The beauty of Son Doong cave is indeed very impressive – there is an entire underworld with the jungle and river, waterfalls, unknown plants and fossils.
First explored in 2009, Hang Son Doong is one of the largest caves in the world.
In 1990, a local man named Ho Khanh stumbled upon a cave deep in the jungles of central Vietnam. Wind and vapor-like clouds emerged from the entrance, and the sound of a river could be heard in the distance.
He did not go in.
Five years later, he sat one evening with Howard Limbert, a traveler who had hired him as a guide and porter. Speaking little English, Ho Khanh drew pictures in the sand of the cave entrance he had seen.
He drew the wind, the clouds and the water — all signs Howard knew indicated a massive cave in their midst.
That was the start of a 14-year endeavor by the duo to re-locate what is now known as the Son Doong cave.
Howard and his British caving team knew that a sizable cave likely existed within central Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. A local river disappeared into the ground and reemerged six miles away. The water had to flow somewhere.
The easiest way to find a cave is to follow a river straight into it. But long ago huge boulders had collapsed where the river disappeared into the earth. The U.K. team led three expeditions to find the cave — and failed each time.
Alone, Ho Khahn set out to find the elusive cave entrance once again. Notching trees to mark his way, he wandered in the jungle for a week.
When Howard returned to Vietnam in 2009, Ho Khanh — speaking through a translator — told him the good news.
Ho Khahn had found the entrance by scrambling 300 feet up the side of a mountain. Howard, his wife Deb (a fellow caver) and the rest of the British team were ecstatic. They immediately set out for the entrance, with Ho Khanh at the helm.
“As we got near, we could see clouds and wind pouring out of the cave. The trees were all bent at 45 degrees,” said Howard.
They didn’t know it then, but the entrance ahead of them would reveal one of the largest caves in the entire world.
Hang Son Doong, which translates to “mountain river cave,” is in central Vietnam in an area that was once part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Its main tunnel passage is over three miles long, and its largest sections are 650 feet high and 500 feet wide. An entire New York city block can fit inside.
Only 1,000 tourists are allowed to visit each year, and Oxalis Adventure is the only company with permission to take travelers inside.
From January to August, small groups (up to 10 people) embark on four-day treks through the cave. The trek is classified as moderate to difficult and covers 18 miles of rocky, and sometimes wet, terrain.
Here’s what they see.