In Indochina, there are two famous mountain ranges, Hoang Lien Son Mountain Range in the southeast end of the Himalaya Mountains, and the Annamite Range which extends approximately 1,100 km (680 mi) through Laos, Vietnam, and a small area in northeast Cambodia. Those mountain ranges and limestone islands in the region hold hundreds of vast cave systems, many of them are extremely isolated and have yet to be explored!
From the lush tropical forests in national parks to the serene waters of Halong Bay, these exotic caves still have much to reveal, such as geological world-record holders and still being discovered by scientists, or some of the oldest traces of human civilization. While most of the caves in the West are well documented, those in Vietnam and Laos are seeing their first travelers. Here is our list of the most famous caves in Southeast Asia.
Son Doong Cave, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
Variously translated from Vietnamese as “cave of the mountain river” or “mountain cave of Đoòng”, Son Doong Cave locates in the heart of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in the central Vietnam.
The cave was first found by a local man in 1991, then explored by the British Cave Research Association and opened to the public since 2013. With more than 5km (3.1mi) long, 200m (660ft) high and 150m (490ft) wide, Son Doong is the largest known cave passage in the world. However, there are less people have seen the inside of Son Doong Cave than have stood on the summit of Mount Everest.
The cave is so large that a Boeing 747 could fly through its largest cavern, and it contains some of the tallest known stalagmites in the world - which are up to 70m (230ft) tall. The space is so mesmerizing that it forces you to question whether you are still on this planet at all. Imagine trekking straight into the depths of the world’s largest cave on an expedition unlike any other!
The limit for number of tourists allowed to visit the cave is 900, a journey to this largest cave in the world takes 4 days and 3 nights. So far, American have comprised the largest continent of visitors to the Son Doong Cave.
Sung Sot Cave, Halong Bay, Vietnam
Located on the northeast coast of Vietnam, Halong Bay is the country’s prime tourist destination. Here travelers will be sure impressed with the 1,969 sunken limestone towers rising out of the indigo waters of Tonkin Gulf. The limestone islands hide a series of ancient caves and grottoes, many of which remained unexplored.
Among the 59 caves listed on the official registry of Halong Bay, Sung Sot Cave is perhaps the most famous of all. Literally mean Surprising Cave, Sung Sot was allegedly first discovered by the French in 1901, who took it upon themselves to name it “Grotte des Surprises”. The cave then welcomed its first visitors in 1993, a mere one year before the bay was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Most overnight boat trip in Halong Bay takes their travelers to this cave, which results thousands of visitors wandering through Sung Sot Cave every year. There’s a small dock at the bottom of Bo Hon Island, where every traveler dismounts their boats and begin the climb up 100 or so steps to the mouth of the cavern.
Pak Ou Caves, Luang Prabang, Laos
The caves are not so much of geographically impressive, but its thousands of dusty little Buddha statues - bought by pilgrims over several centuries – are unique to visit and explore. Travelers can reach Pak Ou by road, but the 2 hour-boat trip along the Mekong on longboats is much more enjoyable. It’s interesting to en route to Pak Ou stop at the “Lao Lao Village” Ban Xang Hay, famous for Lao whisky.