Son Doong Cave in the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, the north-central province of Quang Binh, is named the world's largest cave. PHOTO COURTESY OF OXALIS
More than 100 international tourists have booked tours to the world's largest cave in Vietnam's north-central province of Quang Binh since it opened to tourism earlier this month, the tours' sole operator said.
In an interview with Thanh Nien, Nguyen Chau A, director of Oxalis Company (www.oxalis.com.vn), said since provincial authorities restricted the pilot tours to be operational this August and then February-March next year, many people will have to wait.
If the pilot project proves successful, Son Doong will be officially opened to caving tourism between February and August every year.
In the meantime, 12 foreign tourists have visited the world famous cave that is 150 meters high and 200 meters wide in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, A said.
The first visitors were two Americans, one Australian, one Norwegian, and one English, who arrived at Son Doong on August 1 and spent one week there.
He said the second tour was organized on August 9 and the third was scheduled for starting on August 24, adding that each tour was designed for just six tourists.
Speaking to Thanh Nien, the first visitors, who received memorial medals from local authorities after finishing the exploration, all expressed their satisfaction.
Dennis Lipatov, a Russian man, said it was the most memorable trip of his life, and that the cave's views were too magnificent to be expressed by words.
He also said he was happy and lucky to have decided to visit Son Doong.
Michael Morehouse, an American, said the marvelous views, experiences, and services were well worth the money he paid for the trip.
Paying US$3,000 each for the tour, the first six tourists were accompanied by 22 people who were trained to guide and serve tourists by the Oxalis Company in collaboration with the park's management board.
Among the 22 people who accompanied the tourists were Howard Limbert, who led members of the British Cave Research Association to explore the cave in 2009, and his wife, a tour guide, and two officials of the management board.
Other people were in charge of transporting luggage, food and equipment pieces that, according to A, weigh more than 600 kilograms in total.
Ho Khanh, a local resident who discovered the cave and later acted as a guide for the British association, also attended the first ever tour of the cave.
According to Oxalis, the tour starts at the Milestone 35 on the Ho Chi Minh Highway with a 10-kilometer walk through the park's primeval forest.
Tourists then arrive at the En Cave, which goes through a mountain for 1,645 meters. There they have camp for the night.
The next day they travel to Son Doong, which is some two kilometers away. Tourists glide down a rope for about 80 meters to enter the cave.
While the cave is nearly 6.5 kilometers long, the tour covers about five kilometers of its length, during which tourists walk for four kilometers and later, row a boat and climb a rope.
Exploring the cave, tourists have the chance to admire giant stalactites of various shapes, waterfalls, a jungle that is known as the Garden of Edam, two underground sinkholes with cliffs that are as high as 200-250 meters, the Great Wall of Vietnam that is 50 meters high, and native animals like flying foxes, monkeys and hornbills.
Tourists also camp on sandy beaches in the cave for three nights.
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