This enormous cavern, the largest in the world, contains one of the planet’s oldest, most pristine ecosystems and is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular sights on earth.
It was only explored properly in 2009, with the help of the British Caving Association, and visitor numbers are limited to only 500 people a year. Oxalis, a Vietnamese adventure travel company, is the only operator to offer trips into the caves. It’s 2017 cave tours sold out within 20 hours last summer.
Son Doong lies beneath Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, where an influx of tourism could give a much-needed boost to the fledgling local economy.
But there are those who, aware of the cave’s importance, urge that mass tourism, especially unregulated mass tourism, be kept away.
Averie Timm, managing editor at LA’s RYOT journalism agency, helped make a documentary about the cave and what makes it unique in February.
“Because of the limited amount of permits that are granted per year, only our photographer – Jason Speth – was able to enter the cave,” she said. “The whole area is incredible, there’s really nowhere in the world quite like it.”
As the cave was only discovered eight years ago, very few people have experienced it.
“The area the cave sits within is significant in its own right,” she explained. “Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park has been recognized twice by Unesco as a world heritage site for its biodiversity and geodiversity. The province of Quang Binh, also happens to be the most heavily bombed place on earth [thanks to the Vietnam War].”
As she and other environmentalists see it, the cave is at an important crossroads.
“We can either vow to protect the cave or we can allow corporate interests to ultimately pave the way for destroying it,” she added.
While the band of film-makers were visiting the cave, they witnessed a surveyor come to inquire about the potential for a cable car.
“We see this as a trend in Vietnam and elsewhere around the world right now,” Ms Timm continued. “Mass tourism encroaching on world wonders. We’ve seen this happen at Machu Picchu and in the Galapagos Islands.
“In Vietnam, they’ve already built a cable car to the top of Mt. Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina.
“Imagine for a second if a cable car was built to the top of Mount Everest. If we don’t work to protect these natural wonders by scaling tourism sustainably, we run the risk of ruining them for future generations.”
Only the group’s photographer was able to visit the cave, where he took these amazing images.
Vietnamese authorities have denied that a cable car will be built. Tran Tien Dung, vice chairman of Quang Binh provincial government, reportedly told VnExpress in January that the province has no plans to build a cable car into the cave.
Nguyen Van Ky, deputy director of the provincial tourism department, said it is only calling for investors to look into cable car projects around the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park.