Besides the fantastic experience and unique beauty of this adventure, the journey to Hang Son Doong has resulted in a growing industry that has improved the lives of many — tourism.The Quang Binh province has long been one of the poorest regions in the country, and was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War.
Unexploded ordnance is scattered throughout the fields and jungle, putting thousands of lives at risk every single day.Many of the locals collect and dismantle these unexploded bombs, selling the dynamite and metal for scrap.Countless lives have been lost doing this dangerous practice, but for some there were no other options to help feed their families.
When the colossal caves of Phong Nha were discovered travelers began arriving for the first time. Villagers embraced this new opportunity and started focusing on tourism. The positive results has seen the local economy flourish.New community homestays are being built, and the once-impoverished town has been given a new life.
The recent discovery of 57 new caves has also excited the inhabitants of Phong Nha, who have seen their small village quickly become the adventure capital of Southeast Asia.
Passionate locals have created mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and eco-conservation tour companies to run alongside the caving.
However a new threat has emerged in recent years, which may compromise the integrity and environmental splendor of the area. The Vietnamese development company Sun Group has been pushing to build a cable car to Hang Son Doong, which could potentially ferry 1,000 visitors an hour to the cave.
Staunch opposition from UNESCO and activist group Save Son Doong encouraged the Vietnamese government to temporarily halt the construction permits in 2015. Some argue that this increase in tourism will continue to benefit the local community, while others fear for the destruction of the ecosystem that increased traffic will bring.Similar projects on Mount Fansipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam, and in Halong Bay have resulted in dramatic environmental damage.
Will history repeat itself with the world’s largest cave?
The cable car development continues to loom in the background, and no one knows whether approval will eventually be given. As one of the last truly pristine environments in the region, Hang Son Doong is a place so remarkable that it demands protection. One can only hope that a sustainable and responsible decision is made in these critical months.
For now the locals of Phong Nha relish in this new opportunity that the colossal caves have given them, and Hang Son Doong remains as beautiful as ever.