Vietnam houses some of the world’s most unbelievable underground locations in the world…
For decades explorers and geologists have known that Vietnam is home to some of the world’s biggest caves, many of them largely unexplored. Now it looks like one of those recently discovered, Son Doong Cave, located in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park near the border with Laos, can lay claim to the title of ‘largest cave passage in the world’ – beating Deer Cave in Malaysian Borneo, the previous record holder.
Although the cave has been known to locals since 1991, the narrow size of the entrance, difficulty of access and intimidating noise from its underground river has deterred people from further investigations. In 2009 the first of two British-lead expeditions explored around 4.5 kms (2.8 miles) of the cave’s length, discovering an underground world of colossal stalagmites, waterfalls and subterranean jungles lit from high above by skylights where the roof collapsed millennia ago. With a passage measuring around 140m (460ft) high and 100m (330ft) wide along most of its length, Son Doong Cave reaches 200m (650ft) at its loftiest points. In its largest chamber, a block of 40 storey buildings could be accommodated and clouds even hang in the ceiling!
The 2009 expedition ultimately came to a dead end in the form of a 200m (650ft) high muddy wall of calcite which they fondly named ‘The Great Wall of Vietnam’. Had they but known it, the end of the cave lay just beyond this wall, as the team discovered when they returned in 2011.
Two years later the first tourist expedition was granted access to Hang Son Doong, accompanied by a staff of safety experts and experienced cavers. 220 further permits have been issued for tourists to visit the cave in 2014, however for those without spelunking experience other less extreme options are available for visiting this incredible place.
In conjunction with Oxalis Adventure, Journeys Within is now offering a 2 day, 1 night expedition to Hang En, a feeder cave to Son Doong. Probably the 3rd largest cave in the world, with an entrance 140m (460ft) wide, Hang En offers a unique and memorable camping experience. Trek through jungle, along river valleys and past minority villages to the massive entrance to Hang En where a unique campsite awaits, set up on a sandy beach inside the cavern itself, but near enough to the entrance to be able to gaze up at the stars as you drift off to sleep.
All images show Hang En and are courtesy of Ryan Deboodt © 2014