Son Doong Cave from Word Viet Nam



Apr, 2017

Into the Jungle

Unless you’re wealthy enough to pay for a helicopter to take you part of the way, trips to Son Doong start with a 10km jungle hike to Hang En or Swallow Cave. The first kilometre takes you 400m down the side of a mountain into a valley and then through Ban Doong Village, home of the ethnic Bru-Van Kieu. From there you follow the river until you reach Hang En. It’s a pleasant hike, and after clambering over rocks you find yourself on a sand beach surrounded by a lake. It’s here that you camp the first night with an orchestra of hundreds of thousands of swallows chirping away above. They fly in at dusk, hook themselves to the ceiling of the cave, then leave at dawn. It’s surreal.

Day two and we trek to the other side of the cave and then along the river and through more jungle to the entrance of Son Doong. After lunch, ropes attached, we descend into the gloom of Son Doong, into this alien world that has formed over millions of years. Through the darkness, we head towards Camp 1 and then above see the most astonishing sight, the first sinkhole, or doline. At some point in this cavern’s history the ceiling of the cave collapsed, diverting the river and letting light in from above. Like a hollowed-out volcano there is now a sparse jungle in its centre. We stop, jaws open in astonishment and we pinch ourselves. We’re in a jungle in a cave. A jungle inside not just any cave. We’re in a jungle in the world’s largest cave.

When we see the second doline the following day we’re even more astonished. The jungle here is thick and coloured an emerald green, so green it has a different light to it, a light I’ve never seen before. When this doline was discovered it was supposed to be called The Garden of Eden, but somehow the name got written down wrong. Instead, Eden was replaced by Edam, the Dutch cheese, and the name has stuck.

Opposites Attract

During the trip you are cut off from civilization. No phone. No social media. No email. No news of the outside world. No nothing. This is life as it once was before communications invaded every part of our existence.

Instead, on the breaks between hikes, between scrambling down rocks or climbing up steep banks with ropes or wading through rivers, we talk. Talk about ourselves, find out about the other people in our group, immerse ourselves in conversation.

There are 10 people doing the tour, from diverse backgrounds. Me, two bankers, a vet and his wife who teaches movement, a well-known Vietnamese lawyer and his partner who has vertigo and is claustrophobic (for her the challenge is conquering her fears), a German civil engineer, a lawyer turned risk assessor and a Viet Kieu from Australia. In support is our guide, Bamboo, Trevor Wailes, five safety assistants and a team of chefs and porters. 35 people in all. It is a group who would not normally interact or come in contact with one other, and yet we bond.

Much of the bonding takes place at night around the dinner table and over glasses of whisky (we brought our own with us) and rice wine. And within a couple of days the common joke revolves around Donald Trump. Would he be assassinated while we are cut off from civilization? And would we hear of it? We keep on asking the question, and then someone says: “If it does happen, well, there’s a satellite phone with us for emergencies. Surely our guide will let us know.”

Fortunately for the present administration in the White House, Donald Trump survives the trip. So do we.

Journey’s End

It’s the final day and we’re heading out of the jungle towards the main road. Three-and-a-half years before when I’d done the trip to Hang En, we’d taken the same route, but I’d been out of shape and was struggling with an old sporting injury to my right knee. It was fine until the final ascent when we had to climb 400m. After 50m my right knee collapsed. So I put my weight on the left. 50m further on, the left knee went, too. I ended up crawling to the top on all fours. It was a wake-up call.

This time I am much fitter and am determined to get up in one piece.

I manage it, but it is tough. My calves scream with pain and my lower back aches from the camera equipment I am carrying. So, I go 50 steps or so, stop for five or 10 seconds to catch my breath, and continue. I make it to the top in one piece, a beer awaiting me on my arrival.

Sitting on the bus back to Phong Nha, we are quiet. The journey has ended but the memory and the visions of that surreal world will last forever.

Suddenly my phone goes beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. All those missed messages are coming in.

We’re back in civilization.

From Nick Ross, WordVietnam

For tour information, please find out here!

Oxalis Adventure 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).


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).


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).


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/

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