Son Doong: The World’s Largest Cave System, Open for Public Tours in 2014
Earlier this year, a ginormous underground cave system has opened up for public spelunking tours in Vietnam. Running over 5.5 miles in total combined length, the cave has a jungle thriving within its depths and a lively river gushing through its interior. It’s deep enough to house a 40-story skyscraper within its walls; however, for some odd reason or another, nobody in Vietnam had noticed this staggering natural phenomenon until 4 years ago, when scientists formally claimed the discovery of the “Son Doong Cave,” and started exploring it to gather scientific data and catalogue new plant and insect species uniquely native to this vast underground cave system.
Although Son Doong is purported to be the overall largest cave known to man as of today, other caves scattered across America and Eurasia hold impressive titles as well. (The Mammoth Cave in Brownsville, Kentucky currently holds the title for longest cave in the world with a collective tunnel length of 400 miles, and the Krubera Cave in the nation of Georgia currently holds the title for deepest cave).
Surprisingly, Son Doong was actually first discovered by a local Vietnamese jungle man back in 1991, but the opening he came across had such a sheer drop that he and other locals never bothered to explore the massive cave further. Son Doong was first entered in late 2009 by British spelunkers (at least, according to public news agencies), and thus the cave was really only “re-discovered” 4 years ago by the Western world. Natives of the region must have stumbled upon this marvelous natural wonder thousands of times before, but never dared to venture into its depths.
The discovery of Son Doong by the Western world brings many speculative questions to the forefront of our scientific community–how many undiscovered caves does the world still hold? How many inaccessible underwater grottos and gigantic subterranean tunnel systems may exist out of sight at the bottom of Earth’s oceans? These are all truly intriguing and riveting questions that at once seem quite daunting yet inexplicably exciting to fathom about.
Currently, a European-Vietnamese tour company named Oxalis is running trial tours of Son Doong and accepting sign-ups for public 6-day tours to take place next year. The price is rather hefty though, at $3,000 per adult tour–but if rappelling 80 meters down a sheer cliff into the depths of the largest cave in the world seems like an irresistible adventure to you, then the price for the experience may very well be worth it.
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Images courtesy of National Geographic & Sam Templar