Vietnam province justifies controversial cable car project at world’s largest cave

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Son Doong Cave in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, the central province of Quang Binh. Photo credit: phongnhatourism Son Doong Cave in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, the central province of Quang Binh. Photo credit: phongnhatourism

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Tourism authorities in the central province of Quang Binh have again defended a controversial plan to build a US$212-million cable car at Son Doong Cave, saying the media has misunderstood it.
A province tourism official told a meeting last week that the nearly 11-kilometer cable car system to be built by Da Nang-based real estate and resort developer Sun Group would be above the trees in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park and end 300-600 meters from the cave and not right at the entrance as the media reported.
The telpher would allow tourists to admire the landscapes from above, he added.
A plan first unveiled by Quang Binh authorities in last October envisaged the cable system ending inside Son Doong.
But a few weeks later authorities changed their description, saying it would link the cave with another cave called Tien Son.
But critics were not mollified and said it would still harm the environment.
Sun Group has not made any comment.
Quang Binh vice chairman Tran Tien Dung said at the meeting, held to promote the province’s tourism in Ho Chi Minh City, that the investor has done little except sending some foreign experts to do the environmental impact assessment for the project.
Sun Group is supposed to do many things to get approvals from government agencies and international organizations like UNESCO in order to undertake such a large project in a national park, he said.
The plan’s supporters have said the cable car would encourage more tourists to explore the cave.
Amid the controversy, the tourism ministry last November called on provincial authorities and the investor to do further research before embarking on the project.
Cave sells
Son Doong is now a big attraction with global media agencies and film studios taking interest in it, Dung said at the meeting, adding that though a tour there lasting just a few days costs up to US$3,000, it is fully booked until year end.
Nearly 2.75 million tourists visited the province last year, double the number from the year before.
Low-cost carrier VietJet Air plans to launch daily flights between Ho Chi Minh City and the Quang Binh's capital Dong Hoi starting April 29, Thoi Bao Kinh Te Saigon Online reported, adding that the carrier is also planning to fly to the town from Hanoi.
State-owned Vietnam Airlines and another no-frills carrier, Jetstar Pacific are increasing their flights between HCMC and Dong Hoi, it said.
There is also a growing interest in Quang Binh among Hollywood filmmakers, according to the province’s tourism authorities and tour operator.
Nguyen A, chairman of Oxalis, the sole tour operator for Son Doong, said part of a new King Kong movie will be shot in Minh Hoa District and Tan Hoa Commune this year end.
Located in the UNESCO-recognized Phong Nha – Ke Bang, Son Doong was opened to tourists in 2013, four years after members of the British Cave Research Association finished their exploration and named it the world’s largest cave.
The five kilometer-long cave, which is 150 meters high and 200 meters wide, has at least 150 individual caves, a dense subterranean jungle and several underground rivers.

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