Exploring the largest cave – Son Doong

Exploring the largest cave – Son Doong

Visitors to the beautiful landscapes of the Far Eastern jewel of Vietnam are often struck by the country's sheer diversity. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are as bustling and cosmopolitan as anywhere else in the Far East; or, in fact, the world. The Mekong Delta and the bays of Ha Long contain fabulous landscapes. The central Highlands are a wonderful contrast of cultivated land and secretive indigenous villages. But travelling underground often displays Vietnam at its most breathtaking.

For visitors who don't suffer from claustrophobia, exploring below the ground can offer glimpses of a fabulous subterranean world. One particular cave, Son Doong, lay undiscovered for centuries, until a local happened across it. Located near the border with Laos, in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province – lying in the portion of the country that was North Korea prior to unification – this cave is the world's largest. As well as being a vast subterranean lair, it also contains a large, fast flowing river.

Its discovery was attributed to a local, named Ho-Khanh, in 1991. This area was actually feared due to the strange whistling sound which persisted (which was eventually attributed to the underground river). Following his finding, researcher arrived from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert. They were surveying the cave in 2009, until their research was cut short by a calcite wall.

That Son Doong was actually discovered to be five times the size of Vietnam's previously largest cave gives some indication of the scale of the 1991 discovery. There are only two known entrances to a chamber estimated at being 9,000 metres in length, and 150 metres wide. Its main chamber is over 200 metres high. A cave exit was discovered in 2010, with the intrepid group who finally scaled the 200-metre high wall discovering pearls ‘the size of baseballs'.

Guided tourists first entered the cave last year, paying $3,000 each for the privilege. These explorers came from the UK, the US, Australia, Norway and Russia. They camped in the dripping cave environment for seven days and six nights. Now that the door to exploration has been opened, future tours will undoubtedly take place on a more regular basis.

The large amount of flowing water inside is something of a hazard for future cavers in Son Doong. Additionally, the entrance to the cave is narrow – it's hardly surprising that its existence wasn't common knowledge until fairly recently.

The new cave was described by the exploratory team's Howard Limbert as ‘a thing of overwhelming beauty and grandeur'. He added that within the cave system, each separate grotto possesses its own beauty, although he was particularly impressed by Ca Xai, a large cave with a lake at its base. This was measured with a 200-metre rope – which didn't reach the lake bed.

Son Doong will not be developed as a tourist destination, in a bid to preserve its natural beauty. However, the existence of fabulous cave systems such as this in Vietnam will only serve to whet the appetite for potholers, cavers and intrepid adventure tourists to seek advice about the whereabouts of Vietnamese caves which are open for business!

A taste of Vietnam

A taste of Vietnam

Throughout the world, people have developed a taste for Asian food, principally the dishes emanating from China, Japan or India. However, by travelling beyond these locations it's possible to immerse yourself in a diverse world of mouth-watering national dishes. Vietnamese cuisine is no exception.

When you travel to Vietnam, one thing you are bound to realize straight away is that food is readily available at every turn. As with other locations throughout the Far East, sumptuous dishes are hawked from stalls at every street corner, and in marketplaces throughout the countryside. As far as the actual menus go in Vietnam, there are hundreds upon hundreds of possible dishes to choose from. In addition, the menus vary from region to region.

Vietnam's larger cities, such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, will also offer you a taste of cuisine from any corner of the globe, as well as bountiful examples of indigenous cooking.


The ubiquitous cornerstone of dining in Vietnam, as with other parts of Asia, are bowls of rice or noodles. Where Western visitors are used to these side dishes forming a somewhat uninspiring part of their meal, really serving as little more than a filling for the more interesting main dishes, in Vietnam rice or noodles are integral to the meal. They can be cooked with an array of delicious sauces or gravies, with additional spices, giving them an extra ‘zing'. It seems particularly unfair to dismiss them as mere side dishes!

The ubiquitous cornerstone of dining in Vietnam, as with other parts of Asia, are bowls of rice or noodles. Where Western visitors are used to these side dishes forming a somewhat uninspiring part of their meal, really serving as little more than a filling for the more interesting main dishes, in Vietnam rice or noodles are integral to the meal. They can be cooked with an array of delicious sauces or gravies, with additional spices, giving them an extra ‘zing'. It seems partiIf rice is their staple dish, it is the boiled variety that is particularly popular, and is consumed with all three main Vietnamese daily meals. Tam thom or nahg huong are fragrant varieties, while grilled rice favourite in the autumn, and is eaten with bananas, eggs and sapodillas. Sticky rice cakes are also widely appreciated – known as banh chung. These are formed by mashing together glutinous rice, green bean paste and pork shavings. The cakes are then wrapped in banana leaves or bamboo.cularly unfair to dismiss them as mere side dishes!

Main dishes

The main dishes that you will be presented with as your choices on a Vietnamese menu are many and varied. You can expect to select from shrimp, shredded chicken, sliced pork, spring rolls, and an incredible variety of fresh seafood. There are also a range of more exotic possibilities including local shark fin, all manner of spices, and various unusual but tasty examples of locally-cultivated fruits and vegetables.

One of the best treats to keep an eye out for is pho – a spicy, meat-based noodle soup. It is very cheap, and comes in either pho bo (beef) or pho bo tai (fish) varieties.

How much to spend

When it comes to getting value for money for your dining experience, many tourists like to head off to the market stalls. Because these street hawkers are primarily catering for the local populace, the prices they charge are generally low.

If you want to actually sit down in a restaurant, the government-run establishments are comfortable enough, but can be quite sterile looking. There is also likely to be a 10% service charge added to the bill. Tipping is not a widespread custom in Vietnam, although it has become quite common in those areas favoured by visitors.

Family holidays in Vietnam

Family holidays in Vietnam

Last century, Vietnam only made the news for all the wrong reasons. However, the destructive conflict that afflicted the country for many years remains an aspect of its distant past. Vietnam's present couldn't be more radically different. In the intervening decades it has steadily emerged as one of the Far East's, indeed, the planet's, most desirable holiday locations.

One of the reasons for Vietnam's enduring popularity is the fact it is ideal for family holidays. There is just so much to do and see in this wonderful country. Whether you enjoy tranquil landscapes, or the hustle and bustle of city streets, there is something for every possible taste.

Halong Bay, to the north of the country, is world-renowned for its spectacular limestone seascapes. There is every likelihood you have seen images of these turquoise seas lapping cliffs and islands; to actually experience the scenery at first hand is simply breathtaking.

In complete contrast, the streets of Saigon echo with a million and one different sights and sounds. Although this is a bustling cosmopolitan city that is as technologically advanced as any other world metropolis, turning a corner can still bring you face to face with the unexpected. Indeed, much as Vietnam's countryside will give you a host of memorable images from your holiday, it is the colourful, aromatic, and noisy city experience that is bound to have a particularly long lasting effect.

For family holidays, one of the most recommended ways of getting around Vietnam is to forsake modern transport and resort to traditional methods of getting from A to B. Bicycles and kayaks are a very popular way of seeing the sights. As well as traversing the landscape at a slow enough rate to allow you to absorb as much as possible, you will also be keeping yourself fit at the same time! What's more, you will be doing your bit for the Vietnamese environment.

Hanoi is well known for its water puppet show, a historic form of theatre that goes back centuries. But if you and your family would truly like to get away from it all, using kayaks to gently explore Vietnam's countless rivers and bays might be more tempting. There is also the option of donning a mask and snorkel and immersing yourself in the cool waters of Nha Trang. If your preferred mode of aquatic transport is something less demanding, there are numerous boat trips to be embarked on. A cruise along the Mekong Delta will offer many startling images for your holiday snaps. The rivers are teeming with interesting wildlife, and the jungles that encroach as far as the banks reverberate with the cries of hundreds of exotic species of birds and mammals.

After all the daily activity, it is a great feeling to kick back and relax. This is when you get the chance to savour some of Vietnam's superb cuisine. A mouthwatering choice of indigenous dishes is available, enabling you to not only experience completely new tastes, but also develop your chopstick skills. Many different types of vegetables, meat and fish dishes are popular, and no doubt by the end of your holiday you will have developed a particular list of favourites. You might even have found yourself demanding seconds of fried scorpion!

Kids activities during Vietnam vacations

Kids activities during Vietnam vacations

Are you thinking about visiting Vietnam but are unsure if there will be sufficient facilities to keep young charges occupied? Well, rest assured, you have absolutely nothing to worry about on that score. There is a wealth of activities for children to enjoy during Vietnam holidays.

Boat trips

Vietnamese love children. Every city or town, right down to the smallest village, has something to offer visitors of all ages. There are boat cruises, cycle trips, zoos, elephant rides, go-karting, water sports, and other activities too numerous to mention. There are also miles and miles of stunning sun-kissed beaches on Vietnam's shores that are ideal playgrounds for kids to enjoy. If they aren't building sandcastles then they can dip their toes in the South China Sea!

If you are visiting the south of Vietnam, then boat excursions along the Mekong Delta are to be highly recommended. This landscape is formed by nine tributaries of the mighty Mekong River, together with canals and swamps which all interconnect to create a veritable maze of waterways and forests to be explored. In addition, there are rice paddies where you might be fortunate to catch sight of traditional Vietnamese farming methods, complete with sturdy water buffalo.

Elephant riding

When you're giving your children various options to keep them occupied, few of them will offer any resistance when you mention the possibility of going to see elephants! Even better, what about actually riding elephants? The pastime of elephant riding is very popular in this country, as well as a fairly common means for rural communities for getting around. The best location to experience the thrills of riding on the back of elephants is to head to Da Lat, by Tuyen Lake. Here you will come across a large range of these creatures, fully harnessed and ready to go. As well as claiming aboard these magnificent animals for an unforgettable cross-country jaunt, the backdrop is of uniformly lush landscapes, making for a perfect experience. The further good news about riding elephants is that it is very reasonably priced.

Water parks

Children just can't resist playing on water. Vietnam is able to offer an increasingly diverse choice of water parks to its visitors. These theme parks can now be found in cities such as Ho Chi Minh or Da Lat. Saigon Water Park in Ho Chi Minh City's Thu Duc neighbourhood was Vietnam's first, although there are a great many equally popular areas to indulge in some no-nonsense water sliding throughout the country.


Vietnam has an incredibly diverse ecosystem, with an incredible range of animals existing in several natural habitats, from the shoreline of Ha Long to the north-east, to the densely-forested interior, to the teeming mangrove swamps bordering the Gulf of Thailand to the south-west. Naturally, the best places to visit to see indigenous and imported wildlife are Vietnam's two main issues. Ho Chi Minh hosts the oldest, while there is also a well-stocked zoo in `Hanoi in the north. Have an excellent complement of animals, as well as many different exotic creatures from all over the world. Both these zoos have extensive grounds containing various attractions, such as temples and aquariums.