Located centrally in the Quang Binh province of Vietnam, in the Minh Hoa district and surrounded by beautiful tropical rainforest, is the newly discovered Son Doong Cave, renowned for being the largest cave in the world. The cave has had huge interest in the last few years leading to massive tourist success, and it owes all of this to one man, and his inspirational story
In 1991, a 22 year old farmer called Ho Khanh decided to venture much deeper into the forest near his home than he had ever done before, in search of a valuable resin to use and sell, to provide for his family. After walking 20kms into the dense rainforest he sat down to ponder his whereabouts. On doing so he heard the whistling of wind, and the sound of a rushing river behind him. Khanh had discovered the entrance to a massive cave, though due to the cave’s remote and wild location, and without any human tracks or paths leading to it, Khanh couldn’t trace his way back to it after returning home. For 18 years after the cave once again remained undiscovered and Khanh’s story became local legend. Until in 2009 Khanh, now 40, in a final passionate attempt to search for the cave of his memory he stumbled across the boulder he had previously rested on, and recognised the distinct sound of the river and the wind being bellowed in and out of the cave. Elated and joyous he invited a team of British cavers and scientists from the British Cave Research Association along on the six hour trek into the jungle and on April 14th Son Doong Cave (or Mountain River Cave in English), was officially discovered.
The cave that Khanh had stumbled upon is over six kilometers long, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide; it is big enough to fit a 40 storey skyscraper inside and almost twice the size of the previous record holder, Deer Cave in Malaysia. Son Doong is estimated to be between two and five million years old, its ancient formations began with river water erosion of the limestone that makes up the mountain above. It is both stunning and mystical, with some of the tallest stalagmites in the world rising over 70 meters, and thousands of cave pearls the size of baseballs formed over hundreds of years of dripping water layering the floor, resembling a carpet of ancient jewels.
Its airy chambers are different to that of the cramped, pitch black caverns of other districts, usually familiar to cavers. In places where limestone has collapsed from the roof in past centuries, basks of skylight now streams in and the warmth of the tropical rainforest allows huge areas of greenery, thick vegetation and jungle to reach up for the openings. Wildlife is also roaming free with different animals including birds, monkeys and snakes often being spotted in and around these areas.
Son Doong is part of a larger group of caves in the area called the Tu Lan system, currently composed of eight other caves and more are still being discovered year on year, making this area in Phong Nha Ke Bang national park as something of a modern travel frontier. The national park itself is very complex; its landscape has been evolving for some 400 million years. Dense lush forests, vast lakes, winding rivers, and Savanna all contribute to this fascinating ecosystem.
This July is the official opening of the cave to the public, having already had small pilot tours up until now with only a few hundred people visiting, it is growing in popularity. In the last decade, Vietnam has seen a huge rise in its tourism sector, with travelers coming from all over the world to see and experience a nation in progression. Adding to this nationwide economic boom, cave adventure companies will now be offering long treks into the jungle, and deep into Son Doong cave, with opportunities to camp in its beautiful natural halls and walk and rappel its kilometers of stretching tunnels.
How far would you dare to journey into Son Doong Cave?