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Son Doong Cave


Son Doong Cave

The world’s largest subterranean cave can be found in the Quang Binh province in Vietnam. It is believed to have been created some two to four million years ago, when the Rao Thuong River carved out limestone deposits found underneath a ring of mountains. Measuring at 300 feet wide, 800 feet high and runs 2.5 miles long, the cave has around a hundred connected caverns, some of which were just recently discovered and have yet to be surveyed.

The caves were first explored by Howard and Deb Limbert in 2009. The husband and wife team, experienced cavers from northern England, have mounted several expeditions since then. These trips have led to the discovery of the Hang Khe Ry, one of the longest river caves in the world at 12 miles, and to the establishment of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park where Hang Son Doong is located. A local resident, Ho Khanh was instrumental in helping find the caves. As a boy he explored the area and discovered the cave. Because of the dense forest growth, it was difficult to spot the cave’s entrance and it wasn’t until 1991 did he find the cave again.

In the Vietnamese language the cave is known as Hang Son Doong, with “son doong” meaning “mountain river cave”. Water can flow as high as 300 feet during the rainy season, making certain passages and caverns impassable. During summer and early winter, when the season is dry, the river dwindles into a series of pools and ponds. Many of the caverns can fit a block of buildings forty stories high.

The cave has several sinkholes, areas where the cave’s ceilings have collapsed due to weak limestone support. One can be found 3 kilometers from the entrance, where the light shines through. It allows various species of plants and insects flourish, creating a forest within the caves themselves. Explorers have also noted seeing animals like birds and monkeys living in the cave jungles.

Towards the end of the cave is a large wall of flowstone that hindered explorers from going further. After they were able to get past it, the team discovered a second entrance to the cave.

There is still much to be explored about Hang Son Doong and its network of caves. One can only imagine the natural treasures that can be seen inside.

Note that many tourist websites report that the caves are not yet open for public tours, and caution interested spelunkers to be wary of groups offering tours at a high price. Best contact the Vietnamese tourism office for details.

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