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Review of Son Doong Cave

Son Doong Cave
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: Son Doong Cave is in the heart of the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh province. This incredible cave was only explored in 2009/2010 by the British Cave Research Association. Situated in the deep jungle, the entrance to the cave was found by a local jungle man Mr Ho Khanh. Son Doong Cave is now the largest cave in the world and has understandably been the attention of many film companies such as the BBC, National Geographic, Japanese and Brazilian teams. It also featured in National Geographic Magazine in 2011. Son Doong cave is unlike any other caves on the planet. Inside this giant cave are two huge daylight windows which allows the light to enter many parts of the cave. At the base of these windows are large jungles which use the available light and so trees up to 30m tall are present. But Son Doong is not only about its immense size, the cave has amazing examples of some of the best speleothems in the world. Giant stalagmites up to 80m high and enormous rimstone pools are present throughout the cave. There are also excellent examples of giant cave pearls and a newly discovered side passage is full of large fossils over 300 million years old. As well as rare species of plants in the cave a number of new species of animals have recently been discovered. Monkeys, hornbills and flying foxes have all been seen in the jungle section of the caves.
Useful Information: Activities for older children
Reviewed 5 May 2018

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.

3  Thank Jon S
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 28 April 2018

This is an email I sent the Soong Dong represenative after she asked me how my trip went.
As far as the cave and all of the nature that I I experienced whilst on the expedition those aspects were phenomenal! I just had an issue with the amount of cigarette smoking there was. We had one smoker in our group, 1 out of 10! And he was a chain smoker. Any time we stopped for a break he was smoking. Before and after dinner or lunch or any type of break he was smoking, In the outside bush this was annoying but not horrible. But inside the caves, it was terrible as the smoke seemed to linger all around us! All of us. Cigarette smoke including second hand smoke has been shown to cause cancer plus I am super sensitive to it, I was breaking out in hives the entire trip! Now not only did he smoke, but almost if not all of the porters did as well! Which made it very hard to escape the toxic smell and affects! Being that we were roped off to certain areas. I pretty much spent the entire time in camp in my tent unable to enjoy the company of anyone outside the tent! As I did not want to inhale the cigarette smoke. And inside my tent I was still not 100% protected from it! I paid 3 grand for a trip that I felt as if my lungs were on fire the entire time.
Which leaves me to my second point! The food is cooked with propane! And the porters are not very far from the tanks at all whilst they are smoking! This is not only a fire hazard but also an explosive hazard! I made it known to Watter and 7 on numerous occasions that I wish I could enjoy just a moment in camp and or resting periods without having to inhale cigarette smoke! And no one ever mentioned it to the smokers, ever! I am very upset that I spent that amount of money on something that I could not enjoy due to other people’s bad habits!
So, if I had known that their was not a non smoking stipulation on the expedition, or at the very least a designated area far away from the non smokers I would not have went, period! That is why I am writing this review, as to give the non smokers out there a heads up! You might think, now how bad could the cigarette smoke be in the largest cave in the world? Well, when you have twenty porters smoking here and there not even in one area or at the same time, on the camp periphery, (Which you are not allowed to go beyond) and a guest smoking at the one gathering area that they provide at each camp site, it can be very overwhelming. As I mentioned the smoke lingers inside a cave it does not dissipate, I am sure their is some scientific reason for this!

26  Thank greeneyedgrl1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 April 2018

Don't think twice - just do it. This was such an incredible experience. Oxalis is such an incredible company in terms of organization, community involvement, and overall quality of the expeditions. Words can't really capture the immensity of Son Doong so I'm not even going to try. All I can say is that it's unlike anything you've ever experienced. The food is phenomenal, the guides and porters are incredibly kind and knowledgable, and the location can't be beat.

In terms of shoes, we went with La Sportiva TX-3 Approach. Don't get the Solomons... a few people had them and they had terrible grip. The Five-Tens seemed ok (ordered a pair of them as well) but they're totally impractical for anything but this cave experience. The La Sportiva's are a great hiking shoe in general, so I'll be using them regularly. Otherwise I'd say follow the packing list Oxalis provides and you're be completely prepared.

1  Thank Ryan M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 March 2018

By now, all these other reviews and photos make clear the surreal experience and wonder when visiting Son Doong. There's nothing like it. I likewise had an excellent experience with the coordination and professionalism of Oxalis. So for the review, I'll just focus on a few things I wish I knew before going, which will hopefully help others make a good decision.

1) 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.

The hike is now 4 days/3 nights and perhaps the old 5 and 6-day versions were also harder. The new challenge on the 4-day version is climbing the "Great Wall of Vietnam." We did find this to be the most difficult segment but you're harnessed up, guides are helping to pull somewhat on the difficult parts and it's over really quickly. It's not an upper body strength thing. You're leaning back and still using your legs (I guess you use your arms a little bit to pull but it's less effort than 10 pull ups).

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.

Our guides suggested that people turning back on the first day was extremely rare and that they mostly self selected after things like getting really bad blisters or injuries. Get the shoes they suggest, wool socks, treat blisters quickly, and rely on their training advice (which is easy stuff, like doing 10 km day hikes a handful of times before coming) and this will be no problem.

2) 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.

3) The right equipment and packing makes a huge difference. Get the shoes they recommend and the socks they recommend. So glad we did. And for what you actually pack, carry the absolute minimum yourself. We had $10 backpacks from amazon that fit nothing but our helmet, camera, tripod and Oxalis-provided water bottle. That's it and we never felt we needed something during the day. Porters carry the rest. Some people carried more serious, large bulky bags and I never observed what benefit came from doing that. Get quick-dry stuff for clothing and plan to wear most of it for multiple days of the four day hike. Also, they claim there is a "dry" day on day three, but even if you're not actually knee deep in water, it's still really muddy so we didn't see a benefit to another pair of shoes.

4) If you have trouble on the rocky stuff, find one of the guides who's especially attentive and stick behind that guy. To be clear, all of the guides are extremely helpful when you ask and everyone knows where guests have trouble and are attentive to those times. But some of the safety guides were definitely more the type to turn around every couple steps and just make sure you were getting it OK. During those times, I found the hiking much easier than when I was "keeping up" and trying to figure it out on my own.

5) It's definitely worth the money, but if you're really money constrained, there are better things to spend it on. $3,000 per person is a big deal to us. But ultimately we won't miss it in six months, while we'll be keeping this experience for forever. However, if I were in my early 20s and that $3,000 could be used for this or, say, another two months in Vietnam, I would go for the latter. The four days are unique, amazing and one-in-a-lifetime but not worth going into debt or sacrificing all those other once-in-a-lifetime experiences you can have with $3k when you're young and poor.

Anyway, a lot more words than I intended, but hope it helps. Don't let the physical stuff psych you out and go!

31  Thank Joseph L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 7 December 2017

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.

The Journey: the Cave is Humongous. I mean really Humongous. No claustrophobia here. The cave is expansive and full of wonders. The views from everywhere are breathtaking. Be prepared for the incredible photo opportunities. The guides know all of them and will help you take great photos. Make friends with those with the better cameras - and find a way to bring a good one yourself - well worth it. Ask questions and learn the history of the cave. Learn about Dolines, Cave Pearls, Flying Foxes, Swift Birds, Stalagtites and Stalagmites. Be prepared to be fascinated at every turn.

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.

Recommendation - take a lot of photos of the hike itself - not just the scenery of the cave. We didn't and regret it. Especially the hike out of the cave to the final pick up point; the trail was remarkable and indescribable - afterwards you'll never be able to explain just what you accomplished without the photos of the journey itself.

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.

21  Thank Paul C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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