Hang Son Doong is a cave in Vietnam, located near the Laos–Vietnam border, that is currently the biggest known cave in the world. Inside is a vast green forest and a large, fast-flowing underground river. The biggest chamber of Hang Son Doong is more than 5 kilometres long, 200 metres high and 150 metres wide. The cave’s enormous dimensions has allowed stalagmites to grow up to 70 meters tall, the tallest known stalagmites in the world. Cave pearls found inside the cave were the size of baseballs, an abnormally large size.
Despite its enormity the cave was only discovered in 1991 by a local man, but the local jungle men were afraid to explore because of the whistling sound the underground river made. It was not until 2009, when a group of British scientists from the British Cave Research Association conducted a survey, that the existence of the cave was made known to the public. Later, a team of explorers from National Geographic came up with some of the most stunning pictures of this previously unseen natural wonder.
A few years ago, photographing a cave as large as Hang Son Doong would have meant rappelling down a rope. Aerial pictures would be impossible without a helicopter. Now with cheaper alternatives like drones and GoPro easily available, all it takes is a sense of adventure.
HOW WAS SON DOONG CAVE FIRST DISCOVERED?
From an early age, local man Ho Khanh used to spend weeks on end trekking and maneuvering his way through the jungles of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, searching for food and timber to earn a modest income.
In 1990 while out on a hunting mission, Ho Khanh stumbled across an opening in a limestone cliff and moved forward to investigate. As he approached he noticed clouds billowing out of the entrance, and could hear the sounds of a river raging from somewhere inside the cave.
When he could feel a strong wind also blowing out from the cave, he decided to move on without further inspection. By the time he had returned to his home a few days later, he had forgotten its exact location and thought no more of it.
At the same time two members of the British Cave Research Association (BCRA), Howard and Deb Limbert, were basing themselves in Phong Nha to conduct exploratory cave expeditions in the area. While chatting with Ho Khanh one day, he mentioned to the caving experts that he had found a cave with clouds and a river inside. Howard and Deb were intrigued and urged Ho Khanh to try and rediscover the cave. After many failed attempts, they began to think this elusive cavern might remain lost in the jungle forever more.
In 2008 while out on another food gathering trip, Ho Khanh found the mysterious opening again and studiously took note of the path on how to get there. In 2009 he led Howard, Deb and a team of professionals back to the cave for the first expedition to enter what would later become known as Hang Son Doong, or ‘Mountain River Cave’.