On the first day, Ngo Tran Hai An and a group of adventurous tourists started their journey from Phong Nha Town of Quang Binh Province’s Bo Trach District to En Cave and camped here, traversing 11 kilometers of forest and streams. Due to weather conditions, the group missed the light streaming from the cave’s entrance.
To reach Son Doong in central Vietnam’s Quang Binh, the group had to first pass through En Cave, the world’s third largest cave, discovered in 1994. It boasts a massive freshwater lake with the beautiful color of jade.
From the entrance, the group had to commence 80 meters along a rope to reach the bottom. The steep, dark and slippery approach to En Cave took the group two hours to complete.
At various intervals the group had to navigate cold and dark water, with little support other than flashlights.
On the second day, they stopped by the “James Bond” hole, which An called one of Son Doong’s most unique features.
On the way to Sinkhole 1, there are many big blocks of stalagmites and fossils dating back 300 million years.
Son Doong Cave spans a length of nine kilometers, a width of 160 meters and a height of 200 meters. It is large enough to contain a 40-floor building.
An stands on a block of stalagmites shaped like a giant wedding cake at Sinkhole 1.
“The scene here is really mysterious with a layer of fog that cloaks the cave,” he said.
When An reached Sinkhole 2, everything emerged majestically before his eyes.
Sinkhole 2 as seen from the campsite.
For An, this is the most beautiful camping spot of the three-day trip.
At the end of the journey, the group went down a cold “river” of about 700 meters in length. This is in fact a muddy cave, but in the rainy season when the water rises, it creates a landscape resembling a river.
An described the scenery here as “extremely magnificent”, with many blocks of stalactites dipping into the water. He said there are many minerals, affording the water its blue color.
Wall of Vietnam is a 90-meter-high stalagmite wall and the most difficult point to conquer in the journey. To do so, the group had to don protective equipment and be assisted by a safety team.
Group members had to hold tightly onto a rope and use all their strength to propel themselves to the top.
An’s expedition to Son Doong lasted from Jan. 16 to 19. The group comprised a total 70 people, including domestic and international reporters, Tran Dang Dang Khoa – a Vietnamese who traveled around the world by motorbike, and Tran Tuan Viet – a photographer of National Geographic in Vietnam. In addition, there were 40 support personnel, along with cave experts of the British Caving Association.
An said a safety survey of Son Doong takes place at the beginning of each year after flood season in Quang Binh.
Despite unfavorable weather, the trip left him lost in emotion.
Son Doong, part of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, is a UNESCO heritage site. The cave, estimated to be between 400 and 450 million years old, was reportedly discovered in 2009 and opened to tourists in 2013.