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Project to build ladder in Son Doong Cave in Vietnam ignites controversy

Tuesday, May 30, 2017, 18:01 GMT+7
Project to build ladder in Son Doong Cave in Vietnam ignites controversy
The "Vietnamese Wall" is seen inside Son Doong Cave, located in north-central Vietnam, in this photo provided by Oxalis.

The administration of the north-central province of Quang Binh, home to the renowned Son Doong Cave, is still trying to persuade Vietnam’s culture watchdog to approve a plan to build a ladder inside the world’s largest cave.

Son Doong Cave, located in the heart of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh, became internationally known after a group of cavers from the British Cave Research Association conducted a survey of the area in April 2009.

The cave has since become known as the largest cave passage cross-section in the world, according to National Geographic.

Quang Binh-based Oxalis, the only company to provide adventure packages through Son Doong, has proposed installing a stainless steel ladder to help tourists cross a stalactite wall inside the passage.

The model of the ladder

The millions of years old stalactites, standing 90 meters tall and dubbed the “Vietnamese Wall,” is located toward the end of the Son Doong passage. Behind the wall is a 600-meter passage leading to the rear entrance of the cave.

As part of the current Oxalis tour, explorers must return to the exit of the cave after reaching the “Vietnamese Wall.” The tour operator wants to build a ladder to help tourists climb over the stalactite wall and leave the cave through the rear entrance.

This will shorten the Son Doong package to four days and three nights instead of the current six days and five nights, meaning more tours can be launched every year and more people will have the chance to visit the paradise-like heritage, according to Oxalis.

The ladder, measuring 25m, will lean against the stalactite wall and be connected with the second section, where tourists can climb over using a system of mountain ropes.

With the company assuring authorities that the ladder would be installed in a way that makes minimal impact on the cave, the Quang Binh administration gave the proposal a go-ahead on April 26.

However, the proposed ladder has been met with public objection in that it may affect the natural stalactites, believed to be formed over millions of years inside the cave.

The "Vietnamese Wall" seen from a low angle. Photo: Ryan Deboodt

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has requested that Quang Binh authorities cease any activities related to the installation of a ladder, newswire VnExpress reported on May 24.

“Quang Binh authorities are required to conduct a field test to see if the ladder installation will impact the cave’s geological structure,” Nguyen The Hung, head of the ministry’s cultural heritage department, told VnExpress.

“If there is an impact, Quang Binh must cease the project and report to the culture ministry.”

As of Monday, the Quang Binh administration had not submitted their report yet, according to Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.

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