fbpx
 

Hang Son Doong & Mount Everest – Comparing the titans!

Photo: Mpora

If you’re an adventure buff and nature lover in general, you would have surely considered climbing Mount Everest at some point in your life or think of it as a bucket list experience. Given that Mount Everest, based in Nepal, is the highest mountain in the world and successfully summiting it is a once in a lifetime achievement of sorts, it is no surprise that its popularity has always been ‘sky high’ and will continue to be so in the future.

Similar to the hysteria about climbing Mount Everest, the world deserves to know more about exploring the underground titan, Hang Son Doong – the largest cave on planet Earth! Based inside the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in the heart of central Vietnam, the Son Doong Cave is a force to reckon with and has shocked the world with its colossal size and mysteries.

“Is it an …est?” these were the words asked by National Geographic to Cave Expert Howard Limbert in 2012 when prospecting a filming trip to Hang Son Doong. ‘..est’ meaning largest, longest, deepest, biggest or any other hyperbole. The answer was a yes, and with that yes it joined an esteemed club of locations on this planet. Hang Son Doong, fully explored just 10 years ago has more than a few similarities with another well known ‘est’, Mount Everest in Nepal. Adventurers, who have successfully trekked to Son Doong and explored it, call it one of the biggest adventure experiences and achievements in the world, at par with on top of Mount Everest!

In this article, we’ll be doing an interesting comparison and tell you how different or similar it is to be adventuring at the biggest and most amazing natural creations on Earth – Hang Son Doong and Mount Everest.

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Giants in their own world!

While Mount Everest touches the sky, Hang Son Doong is a realm of its own under the surface of the Earth.

Mount Everest

We all believe that until now, Mount Everest is the only mountain on Earth that ‘touches the sky’ – the world’s highest mountain above sea level at 8,848 m (29,035 feet). Mount Everest is as high as it gets and is hence known as the “top of the world” or Sagarmatha (in Nepali) translating into “forehead in the sky”. Discovered in 1841 by the then surveyor general of India, George Everest, in 1841 and named after him, Mount Everest went on to get measured to be the highest mountain on Earth back in 1856. It is human nature to be amused by and attracted to everything that has superlative attributes and it is the fact that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world that beckons passionate mountaineers and adventure seekers to attempt climbing it.

Photo: Outside Magazine

Photo: RMI Expeditions

Hang Son Doong

Hang Son Doong is well-known as the world’s largest cave located in Vietnam. The 6 KM long Hang Son Doong in Vietnamese means “mountain river cave” and was originally discovered back in 1990 by Ho Khanh, a local man from Phong Nha while he was out in the jungle and it was officially explored back in 2009 by cave experts from the British Cave Research Association (BCRA). After that, it was declared the largest cave on our planet.

While people around the world are aware of how tall the Mount Everest is, what makes exploring Hang Son Doong such an exciting prospect for adventure enthusiasts is the mysterious fact that the actual depth of this underground mammoth cave is still unknown according to the last diving expedition and just like Everest, Hang Son Doong is still growing and is actually much bigger than believed earlier.

Hang Son Doong

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Hang Son Doong

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Features that left the world speechless

Hang Son Doong and Mount Everest both have distinct yet astonishing features and have one thing in common; limestone!

Mount Everest

The rock that makes up the peak of Mount Everest was submerged under the Tethys Sea over 400 million years ago, which is a waterway that spans between Asia and the Indian subcontinent. At Mount Everest, the Qomolangma Formation is the highest section of rock on the summit pyramid and is formed with several layers of limestone, recrystallized dolomites, laminae and siltstone. With an unbelievable height of 8,848 meters above sea level, a fact rather less known about Mount Everest is that it is almost 60 million years old and the above mentioned formation start about 8.53 KM after climbing the mountain. The speed of winds on Mount Everest can reach up to 200 mph and it really is hard to know just how many thousands of tons of snow are accumulated on Mount Everest because of the unknowns like crevasses and every layer of snow depth, to the consistency and makeup of the snow that has fallen, and the number of avalanches that slide every year.

Photo: PEOPLE

Photo: Smithsonian Magazine

You will find that the slopes of Everest to its base are covered with beautiful glaciers and by flowing down the mountain and melting into the rivers of Tibet and Nepal, these ice sheets are truly a sight to behold. Given the incredible features of and conditions on the Mount Everest, it is very difficult to properly explore everything it holds as a part of its natural might.

Hang Son Doong

On the other hand, the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam, where Hang Son Doong is located, contains the oldest karst system in Asia that is 400 to 450 million years old. Hang Son Doong itself is relatively young, with the analysis of sediment dating it to be only 3 million years old. Formed on the edge of a fault zone, Hang Son Doong has been carved out by the mighty Rao Thuong River as it erodes away the limestone, forming the enormous tunnel beneath the Annamite Mountains.

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Giant sinkholes, known as dolines, have collapsed sometime up to 300,000 years ago, creating massive openings to the outside world. Cave pearls the size of baseballs have been formed by water dropping from the ceiling. The first expedition had been halted by an 80m high calcite barrier, which was jokingly dubbed the ‘Great Wall of Vietnam’. It wasn’t until their second expedition in 2010, when the Great Wall was finally climbed and the end of the passage was found, that Hang Son Doong was determined to be the largest cave in the world. At over 5km long, with sections reaching up to 200m tall and 150m wide, Hang Son Doong is large enough to house an entire New York City block, complete with 40 story skyscrapers. With a total measured volume of 38.5 million cubic meters, Son Doong Cave is so huge that it can comfortably accommodate every other cave in the world and has its own jungle, river and climate. Stalagmites up to 80m high have also been surveyed, the tallest ever encountered on the face of the planet.

Incredibly contrasting conditions

The weather and other conditions at Hang Son Doong and Mount Everest are quite the opposite of each other, for obvious reasons!

Mount Everest

Mount Everest has the most notorious and extreme weather conditions known to mountaineers around the world; as mentioned earlier, the winds can speed up to 200 miles per hour.

Besides the deadly wind force, the temperature at Mount Everest can drop as low as -60 degrees Celsius. Such ridiculously dangerous conditions are what make climbing Mount Everest so appealing to adrenaline seekers and adventure lovers throughout the globe. Unlike the mountains like Annapurna, Nanga Parbat and K2, Mount Everest isn’t extremely technical to climb, yet there have been over 300 deaths while attempting to summit this mountain over the years. The altitudes make it intensely challenging to breathe properly while on the arduous climb and hence, most climbers use oxygen cylinders and masks after crossing the 7000m mark.

Photo: Everest News

Photo: Open Letters Monthly

Photo: Peak Freaks

Hang Son Doong

Giant caves are usually the average annual temperature of the area they belong to and that is the same in the case of the Son Doong Cave. Between the two dolines inside Hang Son Doong, there is a chance of strong winds every now and then, the temperature inside the cave is mostly pleasant throughout the year from 22 to 24 degree Celsius. It might excite you to know that, Son Doong cave even has its own weather condition inside the cave that could balance itself no matter the outside weather might be. This makes it very suitable for exploration since the location of Son Doong plays a significant role in the humidity factor which you’re bound to feel, however, it is not extreme.

Till date, there have been no serious injuries recorded and zero losses of life inside Son Doong and the way the adventure expeditions are operated, there never will be any. Unlike while climbing Everest, you will not require an oxygen cylinder at any point during trekking to and caving inside Hang Son Doong.

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Son Doong Camping 1

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

The aspects of conservation

All natural assets in the world are suffering due to the dramatic climate change and human irresponsibility. What about Son Doong Cave and Mount Everest?

Mount Everest

The extreme weather conditions on Everest make it next to impossible for any tour operator, climber or even Sherpas. The climb itself is already intense while the works of regular widespread cleaning, bringing down the human bodies, along with other waste and garbage is unmanageable. Mount Everest earned the natural wonder distinction of the ‘world’s highest garbage dump’ due to this.

Photo: Rojak Daily

Photo: Rojak Daily

Dedicated and impressively fit team of volunteers have joined in and carried out the clean-ups on Mount Everest and three metric tons of garbage have been collected from the mountain within two weeks while the expected number is 10 tons after 45 days according to AFP, hundreds of thousand dollars spent on this campaign but the remaining garbage on the mountain is still enormous. It is truly unrealistic for Everest to be fully cleaned, due to the unforgiving conditions up there and global warming has also played a great role in changing the factors that affect climbing Mount Everest.

Hang Son Doong

On the contrary, the stable weather and general conditions inside the Son Doong Cave allow its official tour operator Oxalis Adventure to carry out environmentally conservative acts, preservation and cleaning on a very regular basis; the adventurers who join the tour to the cave are also given the convenience of disposing of any kind of waste or litter into trash bins.

There is no permanent infrastructure built inside the Son Doong Cave and before the expeditions come to a halt during the rainy season (from mid-Sept to Dec, due to a possibility of flash floods), everything is brought out. Routes are designed for adventurers to see the best out of the cave, but still in the most conservative way.

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

SonDoongFossil2

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Hang Son Doong remains untouched and well-preserved until now after 4 years of running expeditions. Trekking to and exploring Hang Son Doong is a journey that will make you feel in your heart, the quote: “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”

The adventures of a life time

Climbing the Mount Everest and trekking to Hang Son Doong to explore it are both the top bucket list adventures in the world.

Expeditions to Mount Everest

There are plenty of tour operators based in Nepal and India that conduct expeditions to the Everest Base Camp as well as Mount Everest itself. Climbing the tallest mountain in the world is no walk in the park and requires very meticulous planning, logistics and for the climbers to be extremely well prepared for absolutely anything while on the mountain.

Adventurers must spend adequate time adjusting to the cold environment by proper acclimatization and have enough knowledge about mountaineering equipment. The Everest Base Camp is located at an altitude of 5,300 meters above sea level facing the bottom of a huge icefall: Khumbu Icefall. Seasoned and highly experienced mountaineers can attempt climbing Everest alpine style, where no sherpas will be used at any point.

Photo: Highland Expeditions

Photo: Explorersweb

Photo: South Africa Adventures

everest-5

Photo: National Geographic

The month of May is considered to be the ideal month to climb Mount Everest and expeditions can take around 2 months to complete, with no guarantee of a successful summit. Most tour operators conduct sherpa-supported climbs; sherpas are the tough porters who help carry most of the equipment, food and other luggage and know the mountain like the back of their hand. Each year, about 60,000 climbers, guides and tourists visit the region of Everest and hundreds or thousands may attempt to climb it every year; Mount Everest has unfortunately been too commercialized and recently some photographs surfaced on social media that showed shocking human traffic jams while on the climb!  This has started to slowly avert thrill seekers as they look for a more peaceful experience.

Price:

·      USD 25,000 – USD 40,000/PAX (local operator from Nepal)

·      USD 45,000 and above/PAX (western tour operators)

Son Doong Expedition

Completely opposite to the expeditions to Mount Everest, the Son Doong Cave can be trekked to and explored with Oxalis Adventure, based in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park of Vietnam. Oxalis is also the only official tour operator in the whole world that is allowed to conduct adventure expeditions to Hang Son Doong.

The Son Doong Expedition is a journey to the wild and exploring Son Doong Cave requires more than 25 porters, safety advisors and guides. You will explore the entire length of Son DoongCave, Hang En Cave (third largest cave in the world), and visit Ban Doong ethnic minority village. Trekking straight into the depths of the world’s largest cave, which can fit a Boeing 747 flying through the largest passage, on the Son Doong Expedition, is an experience unlike any other. The porters will be carrying all your luggage to the campsites in the safest possible way and all you have to carry during the trek is a light bag with water and some personal items! All the adventurous activities that you will partake in, on the expedition are carried out under the supervision of the cave experts and professionally trained guides, safety assistants; Oxalis will also be providing you with all high quality safety equipment required for the adventure!

Son Doong Cave is a masterpiece of nature and while on the expedition, you will get to experience otherworldly landscapes, enormous stalagmites and statuesque stalactites – hanging from the ceiling and rising from the ground like an alien species. The real jungle inside the cave will amaze you in every way, while misty clouds envelope the scene and the fossil passage will give you the opportunity to understand the formation of this ancient limestone.

Photo: Explorersweb

Photo: Explorersweb

Hang En Campsite - Jason Speth

Photo: Jason Speth

Hang Son Doong

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

Photo: Explorersweb

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

The Son Doong Expedition spans out over a duration of 4 days and 3 nights; the difficulty of the Son Doong Expedition is much lower if compared with climbing Mount Everest, however is still a challenge even for people with proper fitness! You would require being physically active and having previous trekking experience in order to enjoy the expedition to the fullest. On this once-in-a lifetime journey, you will be camping inside the Son Doong Cave and also the Hang En cave, two of the biggest caves on the planet! Apart from the adventurous trekking, caving and camping, you would be treated to the most delicious food you can imagine which is amazingly and freshly prepared by the Oxalis chefs.

Contrary to the climbing experience at Mount Everest, you will not find any kind of human traffic at Son Doong Cave and that’s because the tour operator allows only a maximum of 10 people per group and has about 1000 visitors each year. Till May 2019, Hang Son Doong has been visited and successfully explored by 3120 people, compared to 4000 people who have climbed Everest.

Price: USD 3,000/PAX (including National Park fees, environmental fees)

Hang En Trails

Photo: Highland Expeditions

SonDoongCamp1-4

Photo: Ryan Deboodt

food-in-tou

Photo: Highland Expeditions

hang-en-camp2

Photo: Highland Expeditions

Despite the differences, Hang Son Doong and Mount Everest are both the top natural creations on Earth and by completing an expedition to either of these two giants; you would be achieving one of the biggest adventure feats in the world!

Oxalis Adventure Tours

ONE DAY TOURS

If you are seeking a taste of the caves and really don’t have enough time then we recommend a one-day cave and jungle trek. We currently have three tour options for you to select, each with a slightly different style and suitability.

• Phong Nha National Park 1-DayOur family adventure in the Phong Nha offers a great taste of untouched jungle and impressive wild caves. It is the easiest level of adventure but there is still 5km of trekking and 2km of caving, and optional swimming during warmer weather into one cave. It’s suitable for kids from 12 and above with good fitness, and so this makes for a great day for everyone! It costs VND 1,650,000 per person (USD 72).

• Tu Lan Experience – 1 DayThis is one of our original one-day tours and still one of the best adventures in Vietnam. This one-day tour includes rock scrambling, 50m swimming through a wild river-cave, and up to 9 km of trekking through the lush jungles. You will also strap yourself in for a 15m descent down a ladder. It costs VND 1,800,000 (USD 78) per person.

• Hang Tien Discovery – 1 DayThis one-day tour is perfect for trekking enthusiasts eager to see the largest cave of Tu Lan but without time for the two-day experience. Hang Tien is a dry cave so no swimming required, but still includes up to 4km of trekking through mostly flat jungle and about 500m exploring this incredible cave that will no doubt impress with its grandeur. It costs VND 2,000,000 per person (USD 87).

TWO DAY TOURS

Our most popular cave adventures start from two-days providing an immersive jungle and caving adventure, each targeting a slightly different kind of adventure-seeker, or perfect for those who want to combine a couple of tours to see different caves and areas on one trip to Phong Nha.

• Tu Lan Cave Encounter – 2 DaysOur most popular tour exploring the famous jungle area of Tu Lan. On this overnight camping excursion, you will trek through a number of different dry caves, swim up to 500m through a couple of river caves, witness outstanding cascading waterfalls underground as featured in National Geographic, and spend the night at our jungle camp beside a gorgeous waterfall. It includes 12km of trekking and 3km of caving in total and is for those with a good adventurous spirit. It costs VND 5,500,000 per person (USD 239).

• Hang En Cave Adventure – 2 DaysFor two days, this is our best-value-for-money tour that includes one of the most jaw-dropping natural landscapes you will see in this lifetime. This cave is considered the second largest cave in Vietnam and third largest in the World, and it also makes up one night of the original five-day Son Doong Cave Expedition being so close to the largest cave in the world. It includes visiting Ban Doong Ethnic Village, located in the jungle, and a magnificent campsite on a sandy beach inside the cave. It includes 22km of jungle trekking at times quite rocky, multiple knee-deep river crossings, and elevation change of 400m (the ‘hill’ you won’t forget), and 4km of caving. This is a level 3 adventure on a scale of 1 to 6. It costs VND 7,600,000 per person (USD 330).

• Hang Tien Endeavor – 2 DaysA two-day trek into the jungle to see the largest dry cave of the Tu Lan area, exploring 5.5km of this truly stunning cave, with a variety of karst formations. This 13km trek is suitable for those not too keen on cave swimming or too many hills, but still up for an adventure. This is a level 4 adventure between 1 and 6, with 6 being the most challenging. It costs VND 6,500,000 per person (USD 283).

• Hang Va Expedition – 2 DaysA technically challenging, but equally rewarding two-day caving adventure in the heart of Phong Nha National Park. This tour takes you deep into the jungle to one of the most spectacular river-caves, with formations not seen anywhere else in the world! It involves rock scrambling, wading through an underground river, bouldering and rope-traversing within the cave, to reach the rarest tower cone formations. This involves quite a lot of technical work due to safety, but is not overly difficult, it includes 10km of trekking and 3 km of caving.  This is a level 4 adventure, with 6 being the highest. It costs VND 8,000,000 per person (USD 348).

THREE-DAY TOURS

Now, if you really want to increase the adventure and soak up the wild jungle of Vietnam, with plenty of time to relax and enjoy the area, we highly recommend a three-day caving tour of our Tu Lan or Hang Tien.

• Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer – 3 DaysThis tour incorporates the very best of Tu Lan with two different jungle campsites besides stunning waterfalls, 3km of cave exploring through a number of caves, 1km of cave swimming and visiting some additional areas not included on our shorter experiences. Our three-day tour is very popular and tends to be booked out so get in quick to enjoy this thrilling jungle adventure. It includes 17 km of jungle trekking and with quite a bit of swimming you will need to have a good level of fitness. It is not for the faint-hearted, but still only considered level 3 adventure level compared to level 4 of the Hang Tien 3-day tour. It costs VND 8,000,000 per person (USD 348).

• Hang Tien Exploration – 3 DaysThis three-day tour stands out for combining a taste of Tu Lan with some river cave swimming, before crossing a mountain range to reach the valley for Hang Tien – the most astounding dry caves in the region, where you will enjoy trekking, bouldering over various rocky terrains to witnessing breathtaking patterned calcite walls & ceilings of Hang Tien. It’s challenging and definitely more suited to adventure enthusiasts who have trekking experience and prefer more challenging routes. It includes a total of 22km of trekking, 6.5 km of caving and an elevation change of 150m over one particular hillside. You will get wet, you will be challenged, but you will not be disappointed. Hang Tien is located adjacent to the Tu Lan area so you will enjoy the best of both worlds – a level 4 adventure out of 6 adventure levels. It costs VND 8,500,000 per person (USD 370).

FOUR & FIVE-DAY TOURS

For those looking for the ultimate adventure experience in Vietnam, and thriving for the real grand expedition of the world, you should opt for these 4-day journeys to explore the entire cave system of Tu Lan and the largest cave on Earth

• Tu Lan Expedition – 4 DaysYou will also explore all of the extraordinary caves in Tu Lan, including Kim Cave and Secret Cave that boasts phenomenal natural falls and karst formations inside these two unbelievable river caves. Complete a trek through Hang Tien Cave – famed for its vastness and magnificent formations. Our secluded jungle campsites are spectacular and mostly different from those visited on our shorter treks in the same region. This is a perfect alternative expedition for those who are unable to do Son Doong Expedition, still it’s challenging and not recommended for those without experience. It includes an additional night at Chay Lap Farmstay before the tour to ensure you are well rested and ready to depart early the following day. Level 5 on our 6 adventure levels. It includes 30km of jungle trekking, 5 km of caving, about 800m swimming through caves and one abseil in a cave in the pitch black – highly adventurous! It costs VND 15,000,000 per person (USD 652).

• Son Doong Expedition – 4 DaysBy now you would have seen some pictures of Son Doong Cave, and even they don’t do it justice. The record-breaking Son Doong Cave is hands-down one of the most stunning places on this planet Earth. The expedition is tough, but not too difficult so long as you have a strong resolve to achieve. It is surely one of the newest wonders of the world. Son Doong is not just another cave tour – it is life-changing to say the least. It includes 25km of trekking, 9 km caving including rope climbs, and the 90m ascent of the Great Wall of Vietnam using a ladder, elevation change of 400m and many river crossings inside and outside the cave. Level 6 on our adventure levels. It costs VND 69,800,000 per person (USD 3000).

STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?  Visit our FAQs section where we have a lot of answers for your questions and concerns. https://oxalis.com.vn/faq-general/

WANT TO SEE VIDEOS OF OUR TOURS? Visit our youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/OxalisAdventurTours

WANT TO CHAT LIVE WITH OUR ADVENTURE CONSULTANT? Please look at the green icon at the right corner on your screen below to talk to our Adventure Consultant.