Difficulty of Son Doong Cave Trek
Son Doong Cave is considered a level 6 on the list of Oxalis Adventure Level. That being the highest level of difficulty. However, with that said if you keep a regular fitness routine at home you should be able to complete the trek, and it is as much a mental challenge that requires stamina and determination.
If you are a bit slower then the rest of the group, don’t worry you will not be turned around. We do have a whole team of safety experts and guides to assist you with your footing along the way. Of course, this is within reason and our guides should not be relied upon for the entire trip.
To give you a complete perspective we have lifted a number of reviews from Trip Advisor commenting on the difficulty of the trek, which may or may not make it easier for you!
“Amazing experience and don’t let the physical stuff scare you” – Joseph L (mid 30s male)
For those who are reasonably fit, and perhaps even those who do not exercise a few times a week, this is not that difficult a trek in terms of cardio. Some of the other posters here make it sound like hiking Son Doong is akin to Army basic training or something. I assure you it is not. Look at Oxalis’ actual physical checklist. You’ll see things such as “Can you climb six flights of stairs without stopping or getting out of breath?” or “Can you easily climb over a wall the height of your waist?” I found that relatively modest amount of fitness to be adequate for our good-weather trip (muddy but no rain. low 90s in daytime but cool at night and cool in cave). I bet doing it in, say, August is more difficult.
Some perspective on us…mid-30s. Longest recent one-day trek we had done before this was 20km. Longest recent multi-day trek we had done was Inca Trail. Not overweight but not hitting the gym every day either. We did not find the most difficult day on Son Doong to come close to the effort of that one-day hike or to the most difficult day on the Inca Trail. There were a couple older less fit (and a bunch of older and younger, more fit) people than us on the trail. Everyone seemed to make it through comfortably. It’s not a race and when you get tired or winded, you stop.
The more-unique physical challenge is the type of terrain, balance, and mental focus required. The cardio is easy, but this is one hike where it feels like you could break an ankle on almost every step. Extremely sharp rocks that you sometimes must balance on. Everything is slippery. Always searching for handholds. Often getting on your knees or butt to keep from falling over. And doing that for five hours or whatever straight a day.
That was the challenging part for us. It was just mentally exhausting after a while to always be worried about making the right step. The guides and safety guides (probably more than one for every two tourists) are always there to help.
“Another world” – T4tillerman (mid-50s woman average fitness)
You must be very fit and have great stamina. This is not an easy trip. It. Is. A. Challenge! For 5 days you will be trekking through the jungle in extreme heat and humidity, climbing over slippery, sharp rocks in near dark and climbing down again, crossing too many rivers to count both above and below ground and dealing with elements foreign to most of us. The over 50 kilometres are not easy ones.
You will be camping and cannot expect to be clean, dry or particularly comfortable in this world. Be honest about your abilities and realistic about physical comfort in these conditions. Good hydration is not just extremely important; it is vital! Drink and then drink some more. Do not worry about having to urinate, you will sweat it out. I averaged 3 litres a day on the trail and drank a lot in camp.
Take every piece of advice Oxalis gives you seriously. They know what they are talking about. You are in good hands.
Just Unbelievable. Needs to be Experienced as it can Hardly be Described! – Kim J (good fitness)
Beforehand, I was slightly worried that the hot climate would be an issue for me – knowing that I get overheated and dehydrated easily in hot tropical weather. I filled my 1-l water bottle each morning with ORS powder to keep hydrated well which was very helpful, and luckily inside the cave the temperature dropped somewhat to a more agreeable level.
The physical activity itself was not an issue for any of our tour members; I think that with reasonable fitness and relatively strong legs the tour is very doable. We trained with a few multiday mountain tracks over two months prior to the tour and this was sufficient for us. The most strenuous activity of the whole tour I’d say is climbing the great wall at the end, however this is quite doable too since it requires only about 5-10 minutes of your strength ;-). Ah man just writing this review makes me want to go again!
Book It. Now. – Jon S (40s male average fitness)
If you’re not sure whether you want to do this, but you like any of: hiking, camping, one-of-a-kind experiences. Then just do it. You don’t need to be an elite athlete, you just need to be in reasonable shape. If you work out and regularly do physical activity and are in decent shape, you’ll be fine. The cave is absolutely amazing, the experience is unique, and you will not regret it.
Great for your Adventure Vacation! – Gazbostock (UK)
Guides and Staff: When we arrived, our guide, Vu actually greeted us at the airport to makes sure we made it okay. We had the afternoon to relax (the Oxalis headquarters is right next to a river where we went kayaking!) before the evening safety briefing. Vu and our safety expert Deb were excellent at giving us all the information we needed, even checking our shoes to make sure they would be appropriate for the trek. Vu is knowledgeable, professional, and hilarious in a very dry, British kind of way. Your porters and safety assistants are the most badass people you’ll meet; tip them well.
Physical Challenge: This tour is VERY physically demanding. That being said, people of all ages and body types do this tour because it is said that even the fittest crossfitters are not always the ones who do the best here. It’s the terrain that people are not used to, and being a gym rat does not necessarily prepare you for it. But you are accompanied by AWESOME safety assistants who will sometimes literally hold your hand through the hardest parts. Just make sure you’re flexible (you’ll be doing a lot of reaching for the next ledge), that your knees are healthy, and that you’ve got good mental endurance. (That last day feels so long.
Drop Whatever You Are Doing – Go To Son Doong Cave Now!!!!!! – Paul C (experienced trekking)
Okay everyone, this should be #1 on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever your thoughts, expectations, or concept of how incredible this experience may be, it will be exceeded ten-fold. This is truly one in a once in a lifetime experience that very few will have the chance to experience. The Cave is truly spectacular. The pictures you can research on the WEB are incredible but pale in comparison to being there. We had Deb and Ken as our guides. Not only did they make the challenging journey a joy, but were beyond knowledgeable of everything Son Doong. The entire safety staff was there to assist whenever needed. The entire support crew, from porters to cooks provided for any and every need you could possibly think of. The food, or should I say “cuisine” was delicious and plentiful.
Hints: follow all preparation and equipment recommendations. Do not fool around or get “cheap” or overly frugal. Footwear is by far the most important item on the list – take it seriously. If you have any questions or concerns email Mo (her assistance is invaluable – love her). Travel light and lightweight – get quality “stuff”. For me practicing Bouldering is much more valuable than technical climbing. Cardio – the Stairmaster will not only get in condition but build strength as well – use it often. Best recommendation I have is getting some brand of electrolyte tablets – we used Hammar brand. The powders are not practical in the cave. The tablets were fantastic and easy.
Challenges: Okay I will be honest I had “Great Wall” anxiety from the moment I signed up and paid. There was a part of me that was hoping the cave would be closed or flooded when I arrived because in general I don’t like heights and was “concerned”. Let me put your fears aside. You can and will be able to climb the Great Wall of Vietnam. The three days leading up to it will 100% prepare you to accomplish it. The guides are experts and supportive. It happens so quick you’ll forget about your worries before you have time to worry.
This is truly a once in a lifetime journey – we’ve done a lot of famous hike – Machu Picchu, etc. – this is by far the most unusual exciting adventure we’ve ever done. I could not recommend anything more to the adventure traveler. Although the cost may seem “pricey” – the truth is that it is remarkably inexpensive for what you get and the lasting memories it will leave.