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In 1999, a Quang Binh man named Ho Khanh found a cave entrance that he couldn’t enter. Only upon his return in 2009, accompanied by British experts, did he find a cave system – one of the largest in the world, one that could fit a block of New York City with 40-story skyscrapers, or a Boeing 747 airplane. He named it Son Doong Cave, meaning “cave behind the mountain of Doong Village”, but sources have dubbed it “mountain river cave”.
Son Doong is a soluble cave, formed by water dissolving limestone over hundreds of thousands of years. It is estimated to be 2 to 5 million years old. Today, a large and fast river rushes through the cave system. In the rainy season, some areas are completely impassable. The ceiling has collapsed in some parts, letting light in and allowing plants (similar to the forest outside the cave) to grow. However, artificial lighting is still needed for sightseeing and safety.
For the steep-but-worthwhile price of USD 2500 per person, a maximum of 10 tourists at a time can embark on a 4-day-3-nights trip through this underground paradise. They will travel with a party of up to 27 international tour guides, cave experts, porters, chefs, safety assistants, and rangers, using safety equipment and regulations imported from Europe. The price also includes forest environment fees, airport pickup, a two-night hotel stay, and food before, during, and after the excursion – including three meals a day plus snacks in the cave, prepared by chefs onsite.
The National Geographic website has a stunning and informative 360-degree tour of the cave, documented by Martin Edström. In 2019, astonished drivers found that the cave system was even larger than previously thought, as they found a tunnel that connects it to another enormous cave, Thung Cave.