Porters were indispensable to the success of a TV show on Son Doong Cave the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) aired live earlier this week and they will also make sure expeditions to the grotto, which is now the world’s largest, both enjoyable and safe.
The ABC show accentuating the astounding magnificence of Son Doong and En (Swallow) Caves broadcast Wednesday on “Good Morning America,” a much-loved program watched by an average of six million subscribers every day.
The caves are secluded in the core area of the UNESCO-recognized Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, located in the north-central province of Quang Binh.
En Cave is around two kilometers from Son Doong.
Many viewers in both the U.S. and Vietnam marveled at the caves’ resplendence and said that the two are now on their must-go destination lists after watching the program.
The show’s success might not have been possible without porters, who are muscular young local men tasked with carrying bulky filming equipment, camping gear, food, and expedition makers’ luggage on a long, treacherous way from outside into the caves.
The men were also responsible for preparing meals for the ABC crew members and are willing to do so for groups of tourists during adventure tours to Son Doong.
According to Ho Khanh, who is credited with discovering Son Doong and head of the porter team, porters generally carry between 30 and 35 kilograms of goods each but they are still capable of trekking on rugged, precarious terrain even with whopping loads of 80 to 120 kilograms on their backs.
There are at least some carriers on each team who are able to do so and they can get injured expedition takers outside for medical care in the quickest of time as well.
Since expedition tours to Son Doong were launched on a pilot basis in late 2013 and officially in September last year, the porters have yet to showcase their flair as no accident has ever occurred.
Their daily wage varies between VND500,000 (US$23.3) and VND750,000 ($35).
A porter is seen wading in a stream with a bulky piece of equipment on his back. Photo: Tuoi Tre
An (last in line), a porter who speaks fluent English, is usually tasked with carrying cameras for film crews to Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A porter is pictured trying to get himself and a large sack through a crevasse. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Two Tuoi Tre reporters, who accompanied the ABC crew while filming Son Doong and En Caves last week, were really impressed with the porters’ professionalism and their due respect for nature.
These men strictly abided by sustainable tourism development principles passed on by experts from the British Cave Research Association, the reporters observed.
The compliance was manifest in such details as trekking on a trail in order to avoid adversely impacting the resplendent million-year-old cavernous formations, making sure their loads did not scratch, and coming in contact with the rocks or overhangs.
These environmental protection-conscious transporters also made a point of picking up any garbage morsels accidentally dropped by those preceding them and put them into bags which would be brought out of the area.
Such qualified teams of porters could not be done without during trips by filmmaking crews from Japanese and British broadcasters as well as other cameramen who have been wooed to Son Doong in the past few years.
A porter (right), whose sole was slashed by rocks, is seen being cared for by John, the British Cave Research Association’s safety specialist. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Porters carried some 200 packages, or almost 4.5 metric tons of goods in total, into Son Doong and En Caves during the American Broadcasting Company filming trip in early May 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Three porters are shown wading beneath the veil of mist at one of the entrances to Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre
As night fell, the porters amused themselves enjoying action movies on a small laptop. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Garbage and used items were carried out of Son Doong Grotto by porters so as to safeguard the cave’s pristine, impeccable beauty. Photo: Tuoi Tre
The “pearl” of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Son Doong Cave was found by a local resident named Ho Khanh in 1991.
It became public after a group of British scientists from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, conducted a survey in Phong Nha-Ke Bang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in April 2009.
The biggest chamber of Son Doong is more than five kilometers long, 200 meters high, and 150 meters wide.
With such large dimensions, Son Doong overtook Deer Cave in Malaysia as the world's largest grotto.
Hundreds of thrill seekers, mostly foreigners, are currently in line for a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to the awe-inspiring cave.
The ABC crew members and porters pose with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (C, with glasses), who had a live interview with the American broadcaster right in En (Swallow) Cave on May 13, 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre