Bucket List Asia Travel: Vietnam’s Majestic Son Doong Cave

What sought after trek into the verdant, rocky terrain of Vietnam is selling out months in advance? If you guessed Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, consider yourself ahead of the pack.  This, the largest cave in the world, is filled with breathtaking sights and unforgettable settings that have made it possibly the most competitive ticket to buy in the world. As of this writing, sales for tours in 2018 are about to open; however, if it’s anything like last year, where it sold out in less than one day, you will need to plan now.

Hang Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) is located in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. It’s amazing to think that the cave – which is estimated to be as old as 450 million years – has only been open to the public since 2013. In fact, it is purported that a wandering local resident only found the cave entrance in 1990, and then couldn’t find it again until 2008. Professional expeditions by the British Cave Research Association were finally conducted in 2009 – 2010, and the first tour for tourists was organized in 2014. This means that the area is still nearly untouched.

What makes Son Doong Cave so spectacular? The cave is over 3 miles long, and 492 to 656 feet tall in certain places. According to the Oxalis website, it can fit an entire New York City block, with 40 story skyscrapers and all. But instead, the vast, open space contains a variety of flora and fauna, large rock formations, and stalagmites – including the largest stalagmite in the world, which is 262 feet tall. Though mostly enclosed, streams of light still enter from collapsed holes in the roof, and illuminate sections of the cave in ways that are nothing short of transcendent.

Oxalis Adventure Tours. Researching the trip on your own turns out to be quite simple, as only one company – the eco-friendly Oxalis Adventure Tours – currently has permission to give tours in the cave. Now this might sound a bit like a monopoly, but there is a good reason for having only one company in charge, as it allows for complete supervision over the number of people who can come (that’s currently only a mere 500 to 600 people a year). Vietnam is very conscious about preserving the natural surroundings, and places like the cave are too valuable (and in some instances too perilous) to give visitors free rein. You will thank yourself later knowing that you visited one of the most amazing places in the world and left a minimal footprint.

Prepare well. You’ll also have to be in good enough shape for the following in order to make it to Son Doong Cave. Over the 4 day, 3 night trip, you will traverse nearly 16 miles of mountain and jungle terrain. Elevation will change regularly, up to 1300 feet. You’ll also have to get across rivers that are knee deep and up to 165 feet wide. And if you’ve never caved before – that’s climbing rope and rock terrain – you may want to get into better shape for the trek. This can be a tough one for even the more experienced, though the reward is well worth it.

On the flip side, the all-inclusive tour also offers a range of amenities that balance out all that exertion at the end of the day. Experienced guides are there to lead the way. Professional chefs prepare all your meals. And essential caving and camping gear, filtered water, and first aid are all provided. But you should still stock up on your personal gear – the types of shoes, clothing, bags, etc. you prefer for your trek. And if you are a photographer, this is the time to bring out your best toys. No matter how much you love your phone, it will simply not cut it.

Getting There. Wherever you’re coming from, you will need to end up in Dong Hoi – which is conveniently accessible by plane, train, or bus. From there, Oxalis takes care of the rest. Please note: tours only run from January to August, because the rainy season makes the cave inaccessible. Good luck making the cut for 2018!

For more information, visit oxalis.com.vn

This once in a lifetime trek will remind you of how precious the earth is, how much more there is to explore, and without a doubt, how small we are.
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