In 2010, Howard and Debbie Limbert began exploring Hand Son Doong (Mountain River Cave) after its original discovery in 1990 by Vietnamese farmer Ho Khanh. The cave is 200m high in places (Boeing B747 size!) and over 5km long.
On 2nd July 2018, I flew to Dong Hoi in central Vietnam and was transported to Oxalis HQ at Phong Nha in the Ke Bang National Park. Rumours that our guides had gone to assist in the Thai rescue proved unfounded.
Our team of ten was briefed by safety expert, Watto and Vietnamese guide Bao.
On 5th July we reached the trailhead on Ho Chi Minh highway for a one hour downhill trek through the shady forest then two hours in full, sweltering heat along the river. Watto taught us to cool down by dipping our hats in the river and cascading water over our faces.
We reached Hang En cave entrance, trekked for half an hour then crossed the river by raft to the campsite. Then I enjoyed a cooling swim in the river.
On 6th July, we trekked through Hang En cave to its huge, spectacular exit, scrambled along the river valley, up a steep hill then a ladder descent into Hang Son Doong.
After two river crossings, we reached the first campsite in Hang Son Doong, saw the rugose corals and swam in a cool, deep underground rock pool.
From Camp 1, we travelled across the first doline “watching out for dinosaurs” and marvelled at the green gours and “wedding cake”. Returning to daylight in the second doline, we entered the “Garden of Edam” en route to the second campsite.
On 8th July we climbed the 90m “Great Wall of Vietnam” pioneered by Sweeney and passed flowstone, cave pearls and calcited deer bones to emerge in the jungle again. After a hot, downhill scramble, cold beers were greatly appreciated by the roadside.
I also visited Phong Nha showcave by boat, Paradise Cave by easy rider and Dark Cave by 400m zip wire, swimming and kayaking. A final visit to Halong Bay and its tower karst islands completed my tour.