The Son Doong Cave in Vietnam is the biggest cave in the world. It’s over 5.5 miles long, has a jungle and river that could fit a 40-story skyscraper within it’s walls. Son Doong Cave meaning “Mountain River Cave”.
Created by the heavens lies a majestic ecosystem, a scientists dream, deep beneath the earths surface, uninhabited by man in a far away land, “the most breathtaking, mysterious, exotic “Garden of Eden” containing a lush rain forest and river possessing a natural oasis of vegetation with the most unique and exquisite species of animals.” One could only dream of what miracles grow from within.
The lost world of Son Doong cave still has its mysteries, and much of the cave system remains unexplored. Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of further exploration lies in the prospect of finding new species of plants and animals here. The animals of the cave can generally be categorized into two types; those that live in the forested area and those that dwell in the inky black recesses of the enclosed areas. Already several new species have been discovered here, including several species of plant and insect, as well as a new type of gecko, a tree frog, and a striped hare.
Son Doong Cavern is contained within Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, in Vietnam. Within the park itself, are more than 500 vertebrate species which have been identified, as well as hundreds more invertebrates. Although they have not yet been officially documented as this cave’s residents, many of the national park’s inhabitants make their homes in the cave’s open areas.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang is known for having the largest population of langur monkeys in the world. Several species of bat, which are very likely candidates to inhabit Son Doong, call Nha-Ke Bang home. Many rare birds, including the chestnut-necklaced partridge (Arborophila charltonii) and the short-tailed scimitar babbler (Jabouilleia danjoui), are found here. Many of the 250 butterfly species found within the park are most certain to drift through the exposed passages within Son Doong Cavern. A number of new species have been found within the park, including the little-known gecko Gekko scientiadventura, Orlov’s treefrog (Rhacophorus orlovi) and the striped hare (Nesolagus timminsii), recently discovered within the Ammanite Mountains.
Discovered in 1991, a local Vietnamese farmer by the name of Ho Khanh trekked his way through this National Park, located in Quang Binh Province, near the border of Laos and Vietnam, while in search of timber to earn a modest income. The day was heavy with rain, Ho Khanh accidentlly fell upon the mouth of the Son Doong Cave, while seeking shelter in case of flash floods. Many times before this day he passed these grounds, and one day while not paying attention to his surroundings, getting caught up on the beauty of the forest, the jungle floor opened up and he found himself confronted by a giant sink hole beneath him. As he peered into the gaping surface to what appeared to be thick foliage immersed in darkness and unfamiliar sounds that lay beneath. His timing could not have been more perfect as he would discover the entrance that remained hidden from man for millions of years as this mystical property contained the worlds largest cave, at five times larger than the largest known cave at this time.
Some fifteen years had passed as this farmer stopped his journeys to the cave and still unannounced to the world, it wasn’t until 2006, when an expedition team of British Scientists known as the Royal Society of England went in search for a new cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang. For years the entrance to the cave remained unexplored. Locals were afraid to go near it because of the steep drop and strange roaring sounds bellowing from it’s depths, later found to be caused by a raging river below. In addition, there was an eerie mist seeping out of the cave, a phenomenon caused by the cooler air below meeting with the hot jungle air above, giving this area a surreal and unearthly atmosphere. The cave remained untouched by any human form as it had for the past two to five million years.
Because of it’s sheer beauty and aesthetics, explorers discovered a primitive forest rich in vegetation, as there has NEVER been any human traces. Son Doong is famous for both it’s enormous size and variety of biological landscape.
In 2009, members of the British Cave Research Association undertook an expedition to penetrate into the mysterious jungle cavern and explore the darkness below. By that time, the man who originally found it, no longer remembered exactly where it was located, so the team had to ascertain it’s position from what farmer Ho Khanh and other locals could recall. It was to be the beginning of a breathtaking journey into an ancient, forgotten realm that no human being had ever set foot in. Son Doong cave wasn’t displayed on Google Earth.
The expedition, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, began their descent in April of 2009. The first thing that became quickly apparent was the sheer, enormous scale of the place. Using ropes and harnesses, the team rappelled down a 260 foot vertical drop before they finally reached the bottom, where the thick, absolute silence of the place was said to be almost deafening. An investigation of the surroundings showed that the cave was largely formed of limestone, which had been eroded from under the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam between 2 to 5 million years ago. Upon reaching the bottom, the team did not get far before they came up against a 200 foot wall of muddy calcite, which they called “The Great Wall of Vietnam”.
Currently, Son Doong cave is recognized as the worlds largest cave as the main cavern is so large that it has it’s own climate and clouds have been known to form within it. It’s massive enough to house an entire New York city block, high enough to hold 40 story skyscrapers and those who have been there describe being truly humbled by the sheer scale and aesthetics of this magical hidden paradise.
With sections reaching up to 200m tall and 150m wide and a total measured volume of 38.5 million cubic metres, Son Doong could store about 68 Boeing 777 aircraft. Even this figure may be larger because according to scientists, the most modern facilities of today has not fully explore the real length of this cave.
Since only a very few expeditions have attempted to catalog species within the cave, there are undoubtedly more to be found. There have been several species that have been spotted that have not been identified as of yet, including a possibly new type of monkey, and mysterious creatures have been seen skittering through cave passages and even swimming through the river and lake here.
One of the only scientists to have studied the dark interior passages of the cave, German biologist Anette Becher, described spotting a myriad of as yet unknown fish, insects, and millipedes within the gloom, many of them albino and sightless. It seems that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the biodiversity that may lie here waiting to be discovered.
Other mysteries of Son Doong cave include the source of the underground river that runs through the cave and an only recently discovered side cave that is full of rare and undescribed fossils, many of them very large and some of them dated as being around 300 million years old. The original team to explore Son Doong has plans to launch another extensive expedition in order to further investigate the many mysteries of the caves.
“Featuring one of the Son Doong cave, which is the system of stalactite and “pearl” giant cave. Over two.five million years under the influence of external forces, Son Doong owns the column stalagmite as high as 70m. In addition, it is also found these “pearls” caves (wrap a jade jewel-like seeds of the sea, the component mainly calcite) to the world’s most in Son Doong. Typically, the member “pearls” of this type only about 1cm in diameter but in the Son Doong, they as big as baseball”.
In 2013, a tour company called OXALIS, began offering adventurous souls the chance to discover the lost world of Son Doong by spending several days camping and exploring within the caves massive interior. The first expeditions are pilot tours, with the company planning to expand upon future tours. The excursions are not for the faint of heart. In order to reach the cave, one must trek through the remote jungle of wilderness to the entrance of the cave, once there, several hundred foot of sheer vertical drop awaits.
With tours such as this underway and yet more to be planned, it seems that just as with other lost and hidden places of the world, the caves of Son Doong too will have there mysteries slowly peeled away for all to see. For now, though, it is still a place of wonder and awe, and is still largely unexplored. What lies here awaiting to be discovered in the gargantuan cave’s many dark passages and within the ancient trees of its misty, sun pierced subterranean forests? There is much left to learn about this vast, lost cave world, and much exploration left to do before we even begin to fully understand this fascinating natural wonder. Son Doong has not given up all of its mysteries just yet.
The discovery of Son Doong also poses another question. What other lost places remain out there for us to find? It is exciting to think that right here on our own planet there may be whole new vast, alien realms, even new ecosystems, hidden away from us, waiting to be discovered. Or perhaps maybe they will never be discovered, and will remain untouched by human hands as they have for millions of years and will for millions more. Whatever the case may be, even as the modern world seems to become ever smaller, it appears that there are still surprises locked away within this planet of ours.
The first tourists to explore Son Doong Cave did so in late 2013, spending $3,000 USD per person, while only 500 permits to enter the cave were given out in 2015. Son Doong Cave is located in a section of the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
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