Considered as the largest cave world over, the three million-year-old cave is located in central Vietnam. The cave’s name translates as ‘Mountain River Cave’. The cave ceiling is spread 100 meters over our heads. Sun rays stream in through the serrated sides of the cliffs. The high-pitched calls of the macaque monkeys and the birds bounce off the limestone walls, resounding from the world past the skylight. The Hang Son Doong cave is situated in Vietnam’s Quang Binh province in the middle of the Phong Nha-Ke National park.
In 1990, a local farmer, Ho Khanh, stumbled upon the cave. While in the jungle, he heard the gushing sounds of the underground river and saw clouds hanging above the large opening in the limestone. He reported his discovery to the British Caving Research Association but sadly, upon his return he got lost and could not find the cave. The cave remained lost for eighteen years, and in 2008 as he was hunting for food, Ho found the entrance to the cave again. A year later he returned with Howard and Deb Limbert both from the BCRA.
The Hang Son Doong covers an area of more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) and a height of two hundred meters. The main grotto is huge enough to accommodate a whole New York City housing block. The Hang Son Doong was for the first time opened to the public in 2013, with the Oxalis tour company offering limited 5-day expeditions. The use of only one Tour Company has helped protect the cave from huge developments. The tours run once a week from February to August yearly and only ten customers are allowed for each departure.
The Hang Son Doong has a unique eco-system with its own localized weather. Scattered in the dried pools are the unique limestone cave pearls and the biggest stalagmite ever stands eighty meters tall. The collapsed cave ceilings have formed openings called dolines, which allow plant life to grow in the cave.
The journey into the Hang Son Doong involves a 2-day trek through thick jungle shrubbery and crossing rivers to arrive at the cave’s entrance. Night-time is spent camping within the cave and the close by Hang En cave. The Hang En has come to be recognized as the third largest cave world over. In order to get to the end of the cave, hikers climb, crawl, abseil and swim through the underground rivers, making this a remarkable adventure. Even with the physical strains, guests are well cared for; accompanied by 2 caving experts, two chefs, three local guides, 20 porters and two park rangers who ensure the expedition is exceptional and safe. Small tour groups ensure the cave is preserved as well.
The Quang Binh province has greatly benefited from the growing tourism after the discovery of the cave. Many locals turned to tourism after guests started arriving; this has contributed greatly to the provinces’ economic growth. Local entrepreneurs have established hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and eco-conservation companies to work together with the caving expeditions.
In recent years, the Sun Group, a Vietnamese development firm has been forward with its intention to construct a cable car to the Hang Son Doong. In 2015, strong opposition from the UNESCO and other activist groups urged the Vietnamese government to briefly stop the construction permits. The cable car construction still looms and it remains unknown whether the approval will be allowed.
Some people are for the idea that tourism will keep benefiting the locals, while others express their concern regarding the destruction tourism will cause to the ecosystem due to the high numbers of guests it brings. Comparable projects like the Mount Fansipan and the Halong Bay have experienced major environmental due to tourism. It can only be anticipated that a responsible and sustainable decision is arrived at to help preserve the Hang Son Doong.
Kally is a former Sales and Customer Service manager turned Writer and Founder of MiddleMe.net. She came from Singapore; lived in Shanghai and now calls Kuala Lumpur her home. After hanging up her corporate briefcase, she now pursue her passions – Writing, Traveling and of course, hunting for good food.
Connect with me @ Kally@ladyredot.com