Amazing journey to Son Doong (Part 1)

Just one day left before my departure to one of the most famous spots in Vietnam – hang Sơn Đoòng.  I really really feel excited and can’t wait to take part in this life-time expedition. I first heard about this cave, its discovery in 2010, I still remember some online competition to create the best name for a cave in this mysterious prehistoric caving network of over 150 caves. I don’t know which name was chosen finally!

I made a quick decision when I called a guy at Oxalis – the only tour agent in Phong Nha, authorised by the local authorities to organise different trekking tours in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. For certain reasons the  number of visitors to Sơn Đoòng cave is limited within 224 persons per year, and there is no tour during the flooding season from September to January, so that’s why the demand is huge and always mostly fully booked.

Mist sweeps past the hills of Phong Nha National Park

I called the Oxalis to book for 2015, but few days later I was informed that one spot available in this year, 2014 in April, as someone cancelled in the last minute. The Australian sale director of Oxalis was kind to put me ahead of other hundred people on the waiting list,  I confirmed straight away my participation and the next day I started my preparations: from gathering informations about the cave to even ordering some stuffs from Amazon for my adventure.

A giant cave column swagged in flowstone towers over the cavers swimming through the depth of Hang Ken – Photo by Carsten Peter

I found on Youtube some TV programs, stories about the first cavers who involved very much in this fascinating discovery, after Ho Khanh, a local jungle man, first found the entrance to the cave in 1991 but then he had forgotten where it was. In 2009 when he accompanied the British Cave Research team lead by Howard Limbert, an expert-caver from the Northern England, they finally found the cave after many attempts. Howard Limbert has spent most of his time in this area, since 1990s, helping to create the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, which now attracts million visitors a year.

Half-mile block of 40-story buildings could fit inside this lit stretcch of Son Doong, maybe the world’s biggest subterranean passage – Photo by Carsten Peter
It took the team and Mr Ho Khanh three expeditions to find Sơn Đoòng cave. This cave was formed 2 to 5 millions years ago, when river water flowing across the limestone burrowed down along a fault, scouring out a giant tunnel beneath the mountains. In places where the limestone was weak, the ceiling collapsed into sinkholes, creating the gigantic skylights. For the team, especially for Howard Limbert, discovering a cave as big as Sơn Đoòng is like finding a previously unknown Mount Everest underground. Using precise laser instruments to measure the cave, the team revealed that Sơn Đoòng is more than 3,2 km long with a continuous passage as wide as 90 m, in some places, over 190 m high.
The way out from Hang En, a cave tunneled out by the Rao Thuong river, during the flood season the river could rise almost 90 m, covering the rocks where cavers stand – Photo by Carsten Peter
Like a petrified waterfall, a cascade of fluted limestone, greened by algae, near to the exit of Hang En – Photo by Carsten Peter
Navigating an algae-skinned maze, expedition organizers Deb and Howard Limbert lead the way across a sculpted cave scape in Son Doong, ribs form as calcite-rich water overflows pools – Photo by Carsten Peter
The Great Wall of Vietnam, an overhanging mass of flowstone blocked the way deep inside Son Doong – Photo by carsten Peter


According to the hiking itinerary we will walk along the cave until the Great Wall of Vietnam – the name given by the cavers-experts to a huge 60 m-tall mud wall. Some of cavers in the British team managed to climb up this wall and measured from the bottom of the passage to the ceiling – nearly 200m high. And that’s also the end of Sơn Đoòng cave or another entrance to the cave.


In this video we learn how Carsten Peter, the photographer managed to take those amazing shots that you saw in this blog – all his excellent works. Listening to his story, we understand how hard for him to work in this enormous space of this underground world in order to capture the majestic beauty of the caves.


The second video is “Talk Vietnam” with an experienced British caver-researcher, Howard Limbert, who has spent his entire life for the caving research. Together with his wife, Deb Limbert, they first came to Quang Binh (Phong Nha area) in early 1990s, and listening to his quick flashback stories about this so remote site at that time, we appreciate very much his team’s great support in creating the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, and as a result of their tremendous efforts, in 2003 the site has been recognised by UNESCO as the Natural World Heritage.


My next post will be my real experience, my own stories, photos and my feelings being in the largest cave in the world. Will see you after my first life-time expedition!

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