Recently, journalist Jarryd Salem took a trip to the world's largest hidden cave, Hang Son Doong, located in the center of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam.
The cave sat undiscovered for just about 3 million years before being discovered in 1990 by a local farmer, Ho Khanh, who was seeking shelter from a storm. The farmer had noticed clouds of mist and the sound of an underground river seeping through a hole in the limestone. He then proceeded to report his findings to the British Caving Research Association (BCRA). After Ho Khanh reported his findings, he tried to rediscover the entrance to the cave. Sadly, the farmer could not retrace his steps, leaving the cave undiscovered for another 18 years.
Fast forward to 2008 – Ho Khahn stumbles upon the entrance once again while searching for food. He then leads Howard and Deb Limbert of the BCRA to the entrance of a hidden jewel.
The year 2010 marked the start of the exploration of the cave. The explorers quickly determined that Hang Son Doong was the world's largest cave. Expanding more than 5 kilometers long and 200 kilometers high, the cave could house up to one New York City block.
Openings in the ceilings known as dolines have allowed the foliage to dominate the cave and allow this hidden world to exist.
Open to the public
In 2013, the cave was open to the public with a five-day trek to another world. Only allowing 10 explorers per trip, it is one of the most sought after trips in Southeast Asia. From the sight of the world's largest stalagmite, standing 80 km tall, to the cave's own localized weather system, this is a definite bucket list destination.
The five-day trek starts with a grueling hike through the jungle and crossing of rivers to reach the entrance. Hikers will also spend a night in Hang En, the world's third largest cave. Hikers will also be expected to crawl, climb, and swim through underground rivers to arrive at the entrance to Hang Son Doong. After the exhausting trek to the cave, it is a rewarding sight once you step foot into what looks like time stopped 3 million years ago. The sight lets you forget about the outside world, and lets you imagine dinosaurs roaming through the foliage.
Sadly the cave faces the destruction of its fragile ecosystem. The Vietnamese development company, Sun Group, has been pushing for the construction of cable cars to boost the cave's tourist attractions. The cable car system could bring in up to a thousand tourists per hour to view the splendor. The argument is that the expansion of tourism will help the local economy, but the locals argue that the high traffic of tourists through the cave will break down the cave's fragile ecosystem.
As of today, Hang Son Doong is still as beautiful as the day a local farmer happened to stumble in. Hang Son Doong has been waiting 3 million years to share its beauty, so make sure you put a visit to the cave on your bucket list.