEBANGFAI CAVE does not include a trip into BING CAVE. Due to the fact I’d already made two previous trips to XEBANGFAI CAVE, including a full traverse of the main cave river, I was looking to explore another section of this large cave complex. My attention had been drawn to BING CAVE (aka the upper cave) through observation of it’s connection with the main passage of XEBANGFAI CAVE. The point at where they both intersect is approx. 1 km into XEBANGFAI CAVE, and it also happens to be the highest point of the main cave passage. Where the massive opening of BING CAVE joins the XEBANGFAI, the cave ceiling is 120 mtrs above the rivers surface. In my previous excursions, the guides had pointed it out to me and mentioned it wasn’t possible to climb up internally from the river. Accessing BING CAVE would involve a climb up the external cliff face.
With the assistance of a local guide from Nong Ping Village, we were able to make our way up to the entrance of BING CAVE. The locals go up there quite often to catch bats (used as a food source) so there was a rough trail already in place. After a short paddle across the lagoon, we made the 40 minute hike up through the jungle encroached trail. Some of the sections are quite steep and involve climbing up stretches of jagged rock, and over fallen trees. Luckily there are plenty of hand holds (tree branches and rocks) about to assist with the scramble up the difficult sections. Once you arrive at the cave entrance it becomes apparent why the large cave opening (HERMIT CAVE) which can be seen from down below, is not the entrance to BING CAVE. The entrance is more like a hole, in a depression in the cliff face, and as such is more horizontal than vertical. No doubt in the rainy season, a river of water would be flowing into the cave.
The drop down to the cave floor is an acute 50 mtrs slope of loose rubble and jagged rocks. Care should be taken by ensuring good foot and hand holds, always. Once down on the cave floor the going is relatively easy for the first 100 mtrs as it’s a flat, sandy bottom. Where this initial sandy section ends, the cave passage veers to the right. It is then a massive 500 mtrs tunnel, filled with an amazing array of formations, which leads straight to the junction with the main cave. This also happens to be the point where the sandy bottom ends and a scramble up and over piled rocks and debris begins. The local guides, having been in the cave several times previously, seem to know the easiest route to follow. Every now and again little pyramids of piled rocks can be seen (placed on earlier visits) marking the way to go.
As we worked our way around the maze of rubble and formations, in this initial section of the cave, the smell of guano was very strong. Up on the cave ceiling thousands of bats can be seen hanging about. Whenever a light is shined in their direction, many get agitated and drop away from their hang-off points to glide around in the vacuous space of the cave. This section of the cave floor also has a myriad of small rim pools to negotiate and the muddy bottom seen in most of them, is an indication of water levels in the rainy season. Some are still filled with water. Occasionally the local guide will point out the small bones of a deceased bat or, as we encountered on this trip, an injured bat getting some rest on the cave floor. At roughly 150 mtrs from where the cave veers to the right sightseers are confronted by a massive flow-stone wall which, upon first inspection, seems impenetrable as it rises almost to the ceiling. The local guides know the way though and, after a climb high up to the left side of the barrier, a way through is found to the mid-section of the cave.
The mid-section is where the cave ceiling is at it’s highest, some 50 mtrs above the floor and where most of the largest formations are. It’s also where the biggest hazards of the cave can be found. In two locations there are massive holes which drop away from the cave floor. In the rainy season this is where water flowing in from above will continue to lower levels, and eventually to the main cave passage below. One of these holes has a span of at least 10 mtrs and is 15 mtrs in depth. The cave floor hangs out over the holes and even though seeming quite solid under foot, extreme care should be taken if going right to the edge. A fall could mean serious injury and extreme difficulty in getting back out. Another hazard is debris falling from the cave ceiling. The local guide pointed out fresh chunks of stone, laying about on the cave floor, which had come down recently. This is another sound reason for wearing a safety helmet when going into a cave.
Another feature of the mid-section of the cave, and an indication to the cave’s age, is the chunks of broken-off stalactites littering the floor. There are a good number of these things scattered around with some being the size of a bull Elephant, or bigger. No doubt the massive weight of them, hanging from the cave ceiling, eventually proved too much and they broke free. I’ve been in many large caves in S.E. Asia but I’ve yet to see the density and variation of formations that can be seen in BING CAVE. As mentioned, the mid-section is where the cave is at its highest point and, it’s most spacious. In this area the cave floor is relatively flat with the main feature being a large layer of rim pools surrounding one of the caves biggest formations.
From this location it’s only another 200 mtrs or so to the point where BING CAVE joins the main XEBANGFAI CAVE passage. Aside from two other large formations hugging the walls of the cave, the passage to the end is largely clear. As we worked our way closer to the junction of the two caves the space created by the joining of the two opened out to a massive black void. We eventually came to the point where the cave floor began to slope away precipitously to the river below. My two guides told me that was the limit of our excursion. We climbed up onto a nearby ledge, formed by another massive rim pool, and shone our lights down to the river below. In the distance we could hear the faint sound of the first set of rapids in the main passage. After taking a stop for a lunch break on a ledge overlooking the drop to the river, we retraced our steps back to the cave’s entry/exit.
NOTE 3: An ideal amount of time inside BING CAVE, particularly if you plan on doing some photography, is probably 3 – 4 hours. When you include the time taken to climb up to the entrance, the descent after the excursion, and the travel to and from Nong Ping Village (which includes a 2 way canoe trip across the lagoon) total trip time is nearer 6 hours. I made 2 excursions into BING CAVE. On the first occasion we didn’t start out from Nong Ping Village until 2 pm. This inevitably turned out to be too late. We had to turn back without achieving the full traverse of the cave due to not wanting to descend the cliff track in the dark. On the second occasion, we dedicated a full day to the excursion and set out from Nong Ping Village at 9 am. This turned out to be ideal, as we were back at the guesthouse by 4 pm.