History of exploration

Many caves in Myanmar, or Burma as it was then, were visited and documented during colonial days at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of those visitors went to the Shan state northeast of Rangon (now Yangon), and to the Moulmein area in the south. During the British era, visitors went to the caves for outings and picnics, and also began the first studies. These visitors recorded the caves, mostly in the Moulmein area, and gave valuable accounts of the limestone geology. The Survey of India produced topographical maps which highlighted the karst areas. Particularly famous are the Pindaya Caves in the Shan area, and Kaw Gon archaeological site and Farm Caves near Moulmein.

Many caves in Myanmar have been used by Buddhists for hundreds of years, and are quite well known to the local people.

One of the earliest description of the caves was given by Capt. W. Foley (1836), although visits by others in the 1920s are also documented. In 1892 Temple visited 5 caves and mentions many more caves in different areas around Moulmein, and gave detailed descriptions. Other people over the next few years also describe the Moulmein area, including (Annandale et al 1918) and (Chhibber 1927). Chhibber made a map of Sadaw (Saddan) Cave. As timber traders went further up the rivers, more caves were described.

Fea made the first biological collections in Farm Caves, in the late 1880s. Annandale did more fauna studies here in 1908 and was the first to describe the cave fauna in great detail. Wolf gave further detailed reports on the fauna in the 1930s.

The first cave archaeological studies were made during the 1937-1938 “American South-East Asiatic Expedition for Early Man” during which some caves in the Shan state were investigated (De Terra & Movius 1938?, & Thaw 1969). As these caves only revealed finds of Neolithic culture, they were not further excavated at the time as the team was interested in older Palaeolithic remains. It was only in 1969 that the caves were reinvestigated, following the discovery of the Padah-Lin Cave rock paintings in 1960.

Since Independence in 1948 and the subsequent military rule, Myanmar did not welcome foreign travellers. As a consequence little spelaeological work has been done in recent decades. Far more records exist from colonial times.

The rock paintings in Padah-lin Cave were discovered 1960 by a local geologist. In the 1970s foreign archaeologists started working at other sites.

I went to Myanmar as a tourist in 1986 but didn't go to any 'wild' caves (Price 1986, 1987). In 1987 2 Australians tried to look for caves in the Ye-ngan area, southeast of Mandalay, but could only go to the Pindaya Cave (White 1987). It was only in 1988 that the first spelaeological expedition was held (Dunkley et al 1989) and their report gives a good overview of the caves. Mouret (1997) publishes some cave descriptions from a 1995-96 survey. In 1998 a French group from Société Spéléo de l’Ariège went to the Shan State (Bence et. al 1998). An Italian group went to the Shan Plateau area in 2005, and mapped several caves (DeVivo 2005, Forti 2005, Tedeschi 2005).

The next spelaeological expedition was in 2009 by a 3 person team from the Northern Lao – European Cave project. Their work focused on the Hpa-An and Moulmein area in the southern Kayin and Mon states, they visited 14 caves and surveyed 3.8 km in 5 days. In early 2010 a British expedition went to the Taunggyi area, and surveyed about 3.5 km of cave passage, including the second longest known cave in Myanmar. They returned again in early 2011.
In early 2012 there was a recce trip to Pinlaung district by members of the Northern Lao – European Cave project. This area has been closed to foreigners for about 10 years. There is a ridge with several large caves and a depth potential of more than 100 m. Mai Lone Kho is now the deepest cave in Myanmar with -160 m vertical difference. Also in 2012 was an expedition to Ywangan/Lashio.

In Jan 2013 there was a recce trip to the Pinlaung area in Shan States. And also in 2013 a visit to Ywangan in which Myanmar's longest cave was extended. This area was visited again in 2014 and another team went to Pinlaung.

In 2015 the 5th longest cave in Myanmar was surveyed, it is in Kayah.
In 2016 3 areas were visited, Ywangan, Kayah and a recce trip to the Myeik Archipelago.

See more on the Myanmar Cave Documentation Project www.

Bat researchers from the Harrison Institute in the UK had visited many caves between 1999-2005, having done at least 9 field trips by 2004.

A nice article on the 10 years of work by the Myanmar Cave Documentation Project in Frontier Myanmar in April 2018.

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