Untouched for millions of years, the largest cave in the world was hidden in the dense jungle. Coincidence contributed to the discovery of this unique and completely unique place. The second time, however, it was possible to find it only after ten years of painstaking searching. Today, even tourists can admire this miracle of nature with incredible karst pearls with their own eyes.
If it wasn’t thundering then
The story of an amazing discovery begins in 1990 in Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. A local citizen, Mr. Ho Khanh was collecting wood there. Suddenly it started to thunder. He was looking for a place to hide from the storm and the downpour and saw an opening in the limestone rock. Clouds rolled out of it, and a roaring river could be heard from within. When he went inside, he found himself in a cave. At that time, he had no idea that he had found the entrance to the largest cave on our planet and what beauties it hides. When he returned home, he put his hiding place out of his mind.
Since 1992, a speleological team led by the famous caver Howard Limbert of the British Cave Research Association has been searching for new caves in the area of the national park. Khanh recalled the memories of hiding in the cave. He told the cavemen about it in broken English and drew pictures of the entrance, the clouds and the river. This assured the team that there must be a large cave there. They wanted Khanh to show them the cave. But he could not remember where exactly he was hiding at that time. He set out to find the cave. He wandered the jungle alone for a week. He did not find the entrance to the cave deep in the tropical forests again.
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However, the persistent Khanh did not give up. He found the entrance to the cave only in 2008 after years of painstaking searching. When Limbert’s team returned to Vietnam in 2009, Khahn led them to the cave opening. “When we entered the cave during our first survey in 2009, we had no idea that we had discovered the largest cave in the world,” Limbert said in an interview with AccuWeather. “However, we realized that it was very different from all the other caves we had explored before. After completing the survey, it became clear that it is the largest in the world. The initial survey was long and demanding, the first team spent 22 hours surveying and mapping the cave,” Limbert said. The cave was named Son Doong.
Son Doong – Garden of Eden
The main chamber of the ancient cave is at least 15 kilometers long and 100 meters wide. The highest point of the ceiling reaches a height of 245 meters (38 million m³). There are two depressions that were created thousands of years ago when the ceiling collapsed. Sunlight penetrates parts of the cave from “skylights” at a height of 650 meters. Over the years, plant seeds and soil particles got inside them, and the foot of the depressions was thus covered by a jungle of countless rare plants. Some are up to 50 meters high. The cave is home to diverse species of fauna and flora. Birds, beetles, snakes, frogs and small mammals live here. Limbert’s team also discovered seven new species of animals here – white fish, white centipedes up to a meter long, and white spiders. In addition to the living wonders of nature, there are beautiful karst pearls. Stalagmites and other unique rock formations and phenomena, labyrinths, tunnels, rivers and deep lakes. A 400 million year old coral fossil was also discovered. In some parts of the cave there is complete darkness.
The cave has its own weather. There is a constant temperature of around 22 °C. Absolutely unique and perhaps the most impressive are the clouds. They are formed by the evaporation of water when heat enters the cave through one of the four main openings. “In the winter months the cave is cloudless,” Limbert said. “It’s crystal clear. During this time, the temperature inside the cave is higher than outside.” As the cloud rises to the ceiling, it precipitates into droplets and begins to “rain”. According to Limbert, this is a very rare phenomenon in caves. In addition, due to the equalization of external and internal pressure, air flows here, so that the wind blows or even blows here. “Son Doong is truly a unique place on this planet,” Limbert said “… it’s really an incredible experience.”
An experience for adventurers
Currently, the only company that has permission to do so is the “adventure” tour of the cave – Oxalis Adventure. Even according to Limbert, it is not “a walk in the park and requires a certain level of fitness and climbing experience”. Even so, there is unprecedented interest from tourists from all over the world to visit this natural wonder. And since, due to the protection of the cave, a maximum of a thousand interested people are allowed to enter each year, there is a long “waiting list” to visit it. During the expedition, visitors will walk through the main corridor over four days. They sleep in tents, accompanied by porters, guides and experts, including those who have explored the cave. The “trip” costs $3,000. The area is now the most popular tourist destination in Vietnam. (see video)
Exploration of Son Doong continues and new labyrinths and underwater spaces are always being discovered.
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Sources: www.gismeteo.com, www.accuweather.com