Sunday, 7 December 2014

Hang Son Doong

Hang Son Doong - in English, 'Mountain River Cave' - is the largest known cave on the planet. It is situated alongside the Laos-Vietnam border in south-east Asia, and contains a large, majestic free flowing river which rips along the cave floor like a giant Snake. In order to gain access to the cave one must abseil down a long and shaky rope into its dimly lit, damp, dark depths. An act that is sure to raise your heart rate, get the adrenaline flowing, and make you question your choice of underwear. Yet once your feet touch the ground, it will be worth every last effort.

Hang Son Doong is situated within Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, in the Bo Trach District, in the Quang Binh Province of Vietnam - try telling that to the taxi driver after a few beers. This gigantic cave was discovered by a man named Ho Khanh in 1991, who apparently kept the cave a secret, as it was only realised by the outside world that this cave existed in 2009 when a British caving team lead by Howard Limbert stumbled upon it. However, due to the team being ill-equipped to tackle such a humongous cave, they were stumbled close to the entrance by a 60 meter (200 ft) wall that they were unable to transcend. This wall later became known as The Great Wall of Vietnam. It wasn't until 2010 that this wall was conquered, and behind it was found a collection of Cave Pearls the size of baseballs - If you intended to make some additional cash alongside your day job, cave pearls of this size have been known to fetch up to £200 each. However, please be warned that the sale of cave pearls can be a contentious issue.

The cave was created between 2 - 5 million years ago through the constant erosion of the resident limestone from a local river, which relentlessly beat the stone until the cave ceiling collapsed upon itself. Once the cave ceiling collapsed, Hang Son Doong was born. Hang Son Doong is thought to be five times larger than the last 'largest cave in Vietnam', the Phong Nha cave, and significantly larger than the last 'largest cave on earth', the Deer Cave in Malaysia. It measures 200 meters (600 ft) in height, 150 meters (450 ft) in width, and is more than 3 miles (5 km) long. The river that sits at the base of the cave is nothing more than a few ponds during the region's dry season, but when the rains start to fall during the wet season - May to September -, the river can rise as much as 90 meters (300 ft) and literally submerge the bottom of the cave. Also, I should not forget to mention that this caving system is so large, so vast, so monstrous, that it contains its own fully functioning jungle. However, one of the main features of Hang Son Doong is what is considered to be the world's largest stalagmite, which reaches 70m (230 ft) into the air like a giant flag pole.

If you were to visit Vietnam and wished to enter the Hang Son Doong caving system, you would be well advised to contact the tour providers in advance. Very few excursions have been run into this mammoth caving system, for reasons that escape me. However, a place on one of these day trips comes with a rather hefty price tag. The usual cost per person for such a trip is $3,000 USD.

A lonely caver gazing upon the Hang Son Doong caving system.

Hang Son Doong is roughly 3 miles long and in some parts, 200 meters high.

A caver abseiling into the caving systems jungle.

The location of Hnag Son Doong.

- Until the next Butterfly...