Vietnam’s cave kingdom reveals dozens of new subterranean worlds

By Staff reporters   December 12, 2017 | 11:22 pm PT
Vietnam’s cave kingdom reveals dozens of new subterranean worlds
A wall deep inside Son Doong Cave in Vietnam's kingdom of cave. Photo by Ryan Deboodt
The discovery has been announced at a time when plans to build a cable car in a UNESCO-listed park continue to trigger heated debates.

Explorers have uncovered 58 new caves in Vietnam’s world-renowned cave kingdom, the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The discovery has been announced at a time when plans to build a cable car in the UNESCO-listed park are continuing to pit local authorities against environmental activists.

Le Thanh Tinh, director of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, said Wednesday that some of the newfound caves lie deep in the park and take a two-to-three day trek through the forest to reach.

Many of the caves have mist or cold streams gushing out of them which has kept locals away and left them hidden until now.

“Some are large and have significant geographical value,” he said.

Photos of the new caves have not been made public yet.

Staff at the park have conducted preliminary studies of the caves and will continue to do so, Tinh said. But after that, the park will have to transfer the list of the new caves and what it has learned about them to the British Cave Research Association for further research, because the association is more professional, he added.

UNESCO Heritage Site Phong Nha – Ke Bang is home to over 300 caves and grottoes that date back 400 million years. Around 30 caves are now open to visitors, which has created a tourism boom in the poor, war-torn province.

Among them are Son Doong and En, currently the world’s largest and third largest caves respectively.

Three more caves are likely to be opened to travelers following a decision made in November to allow a local firm to run pilot tours.

Howard Limbert of the British Cave Research Association said there are many more caves yet to be discovered in Phong Nha-Ke Bang.

But meanwhile, Quang Binh has been caught up in a cable car controversy that has put local authorities on a collision course with environmental activists.

In 2014, the province announced plans to build a $212-million cable car into Son Doong, sparking a heated online debate. Widespread opposition, including an online petition signed by thousands and concerns raised by UNESCO, eventually prompted the government to ask the province to scrap the project.

But last August, the province sought the government's approval to build another cable car that is set to run 5.2 kilometers (3.2 miles) from a section of the Ho Chi Minh Highway to En Cave.

Last month, Tran Cong Thuan, the deputy chief of Quang Binh's Communist Party unit, said failure to build a cable car in the park would be tantamount to a "waste of natural resources", hampering local tourism and economic growth.

Son Doong, En and many more beautiful caves in the park have made Quang Binh famous, helping it become the fourth most popular tourist destination in Vietnam, after Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An, according to rankings released by travel site TripAdvisor in August.

Supporters of the cable car say it will make it easier for tourists to explore the cave, giving local tourism a much-needed boost that would increase revenues and create jobs. They also say it will afford opportunities for the elderly and disabled, and not just able-bodied people, to visit more remote beauty spots.

But those in the opposing camp say that the proposal's much-touted benefits could pale in comparison to its possible drawbacks.

Foreign visitors to Quang Binh surged 75 percent from a year ago to 60,000 in the first nine months of the year, according to the province’s tourism department.

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