I don’t know about you, but when I think of caves, I typically think of small, creepy, dark spaces that I never, ever want to enter. I think of pitch black tunnels, and spaces so cramped that a body can barely squeeze through. In facts, caves usually sound like an absolute nightmare to me. However, after learning about Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, my opinions have changed. This cave is literally the opposite of my mental cave image, as its interior is absolutely, jaw-droppingly enormous. In fact, Son Doong is the largest cave in the world. Or at least, it’s the largest cave open to the public (according to the Smithsonian, the Miao Room cavern, a chamber beneath China's Ziyun Getu He Chuandong National Park, is the largest cave in the world, but it is only open to specialists and researchers).
Son Doong is a massive, magnificent natural wonder, whose secret interiors are only just beginning to be discovered. It has certainly blown me away, and I’m sure these photos will blow your mind as well.
20 20. Son Doong was discovered in 1991.
Yep, so this cave is a relatively new revelation. According to TravelSense.Asia, Son Doong was accidentally discovered by a local hunter/farmer, Ho Khanh. One day while searching for aloe wood in the rainforest, Ho Khanh was caught off guard by a massive tropical storm. While seeking shelter, he stumbled into Son Doong cave. Ho Khanh has no idea as to the significance of this discovery - he was simply happy to be dry and safe from the storm.
19 19. Despite its discovery in the 90s, Son Doong wasn’t fully explored until 2009.
Obviously, Ho Khanh had no inclination to tell anyone about his cave discovery. To him, it was just shelter from a storm. Luckily in 2006, Ho Khanh was prompted to reveal this still-hidden treasure.
According to TNK Travel, a team from the British Caving Research Association was searching for new caves in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. In a chance interaction, Ho Khanh mentioned the cave he found in 1991. Soon after, the expedition for the cave’s exact location began...a pursuit that took 3 years. The British Caving Research Association finally found Ho Khanh’s cave in 2009.
18 18. The British Caving Research Association spent two years exploring the cave.
Once the British researchers found Ho Khanh’s cave, they got to work. Son Doong Cave is located in the heart of the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in the Quang Binh province of Central Vietnam. Phong Nha – Ke Bang is known for its caves and grottos, but no one was prepared for the splendor of Son Doong. The British organization spent all of 2009 and 2010 exploring the cave, and personally I am surprised they ever left. There has to be so much more to discover in a cave so large...more than can be contained in two years of excavation and expedition. We will doubtless hear more and more about Son Doong for years to come.
17 17. The cave is thought to be 2-5 million years old.
According to TravelSense.Asia, Son Doong Cave was formed by an underground river that ran through layers of sinking limestone along a geological fault. Over the course of millions of years, the water eroded the rock and formed a huge tunnel under the ground. The river eventually dried, resulting in the hollow cave formations we see today. In more precarious parts of the cave, loose fragments of the ceiling fell, forming large holes. Thanks to these holes, humans were able to discover and enter Son Doong.
16 16. True to its own grandeur, Son Doong requires its visitors to make a dramatic entrance.
Of course, an over-the-top cave requires an over-the-top entrance. According to the Smithsonian magazine, in order to properly explore Son Doong, visitors and researchers alike must manage an 80-meter spelunking plunge into the cave’s depths. Can you imagine being the first explorer to plunge into this rocky abyss? To not know the extent of the drop - to not even see the bottom of the cave upon descent? No thank you.
The guy in the photo isn’t betraying a sense of panic, which is amazing to me. Obviously, Son Doong isn’t for the faint of heart.
15 15. To give you an idea of its hugeness...
Think of a Boeing 747 airplane. Pretty massive, right? Well, according to TNKtravel.com, parts of the Son Doong cave are large enough for a 747 to fly through. The cave is more than 5 kilometers in length, and in its deepest regions it can house a 40-story skyscraper.
This cave is massive, and apparently further expeditions are required to definitively measure the extent of its size.
14 14. It’s so huge, Son Doong contains its own climate and ecosystem.
If your email worried about feeling claustrophobic inside of Son Doong, think again. According to TheVintageNews.com, the interior of the cave is so spacious that it contains its own rainforests and cloud formations. That’s right - Son Doong is so massive that clouds form inside the cave. I never even thought that was possible. Plus, the unique growing conditions within the cave are revealing never-before-seen fauna and vegetation. Scientists are only just beginning to discover all that Son Doong has to offer.
13 13. The cave also boasts rare geological formations.
Obviously, the rocks inside the cave are pretty cool, too. Son Doong contains “cave pearls.” According to World Atlas, cave pearls are the result of dripping water in limestone caves. The dripping water eventually releases carbon dioxide, leaving behind a mineral called calcite. The calcite collectively binds around a piece of debris in the cave. The debris becomes a nucleus of sorts, as more and more calcite particles bind to one another and around the debris. Eventually, this process results in the alien-looking spheres shown above.
12 12. And of course, Son Doong has stunning stalagmites and stalactites.
Here’s a minor refresher in Earth science or whatever: stalagmites are the spikes that rise from the floor of a cave, while stalactites are the spikes that drip from a cave ceiling. They are both formed by dripping water containing calcium bicarbonate, and they are most abundant in limestone caves. I have news for you: Son Doong has an ample supply of both. It’s a stalagmite/stalactite enthusiast’s dream, like a drawing in a comic book of an evil villain's lair.
11 11. Seriously, check out these stalagmites.
These stalagmites are jutting out from a transparent neon green pool, with some kind of cracked sediment floor. This looks like a photoshopped creation from the mind of a science fiction director, or perhaps some ceramic creation in a surreal art exhibit. How does this exist in the real world? Let’s take a moment to imagine all of the weird, cave-dwelling creatures living in the neon water...I’m thinking radioactive eels and albino salamanders. Creepy, slimey creatures of all shapes and sizes.
10 10. You can actually visit Son Doong.
Yep - you can actually enter this geological, geographical, ecological wonder. Oxalis, a local adventure tour company, began sponsoring tourist expeditions into the cave in 2013. However, the journey is quite a commitment in terms of both money and time, costing around $3,000 per person and spanning the course of four days. I know the price is steep, but I am willing to bet $3,000 that it’s worth the money.
You’ll be able to brag to all of your friends about being in the world’s largest cave (or at least, largest open to common folk). PLUS, you’ll be in Vietnam, which is pretty fascinating in itself.
9 9. You gotta be in shape to keep up with the Oxalis tour.
According to the Oxalis tour website, you will be trekking over 25 kilometers through jungle and over 7 kilometers through caves throughout the course of the 4-day expedition. You will also climb up a 90-meter calcite cave wall, and you will be splashing through and across various rivers. Plus - and this is a biggie for me - there are no washing facilities at some of the campsites. Son Doong truly isn’t for the faint of heart.
8 8. Oxalis is smart enough to provide lighting equipment.
If you are brave (and financially endowed) enough to explore Son Doong, the tour company provides professional lighting equipment so you can capture stunning photographs throughout the expedition. You can actually preserve memories of yourself in this one-of-a-kind, out-of-this-world landscape...and that’s pretty cool. No one at home will believe you when you say, “no filter.”
Look at the beautiful, soft golden light emanating from those tents. And the spotlights shining into the background mist - it’s an amateur photographer's dream.
7 7. You can cool off from a day of exploring in Son Doong’s river.
As hinted at in the photos throughout this list, there’s a massive river flowing through Son Doong cave. This single river splits off into various lagoons and waterfalls. After a long day of exploring, there may not be official baths or showers, but you can definitely take a dip in one of Son Doong’s many bodies of water. I’ve never seen such vibrant, aqua-y water in my life.
Just, if you go, don’t look too closely at the potential cave-y slimy creatures lurking within the water...sorry, I’m ruining the dreamy tranquility of the photo. I’ll shut up now.
6 6. If you ever do go to Son Doong, you’ll never forget it.
Google reviewers have given Son Doong Cave 4.6 out of 5 stars, and the Oxalis Tour Company has received a solid 5-star rating on TripAdvisor, sourced from over 1,200 reviews. I don’t know about you, but I am often hard-pressed to find a company that averages a perfect 5-stars on the internet, especially when the review pool is over 1,000. This is an exceptional place, managed by an exceptional company.
5 5. You can meet other adventurers from around the world in Son Doong.
Adrenaline junkies from around the world are flocking to San Doong to experience this natural wonder. There are reviews of San Doong from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, the U.K., the United States, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, and more. Oxalis allows 10 visitors per tour, so during your 4-day adventure, you can experience a very diverse group of people. Aside from experiencing the culture of Vietnam, you can learn about a plethora of other cultures around the world as well...and perhaps find word-of-mouth recommendations for your next jet-setting journey.
4 4. Someone should film a movie here, if they haven’t already.
Doesn’t this look like an epic set for the next Indiana Jones movie, or maybe the evil lair of a mythical villain? I can picture a live-action Hercules movie, with the above photo selected as the setting of Hades’ underworld. That would be both captivating and intimidating. Or perhaps someone can develop an epic action-adventure script set on the surface of Venus or Pluto or something. Whatever the plot, someone needs to film here ASAP.
3 3. Are you saving your money yet?
Because I sure am. Look at this idyllic photo, with rays of light literally cascading upon the mossy rock formations. Son Doong would be the most romantic destination ever, not to mention the most beautiful and otherworldly.
Okay, so if you put aside about $50.00 per month, you can make it to Son Doong in about....60 months. That’s not bad, right? That’s only 5 years, and it’s never bad to have goals, right?
2 2. This guy is so astounded by beauty, he doesn’t care about falling.
To stand on top of so precarious a ledge, one must be absolutely captivated by something else. I believe Son Doong is so lovely, so magnificent, that is absolute distracts from any potential danger. Because I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely terrified of heights. It would take a lot for me to pose in a photo like the one above...but maybe it’s a small fear to conquer when enveloped by Son Doong.
1 1. And here is a photo of tents, which really looks like an avant-garde space station.
I don’t know about you, but I need to go here before I die. I have never seen anything that compares to these photographs....the scale, the colors, the textures, and the dramatic formations are simply breathtaking. The way that external light finds its way into the various cave openings is literally breathtaking. The rays look angelic. And I am not one to use the word “angelic” on a daily, monthly, or even yearly basis.
Sources: Smithsonianmag.com, oxalis.com.vn, tnktravel.com, thevintagenews.com, travelsense.asia