Hang Son Doong: The World's Largest Cave!

Sept. 10, 2014

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Hang Son Doong, in central Vietnam, is the world’s largest cave. It’s about 9 kilometers long, and more than 200 meters wide and 150 meters high. It has a river, two jungles, and a chamber that could easily fit the Statue of Liberty on top of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. And somehow, despite its size, Hang Son Doong remained hidden from the world until 2009

In 2014, the first tourists were allowed into the cave (only 220 of them!), and I was lucky enough to get a spot on one of the tours. From August 10 to 16, I got to hike through this amazing cave with 7 other tourists, 3 cavers, and about 20 porters.

To give you a sense of the layout of the cave, below is a map of Son Doong. The main highlights of the cave are two collapsed sections, called dolines, and named “Watch out for Dinosaurs” and “Garden of Edam”. The dolines are really what make Son Doong so special: they allow sunlight into the cave, which allows for the spectacular jungles to grow.

Map of Hang Son Doong

To get to the cave, you have to first fly to Dong Hoi, then drive for 45 minutes to Phong Nha, then drive for another hour into the jungle, hike for about 5 hours to Hang En (the world’s third largest cave), camp in Hang En for a night, and then hike again for about another 6 hours to finally reach the first camp in Son Doong.

The camp in Hang En

Leaving Hang En in the morning

The hike from Hang En to Son Doong (photo credit: Dekel)

The Hand of Dog (inside Son Doong)

And, finally, the first camp, near the first doline (“Watch out for Dinosaurs”)

One of my fellow tourists, Dekel, took a drone with a GoPro into the cave. It was incredible to see the thing fly around and it really made it clear how gigantic this cave is –– it’s so large that it is often difficult to maintain a sense of its size. I’ll link to Dekel’s video footage when he gets it online (it’s pretty amazing!).

The drone flying into the entrance of the first doline

On day 3 of the tour, things really kick into gear. Climbing up into the doline

Doline panorama

The gang (missing Aya), and the second doline in the distance (photo credit: Alex)

Reflection at Dinosaurs (looking back at the first doline)

Watch out for Dinosaurs (click through to get the super-high resolution)

View of the second doline from the rat run (“Green Gours” on the map)

Looking down to the second camp from the second doline (“Garden of Edam”)

And finally, camp time!

On day 4, we went deeper into the cave

And some choose to schlep it through the mud to the Great Wall of Vietnam (which is pretty much the end of the cave). I chose to hang back and get a photo of those who went on to the Wall. The light that you can see is coming from the only other opening to the cave, which is just beyond the Wall.

The hike to the Great Wall of Vietnam from Passchendaele

The view of the Garden of Edam from Passchendaele

And the view from camp

Before hiking back to the first camp, we have a brief lunch and the porters catch a quick flick at the world’s smallest cinema in the world’s largest cave:

World’s smallest cinema in the world’s largest cave

The unbelievably cool and awesome porters coming through the Garden of Edam:

Looking down into the Rat Run from the Garden of Edam

After having a freezing cold bath surrounded by razor sharp rocks, we get back to the first camp. I’ve never felt so tired in my life! (Photo credit: Ken.)

On the last day in Son Doong, we move pretty quickly to get back to Hang En, our final camp for the trip

Hang En Reflections

I have to say, Son Doong was one the most amazing trips I’ve been on in my life. Tons of thanks to Deb, Bamboo, Watto, Jamie, all the porters, and Aya, Alex, Dekel, Hussein, Ken, Paul, and Vojti for such an awesome and unique trip! I couldn’t recommend it to others more highly! If you want to go, get in touch with Oxalis tours.