>>>The biggest cave in the world

The biggest cave in the world

In Vietnam, the remote village of Son Trach ‘hides’ the Son Doong Cave, the star attraction in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park.
I
t has its own jungle, its own climate and at 200 metres high, is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. The Son Doong Cave (Hang Son Doong in Vietnamese) is hidden, literally, in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park in Vietnam, close to the border with Laos. It is part of a network of hundreds of caves, many of them still unexplored.
It is estimated that it was formed between two and five million years ago, but in terms of its discovery, it’s just a baby. Howard and Deb Limbert, a pair of British speleologists, organised an expedition to Vietnam in 1990. There have been thirteen expeditions since then, culminating in 2009, when the first expedition to Son Doong was made. They would not have been so excited if it hadn’t been for Ho Khanh, a local farmer who had hunted in the area for years and by chance took shelter from the rain inside the caves. Even then, Son Doong remained elusive and it took three expeditions with the help of Ho Khanh to find it. The forests and the dense vegetation make it an almost impenetrable fortress.
As well as its own jungle, Son Doong also has its own river.
Photo: Oxalis Adventure / Ryan Deboodt

One of the chosen ones

The photographer Ryan Deboodt, who specialises in adventure and travel reports, especially in the Vietnam area, has captured some of the best and most stunning images of Son Doong with the help of a drone.

In the first expedition, the team managed to cover around four kilometres until an enormous 60-metre-high calcite wall suddenly blocked its way. They named it the Great Wall of Vietnam. One year later, they returned with reinforcements. The climber Sweeny Sewell had to make holes and fix anchors to the rock for two days in order to ‘conquer the wall’.
Overcoming such a challenge, brought with it worthwhile rewards. Before his eyes was a record-breaking cave. The gallery was around 90 metres wide and almost 240 metres high. You can even see clouds on the roof. “I crane my head back, but the immensity of the cave douses my headlamp’s tiny light, as if I were staring up into a starless night sky” said the writer and member of the expedition, Mark Jenkins.
Deboodt took eight days taking photos during his third expedition to the cave.
Photo: Oxalis Adventure / Ryan Deboodt
A scene that appears to be from another world, but that has an earthly explanation. The erosion of the river water on the limestone made the roof collapse, creating gigantic skylights and leading to lush vegetation with its own microclimate. One of its most intriguing phenomena are what are called ‘cave pearls’, which are formed by the layers of calcite that the water has left in the sand. They are also found in other caves, but they are usually the size of marbles. In Son Doong they are turned into almost perfect spheres the size of tennis balls.
You can rent a boat to visit Phong Nha and Thien Duong in the park itself.
Photo: Oxalis Adventure / Ryan Deboodt
In order to preserve the integrity of the cave, the Vietnamese government restricts access and only allows 200 people to visit a year. Oxalis Adventure Tours offers adventure tourists the chance to embark on an expedition. It costs 3,000 dollars to enter this unknown territory and to become a tiny dot within the largest cave in the world.

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