VIETNAM SON DOONG CAVE - THE WORLD’S BIGGEST CAVE


13 Jan 2021

Just recently discovered, Son Doong cave is one of the largest and most magnificent caves in the world and now becoming a must-visit location for adventurous travelers. On a normal day in 1991, a peasant in the central region of Vietnam was wandering in a deep forest when he found a cave. He could never imagine that that moment would later become one of the most unforgettable moments of his life. He found out the largest and most magnificent cave ever explored that shocked scientists and adventurous travellers all over the world!

Table Contents
  • I - The Son Doong Cave facts 
  • II - How to get to Son Doong cave?   
  • 1 - By air
  • 2 - By train
  • 3 - By bus or taxi
  • III - Exploring the largest cave in Vietnam
  • 1 - The Cave’s Entrance
  • 2 - The Paws of Foot
  • 3 - Fossil Hallway
  • 4 - Campsite Number 1
  • 5 - Doline 1
  • 6 - Doline 2
  • 7 - Campsite number 2 
  • 8 - The Great Wall of Viet Nam
  • IV - Son Doong Cave tours exploring
  • 1 - Preparation
  • 2 - Journey into Son Doong cave trip 
  • 3 - What to pay attention to?
  • 4 - Recommended tours 
  • V - FAQs
son doong cave (Source: Oxalisadventure)
Source: Oxalisadventure

I - The Son Doong Cave facts 

According to geologists, Son Doong cave - the newly discovered cave in Vietnam was formed about 2 - 5 million years ago, when a river flowed across the limestone area buried along a fault line. The water eroded and created a giant tunnel like today. Although discovered in 1991, only until 2006, when meeting an expedition of the British Royal Society, who came to search for new caves in Phong Nha - Ke Bang did the peasant (whose name was Ho Khanh) bring his story to tell them and later led the expedition group to rediscover the cave.

son dong world largest cave
Source: Oxalisadventure
Sitting in the center of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park complex, located in Son Trach, Bo Trach district, Quang Binh province of Vietnam, the cave is enormous with a length of over 5 kilometer and a width of over 200 meter, a height up to 150 meter and is estimated to be able to fit a 40-story skyscraper inside. Not only famous for its size, its beauty would amaze anyone trekking to the cave. 
This cave has a beautiful stalactite system with images of the "Garden of Eden" inside a cave, or a collection of thousands-of-year-old "pearls". Pearls in the cave are actually formed by calcium crystals which have enveloped small grains of sand for tens of thousands of years. This priceless "pearl collection" is located near the Garden of Eden, in a dried out rooftop lake. The discovery of numerous caves including Son Doong cave has also made Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park a kingdom of caves in the world.
One of the unique features of Son Doong is its own diverse ecosystem. As it hadn’t been touched by humans ever before, this biggest cave in Vietnam has a whole primeval forest with rich vegetation in it. Therefore, even going deep underground, visitors can encounter very strange creatures having ever existed.
More specifically, you will have moments startled by the occasional monkey sneaking into the cave to find food.
As it is so large and untouched by humans,the cave even has its own climate… Yes, a different climate inside a cave! Because of the temperature difference between the air inside and outside, there are constant hovering clouds of mist inside the cave. The weather here can be divided into three seasons - From February to April, it is cool and not so humid. From May to August, the weather becomes hotter and more humid. From September to January, there are frequent heavy rains and a lot of floods. 
Therefore, the perfect time for trekking in the cave is from February to April when the weather is cool and mild, though you still need to bring along some trekking jackets as it can be quite cold at night. From May to August, the expedition can be more arduous and challenging. From September to January, the cave will be closed. 
Immediately after Dr. Howard Limbert, the head of the expedition team of the British Royal Society announced a new cave in Vietnam, Son Doong cave, and confirmed it as the largest cave in the world, many major newspapers such as Daily Mail, Telegraph, The Sun, Breitbart and Newser simultaneously posted on the cave. 

 son doong cave discovery
Source: Oxalisadventure
The Daily Mail ran a headline on the front page "British explorers discover the light at the end of the tunnel ... in the world's largest cave," and the Telegraph noted the contributions of Ho Khanh - the guide for expedition into Doong area to discover this cave. 
This giant cave in Vietnam also welcomes dozens of film crews of famous media companies from the UK, Germany, Japan, and the US to promote this cave image all over the world.
More impressively, the cave appeared in a music video called “Alone, Pt. II” by the famous EDM artist Alan Walker and American singer Ava Max, which received 2.4 million views in 22 hours after releasing.
In November 2014, the People's Committee of Quang Binh province held a press conference to announce the project of a Southeast Asia-scale cable car in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, representing the investor of the project, is the Sungroup corporation. The cable car is projected to be 10.6 km long, consisting of 30 cable pylons, with stations located at Phong Nha, Thien Duong, Tra Ang streams, and the end point is about 300 meters from the cave gate. If the project is deployed, every day, there will be about 8,000 people to visit Son Doong and leave bad consequences for the ecosystem there. Immediately, the project was vehemently opposed. 

son doong cave protection
Source: #Savesondoong
In particular, Save Son Doong is the first environmental protection campaign of the young generation in Vietnam to be implemented successfully. Founded by Ms. Le Nguyen Thien Huong, Save Son Doong helps the public to have a more detailed view of the harmful effects of building cable cars inside the cave.

II - How to get to Son Doong cave?   

son doong cave pictures
Source: Internet

1 - By air

Flying, of course, will save you a lot of time and energy. The nearest airport to Son Doong is Dong Hoi airport and you can take a flight every day from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city to there. The flight takes you around one hour both from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city, and can be offered by Vietnam Airlines (from Hanoi), Vietjet Air (from Ho Chi Minh city).

2 - By train

You can board a train from almost anywhere in Vietnam to Dong Hoi. Travel time depends on your starting point.

3 - By bus or taxi

Buses and taxis are the most flexible options to travel to Son Doong cave. Prices and time are variable, depending on the starting point and service providers.
All above means of transport can only bring you to Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park as the farthest point. From Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, you can only  go on foot to Son Doong.
Below is an example of how you can get to this hidden cave in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh city:
To travel to the cave from Ho Chi Minh city, you need to take a flight from Tan Son Nhat Airport and depart in Dong Hoi. Then, you take a bus (usually provided by your tour service) to the Kilometer 39 of Ho Chi Minh road.
From there, you will start walking about 1 hour down the mountain. After an additional half hour of walking along the stream at the foot of the mountain, you will stop at Ban Doong, where the Bru Van Kieu ethnic minority village is living separately in the deep forest, a landmark not to be missed in the journey. Here you will have the opportunity to learn and discover the unique characteristics of their cultural life during the break and enjoy lunch right inside the village.
After lunch and rest, you will continue walking along the stream for about 2 more hours in the midday sun with very little shade. You will often have to wade through streams so be prepared for shoes and pants that can get wet throughout the day. In summer, spring water will flood to the knees. You should not wear waterproof shoes (such as Gore Tex shoes) because it will hold water and moisture inside the shoes causing discomfort.
Go all the way to the door of Hang En, home to tens of thousands of swallows. Here, you will be provided with a headlight, and continue to walk about 20-30 minutes over the rocks to reach the first camping site inside En Cave. Son Doong is located in Son Trach commune, Bo Trach district, Quang Binh province, Vietnam. There is currently no road to the cave, you will need to walk for about 6 hours for a distance of 10km from Ho Chi Minh trail to the mouth of the great wall of vietnam. 

III - Exploring the largest cave in Vietnam

1 - The Cave’s Entrance

son doong cave entrance
Source: Oxalisadventure
The Cave’s Entrance is located deep in the jungle of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, which is also the official sight to start the Doong cave adventure. As soon as you climb down the cave entrance, you will feel the wind blowing and the echo of the underground river from deep inside the largest cave in the world. Looking down from the cave entrance, you will see a blue lake, from here you have to climb about 90m to reach the lake. During the climbing process, there are a number of sections that require ropes and safety equipment.

2 - The Paws of Foot

This is a massive natural stalactite in Son Doong cave, viable from far away to the area of Ho Sut Mot, the shadow of the Paws of Foot can stand up as a magnificent sight of the largest cave in the world. From this position to reach Ho Sut Mot, we have to go through a giant cave section of over 1 kilometer. From above this position, we cannot help admiring the panoramic view of the cave.

3 - Fossil Hallway

This is the area where cave walls are filled with coral fossils dating back 300 million years. It is right next to the first campsite.

4 - Campsite Number 1

The Bai Trai So Mot of Son Doong cave is located near Ho Sut Mot, on a fairly flat sandy area and has a beautiful view looking towards Ho Sut Mot.

5 - Doline 1

The image of Son Doong is always accompanied by the legendary beauty of the Ho Sut Mot, also known as the "Dinosaur Collapse". Formed by part of the ceiling of the cave collapsing thousands of years ago, this is where sunlight can enter the cave so below the hole, there are trees and plants that grow well. At Ho Sut Mot, there is a large layered stalactite that is named "Wedding Cake" by visitors.
On the other side of Ho Sut Mot, there is a large cave called "Rat Run", from here you can see the whole scene of the Ho Sut Mot and if you're lucky enough you can see the sun's rays through the hole. This place looks so spectacular that it has also become the symbolic beauty of the largest cave in the world. This is an ideal place to capture the most beautiful Son Doong images to keep memories of the world's biggest cave discovered in Vietnam. 

son doong cave doline
Source: Oxalisadventure

6 - Doline 2

Son Doong's Ho Sut Hai is also known as the "Garden of Eden". The formation of these sinkholes allows light to enter the cave and create a small forest with trees and vegetation; an endemic ecosystem world's biggest cave discovered in Vietnam was able to survive thanks to sunlight.
To get to this place, visitors will have to climb a rocky hill with natural steps rising higher, like the steps leading to the Garden of Eden. The path is filled with ferns and small plants. The leaves of these trees rise straight towards the crater to catch the rare rays of sunlight. At the center of Ho Sut Hai, there are many taller trees such as banana trees and forest trees.

7 - Campsite number 2 

This sight is also known as a seaside camping because this camp is located on a cave covered with white sand like the coast. This is also considered to be the most majestic campsite in the world, so the tourists always show their love at the impressive scenery of this campsite.

8 - The Great Wall of Viet Nam

This highest stalactite wall is located at the end of Son Doong cave, this is also the place where the ceiling of the cave is about 200 meters high. To reach this wall, you need to pass a fairly muddy cave. If you are lucky enough to get through the cave, there will be a beautiful blue lake, visitors will raft the passage to reach the foot of the wall, and start climbing a metal ladder, then climb to the top of the wall with a rope and seat belt.

IV - Son Doong Cave tours exploring

To explore Son Doong, you cannot go by yourself. The only way you can get into Son Doong is to go with  a group tour. Currently, Oxalis Adventure is the only operator allowed to organize tours to the cave. Son Doong tour is one of the most expensive tours in the world. However, even financially sufficient, it is unlikely that visitors can book the tour successfully. Tours only operate from January to August (dry season) to ensure safety for visitors.

son doong cave exploring preparation
Source: Pinterest

1 - Preparation

- Physical strength: The journey to conquer Son Doong cave is always perilous and to overcome these dangers requires you to have a good physical health. Before participating in the tour, you need to practice walking at least 10 kilometer per day, lasting from 3 to 6 months.
- Clothes:
+ Some long-sleeved and light-dry trekking clothes for 4 days
+ 1-2 shorts and t-shirts to wear at campsite (bring long-sleeved clothes during the cold months)
+ A warm sweater and a light windbreaker (from February to April)
+ High quality hiking boots with good grip on rough terrain
+ 1 flip-flops / sandals, towels, wet paper, water bottles, portable flashlights for use at the camping site
+ 4-5 pairs of long, thick socks (do not wear short socks or waterproof socks)
+ Electrolyte rehydration capsules, essential medications, antifungal powder for feet, sprays against mosquitoes, insects, sunscreen and hats.
+ Medium-sized backpack for carrying items used along the way
+ Personal items: underwear, hygiene items, personal medicine, anti-foot bandages (women should wear additional toiletries, even in case of backup)
+ Camera, phone,...

2 - Journey into Son Doong cave trip 

son doong cave exploring itinerary
Source: Sondoongvietnam
Before the trip: depart in Dong Hoi city, check in at your accommodation, learn about the safety rules.
Day 1: Ban Doong, Hang En
To reach Son Doong cave, the only entrance is through Hang En, so the schedule for Son Doong includes exploring and camping for one night in Hang En. The bus will take you from your accommodation to the starting point in the National Park to explore Hang En. From there, you will start to walk downhill to enter the dense forest of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, passing a rocky slope about 350m high and quite rugged. It is followed by a half-hour walk through the forest and wading through many rivers and streams, along the big stream is Ban Doong, a small village of Bru Van Kieu ethnic minority community.
Then, you stop to have lunch at the village and learn about life here. After that, continue walking for about 20 minutes towards the big river and Hang En gate and enter the cave along a vein of an underground river, continue to climb through the large blocks of rock stacked on top of each other to reach the campsite. From this position you can see the huge cave entrance that allows sunlight to enter the cave, overlooking the panoramic view of the campsite below.
Each person receives his or her tent and can swim in the clear blue lake next to the camp if desired. Then you enjoy your dinner, relax and regain energy before the journey to conquer Son Doong Cave the next morning.
Any visitor who cannot complete one of the first day's sections easily will have to return to Phong Nha and be not allowed to continue the trip. The tour guide team will be the one who makes the decision to ensure safety for you and the team.
Day 2: Cua Hang – Bai Trai So Mot
In the morning, the team will explore deeper in Hang En and follow the back door of Hang En to proceed to the cave.
Group will have lunch before fastening the safety belt and climbing down to the cave, the security team is always on hand to assist you. As soon as you step down the steps inside the cave, the majesty and the enormous size of Son Doong will make you speechless. With a large capacity of 40,000 lumens, you can admire the magical scenery with the natural lake right below the cave and surrounded by countless beautiful stalactites.
From here you continue to cross the underground river, climbing over large rocky slopes and sand hills to the "Khoi Ban Chan Cho'' area. About 4:00 PM, you will arrive at the first campsite of Son Doong Cave, from which you can look to the Ho Sut Mot dimly in the distance. If the weather is good, you can visit the fossil corridor, or swim in the nearby underground river before returning to the campsite. At the camp, there are toilets, changing tents for personal hygiene and finally you can enjoy a delicious dinner.
Please note that there will be no bathing facilities at this campsite.

camp at son doong giant cave
Source: Oxalisadventure
Day 3: Vuon Dia Dang – Bai Trai So Hai
On the third day, there will be quite a lot of rock climbing sections, wriggling through the arch of the small cave to reach Ho Sut Mot/"Vong Khung Long" - a prominent destination of the Son Doong exploration journey.
Continue going deep and climbing ropes through some steep rocks to reach the other side of the Ho Sut Mot. From here the scenery becomes spectacular and an ideal place to capture the beauty of the world's largest cave in Vietnam. If you are lucky, you will be able to admire the sun's rays shining through the sinkhole into the cave. Stop for lunch by the beautiful underground lakes.
After lunch, you will climb over the rocky slope to the "Vuon Dia Dang" in the Ho Sut Hai, from here you can overview the forest directly below. After exploring this special forest, the team will take a little rest at the second camp and continue to visit the dark cave to learn the unique cave creatures such as blind spiders, blind fish, termites and other species and insects and admiring the jade and countless stalactites masterpieces. Then, you go back to the camp for dinner and rest, ending the third day.
You can wear a pair of dry shoes throughout the day. Also, there's no place for you to take a bath at this campsite on this 3rd day.
Day 4: Buc Tuong Viet Nam – Cua Ra – Chay Lap
Everyone will wear a safety belt to prepare to conquer the Buc Tuong Viet Nam, one of the most dramatic and exciting Son Doong expedition activities.
Safety team will directly instruct climbing skills, monitoring and controlling safety belts to ensure safety during climbing. To reach the foot of the wall you will take a boat on the underground lake, but if the lake runs out of water you can walk through the fairly slippery muddy path. At the foot of the wall is a steel ladder about 18 meters high, you will climb this ladder with a safety belt. After climbing the ladder, you will move to climbing the rope about 35m to the top of the Vietnam Wall.
This is a risky challenge but you can completely conquer it thanks to the support of the safety team. After lunch, you will leave the cave and cross the forest to return to the road where the Son Doong cave adventure ends.

3 - What to pay attention to?

You need to be 18 or older 
During your trip, it is essential that you keep the environment clean and protect the sight of the cave. 
ALWAYS travel in groups. It is best to always follow the instructions of your tour provider at all times.
NEVER forget the safety rules.

4 - Recommended tours 

son doong cave oxalis tours
Source: Oxalisadventure
You cannot journey to Son Doong cave without your tour provider, since this site is protected by the government. You will also need to be guided and have the best experience in the discovery. 
And again, Oxalis Adventure is the only tour provider allowed to provide the tour:
Travel agency: OXALIS
Length of trip: 4 days 3 nights
Price: 3030 USD
Contact: (+84) 232 3677 678 

V - FAQs

1 - Can someone who cannot swim explore Son Doong cave in Vietnam?
>> YES. During wading, the stream is only knee high, there is no mandatory swimming. If you need to swim, you will be equipped with a life jacket and instructions to ensure safety.
2 - Is a health check rigorous?
>> NOT TOO RIGOROUS, If you can climb a 10-storey building without heavy breathing or dizziness. When signing up for a tour, you will have to declare your health so that the support staff has the best plan to support you.
3 - Is it difficult to have personal hygiene?
>> NO. At each camping site, the tour provider will prepare a composting toilet (using rice husks to remove odors and decompose quickly). They will also provide hand gel to use before meals and after going to the toilet to avoid infection.
4 - Is there a place to take a bath in the cave?
>> YES.. For the first and last night, you can take a bath at Hang En campsite. There are bathing places inside Son Doong camps but you have to go further to have water.
5 - Can I join a group if I buy the tour alone?
>> YES. With 10 tourists per tour maximum, you can join the group if traveling alone when registering with the tour company.
6 - Where to eat and drink?
>> The tour company will provide a diverse menu for visitors. If you want to bring more food, you must notify the tour company.
7 - If I don’t like to join a group tour, can I discover the cave on my own?
>> NO, you can only explore Son Doong through the units licensed to operate the tour. 
Vietnam Son Doong cave is seen as the Great Wall of Vietnam will not let you down when taking an adventurous journey to here. Other amazing caves in Vietnam for an adventurous exploration in Vietnam. 
U want to share?
Hi, my name is Quan, and you can call me “Kun”. Having a big passion for travel, I spent 6 months traveling to most of the regions & provinces in Vietnam. I find Vietnam's landscapes are so beautiful, Vietnamese people are so friendly.

Quan Nguyen — Quan Nguyen

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