Why Son Doong cave tour priced at $3,000 a person?

By Lan Huong   January 13, 2022 | 02:29 am PT
Why Son Doong cave tour priced at $3,000 a person?
A tourist takes a boat across a river inside Son Doong Cave in Quang Binh Province, 2021. Photo by Ngo Tran Hai An
A four-day expedition into Son Doong, the world's largest natural cave, is one of the top global bucket list adventures as hailed by travel magazines, though the journey is strictly for rich travelers.

Before the Covid pandemic hit the country in early 2020, a four-day-three-night expedition to Son Doong Cave in the central province of Quang Binh cost VND69.8 million (around $3,000), with Oxalis the only company licensed to bring tourists through Son Doong.

Son Doong's main passage is 3.1 miles long, 660 feet high and 490 feet wide. "The cavern is big enough to fit a Boeing 747 with room to spare," New York Times described.

Each year the number of visitors allowed to the cave is limited to 1,000 as provincial authorities seek to protect Son Doong from overcrowding.

During the expedition, tourists will have a chance to explore the world's largest cave with a specialist, traverse unique underground rainforests, wade through rivers both above and below ground and scale the 90-meter "Great Wall of Vietnam" with ropes and ladders.

In addition, they would be treated with three freshly cooked meals per day, plus snacks and sleep in some of the world's greatest campsites.

Safety standard

Nguyen Chau A, CEO of Oxalis, said safety for visitors and employees is the company's top priority in adventure tours and it is not allowed to haggle about requirements related to safety.

Howard Limbert, a British caving expert credited with initial explorations of the now famous Son Doong Cave, has worked with the company to develop a safety plan. Therefore, all equipment was ordered from Europe and approved by Limbert.

In addition, each tour has only 10 visitors at maximum but needs up to 30 people to serve them, including 22 porters carrying luggage and food throughout the journey, five safety assistants, an international guide, a cave expert, two chefs and a ranger.

They would carry 600 kilograms of equipment and supplies in and out of the cave, including waste disposed by tourists. All local porters and tour guides receive regular training in safety and rescue. In case of emergency rescue helicopters would be deployed.

Vu Ngoc Quang, a Hanoi man who was born with a defect in his right hand, fulfilled his dream of conquering the world's largest natural cave in 2020.

"The journey was easier than I imagined," Quang recalled.

"Each porter carried luggage of 30 kilos and traverses slippery and dangerous terrain with little more than normal shoes and sandals. This fueled my admiration," Quang recalled.

In addition to a 10-percent value-added tax, the tour price includes a $390 entry fee, along with a $210 fee for forest environment services.

From 2020, authorities in Quang Binh Province issued a decision to reduce the entrance fee to Son Doong by half to $195; therefore, the tour price has been reduced to $2,500 to stimulate tourism demand.

According to Oxalis, the tour price also includes airport pick-up, two-night hotel stay, meals before and after the tour. In addition, many other operating and administrative costs are also included.

To limit environmental impacts, provincial authorities only allow the company to operator tours to Son Doong fron January to August, with the cave closed to tourists from September until the year-end to allow recovery of its ecosystem.

All 1,000 slots for adventure tours to Son Doong in 2022 have been fully booked by domestic tourists, mainly from Ho Chi Minh City and southern provinces while around 100 tourists, mostly foreigners, have already booked tours to the cave complex for 2023.

Son Doong opened to tourists in 2013. It comprises at least 150 individual caves, a dense subterranean jungle and several underground rivers.

Quang Binh Province currently requires no quarantine and testing for domestic tourists but they are required to be fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid.

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