There are few places on Earth where mankind is yet to go, but the discovery of Son Doong cave, the biggest cave in the world, means that there’s still more we don’t know about.
Initially found and then lost by a Vietnamese local in 1991, the cave was rediscovered when it became evident that the area was home to some of Vietnam’s most extensive cave systems. It wasn’t long before cavers from both Vietnam and abroad had started exploring the system, and as soon as they did, they realized that they were dealing with the biggest cave in the world.
Son Doong Contains an Entire World
Caving systems take millions of years to develop. Water erodes limestone seams in the ground, slowly carving out small streams which eventually enlarge to become entire caves. Cave systems can stretch for miles, incorporating many different features. Son Doong stands out from other cave systems around the world by its sheer size.
Located in the Phong Na-Ke Bang national park, a UNESCO heritage site, the cave stretches five and a half miles and reaches a total depth of 650 feet. While certainly not the deepest cave in the world (that’s located in Georgia, in the Caucasus), this enormous cave is large enough to feature its own river, ecosystem, and jungle.
Tourist Numbers Are Still Low
Current numbers into the cave are strictly limited, and the Oxalis team is made up of caving experts with a full understanding of the importance of cave preservation. However, local activists and cavers have their work cut out for them keeping the cave in perfect condition.
In 2014, they fought against proposals to install a $212 million, six and a half mile cable car into the cave. Installation of a cable car would cause immediate damage to the cave, and simply create the potential for a huge amount of further damage due to the increased footfall within the cave.
Caves form extremely slowly, and any damage tends to be permanent. The cave passages themselves are formed by incredibly slow erosion of limestone seams. Meanwhile, features such as stalactites and stalagmites are the result of sediment deposits over the course of millions of years.
Today, only a thousand people have access to Son Doong every year. One single company, Oxalis, has been granted the dispensation to run tours in the cave.
The World’s Best Cavers Are Your Guides
Current tours of the cave are conducted in the company of expert cavers, both Western and Vietnamese. The tours are tailored to the needs of travelers, and you can expect to easily spend $3,000 or more. However, you certainly get a lot for your money. Tours take place over a few days, and you’ll have the chance of waking up in the cave, as well as enjoying all your meals cooked for you down there.
Your guides can show you whatever parts of the cave you are interested in, but are also happy to let you explore at your own pace. They know what they’re doing, and can help you through any of the more complex or technical moments of caving. Given its size, it’s no surprise that there’s a huge array of different features to enjoy, with everything from photo opportunities to caving challenges.
Possible Threats Lie Ahead for Cave Preservation
As things currently stand, the Vietnamese government seems happy to do everything it can to preserve the cave. The proposals for the cable car were overturned, though that doesn’t mean they won’t reappear in the future. However, the fact that only a single company is allowed to run trips into the cave shows the government is serious.
Caves have the potential to be dangerous places, especially when they are mostly unexplored. Cave-ins occur from time to time, while water levels can rise dangerously during rainy seasons, as happened in the north of Thailand this year. By ensuring only a single, qualified company has access to the cave, locals and the government can provide tourists from around the world with a safe, one-of-a-kind experience. It’s worth booking well in advance, possibly up to a year, if you’re interested.