By Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem / NOMADasaurus
At the beginning of 2015 we were lucky enough to take part in a five-day expedition to Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest cave. Located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park near the border of Vietnam and Laos, Hang Son Doong is one of the most incredible natural wonders of the world — and the tale of its discovery is just as fascinating
Hang Son Doong was discovered in 1990 by Ho Khanh, a local Vietnamese man who was out hunting in the park. While seeking refuge from an approaching storm he found a large opening in the side of a cliff, with clouds billowing out. He neared the entrance and could hear a river deep inside. The steep and dangerous rocks meant that Ho Khanh was unable to explore further, and he left once the storm passed.
Around the same time Howard and Deb Limbert, two caving experts with the British Cave Research Association, were living in Phong Nha spelunking in the area. Over dinner one night Ho Khanh mentioned his find to Howard and Deb, but admitted that he had now forgotten where it was. Knowing that the presence of clouds and an underground river meant something substantial was there, Howard and Deb urged Ho Khanh to try and find it again. For the next two decades their search turned up nothing.
However things were to suddenly change, and in 2008 while on another hunting mission Ho Khanh found himself in a section of the jungle he recalled to be near the entrance he found all those years ago. He managed to find it, and carefully retraced his steps back to Phong Nha village to report his discovery to Howard and Deb. The monsoon season soon kicked in, and the exploration would have to wait until the following year.
In 2009 Ho Khanh returned, this time with the aid of the BCRA. They began their exploration of the cave, which led them to a giant wall that hindered any further progress. In 2010 they managed to scale the wall, which they called the “Great Wall Of Vietnam”, and find the other exit to the cave. At this point they realised that the cave was the biggest ever discovered. Named Hang Son Doong, meaning “Mountain River Cave” in Vietnamese, it is now open to small expedition groups.
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The discovery of the world’s largest cave in one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam has brought about an incredible surge in community-based tourism, which is positively affecting the lives of many locals. Besides the ecological marvels of what lies beneath the jungle, the way people are able to benefit their lives from its existence is one of the real wonders of Hang Son Doong.
More people have stood on the summit of Everest than have seen the inside of Hang Son Doong, and we were two of the lucky few to get to experience this adventure (we went with Oxalis, the only tour operator that runs expeditions to the cave). We’ve been traveling across Asia together for the past two years, and in all of that time, we’ve seen a lot of amazing things — but it this cave that changed our lives most.