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Returning to the "depths" of Myanmar

Myanmar is a country that captured my imagination 18 years ago, when I traveled to the mountains of the Shan Plateau 18 years ago for the very first time. Many powerful memories remain in spite of the small amount of caving exploration we actually accomplished at the time. The accessible areas were extremely limited, but the potential was obvious and the local inhabitants extremely warm and welcoming.

May 25 2016


I promised myself that I would return when the time was finally right.

Thanks to his contacts, German caver, Joerg Dreybrot, succeeded in obtaining the necessary cave exploration permits from the Tourism Ministry. This year, we were able to visit the state of Kayah (ကယား‌ပ္ရည္‌နယ္ meaning "wink" in Burmese). This is the country's smallest state and inhabited primarily by a Sino-Tibetan people referred to as the Karenni. The capital city of Loikaw, as well as its immediate surroundings, is the only area open to tourism. The rest of Kayah is still off-limits and has partially avoided control by the regular army. Our priceless permit allowed us to pass through check points but not to travel everywhere we wanted. Tensions between the army and members of the KNPP (a pro-independence group with its own military forces) continue to remain high in several areas.

We discovered incredible limestone mountains

The area's karst topography is truly amazing and offers exciting terrain to explore. Studying satellite images revealed a system of several major disappearing rivers as well as countless sinkholes and poljes that indicate the vast karstification of the area. In 15 days, we visited several entrances and explored three major caverns, including one 200 meter deep cave (we stopped due to extraordinarily high CO2 levels) and two magnificent underground rivers, each 3km long.

The second discovery fulfilled every caver's dream!

The river enters via a massive waterfall through a 20m wide by 50m high archway and then flows towards the unknown. A fun and easy aquatic adventure, an incredibly beautiful landscape, and a stopping point on the edge of the abyss; the river continues its way into the dark. We will need to return to explore further. The resurgence is located more than 10km from the entrance, offering an underground network that probably extends for more than 30km, the opportunity to expand our knowledge of the local karst topography little by little, and the promise of new adventures.

This caving expedition was not limited to spending time underground. Meeting locals during the trip proved a wonderful and enriching experience, especially encounters with the legendary Padaung (women with long necks) who call the area home. Several of them took refuge in Thailand due to the war and are currently living in villages that have since transformed into tourist attractions.

To sum up, this was a great expedition that included many challenges, rare treasured moments, and the satisfaction of making several incredible discoveries!

Participants: Joerg Dreybrodt (organizer, Germany) Roman Hapka, Urs Etter (Switzerland), Johannes Lundberg (Sweden), Manuela Scheuerer (Austria), Marc Boureau, Phil Bence (France).

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