Son Doong, the world’s largest cave, located in central Vietnam, will be featured in 360-degree images in a historic project funded by National Geographic Magazine – the leader in featuring stories about the exploration of natural and heritage sites around the world.
Although the magazine has already published a story and images of the cave, located in UNESCO-recognized Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province, it continued to carry out the Son Doong 360 project late last month for further detailed publications.
The cave has made headlines in other famous media outlets, including national television channels from Japan, Germany, the U.S., England, Italy, and Spain, apart from NatGeo, which publishes nine million copies a month in 33 languages.
VTV, Vietnam’s national broadcaster, plans to feature a film about Son Doong this month.
The cave was first explored in 2009 by an British explorer, Howard Limbert. The cave is believed to be large enough to accommodate 40-story skyscrapers and 100-feet tall trees.
Members of the Son Doong 360 project explore the cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre
The fame of Son Doong
The cave is said to have been created two to five million years ago due to river water erosion of the limestone underneath a mountain.
It was included in eighth place in a list by The New York Times of 52 global destinations to visit in 2014.
It has been accessible to tourists since August 2013 thanks to tour programs organized by Oxalis Adventure Tours, which is the only firm authorized by local authorities.
A tour costs each traveler US$3,000, excluding air tickets, for a six-day trip to explore the cave, and the waiting list is full till 2016.
The project is expected to show exclusive 360-degree images of Son Doong on the online edition of NatGeo.
Martin Edström works in Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Son Doong 360 was initiated by Swedish journalist Martin Edström, 27, who graduated from Stockholm Unviersity in 2010 and is now working as a photographer for UNDP and the Kontinent Agency of Sweden.
“With a 360-degree project, readers will be given more chances to interact with the topics and the stories featured,” he said.
With Son Doong, many pictures of each section or corner of the cave will be taken so they can be joined later to create 360-degree images. Readers will be able to drag the mouse to see different corners.
Captions and explanations will also be displayed at the point of a mouse.
Before initiating the Son Doong 360 project, Edström implemented three other similar projects last year about the ancient city Petra in Jordan, a world cultural heritage site, and two others about the lives of Syrian migrants in Lebanon and Jordan.
Petra has existed for over 2,300 years.
“However, the first three 360 projects are nothing compared to the Son Doong 360,” Edström underlined.
Explorers of the Son Doong 360 project discuss before a trip. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Setting up Son Doong 360
The Son Doong 360 project was sponsored by National Geographic’s Global Exploration Fund, which was established in 1888 to encourage exploration and preserve nature and relics.
So far, it has funded over 10,000 projects at a total cost of $153 million. The average sum for each project is around $15,300, and it acts like ‘security’ to attract other sponsors.
Edström gathered his friends to set up a team to come to Vietnam, including his brother Fredrik and his girlfriend Katja Adolphson.
The group includes medicine students, photographers, computer game developers, and construction supervisors.
A porter accompanies explorers during their expedition to take 360° pictures of Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Their equipment for the Son Doong trip includes some 40 cameras, numerous lenses, computers, walkie-talkies, global positioning devices, and electricity generators.
All of the equipment weighs 220kg and requires a team of ten porters to carry it.
January 25, 2015 was the starting day of the Son Doong 360 project.
Toan, one of the porters, said briefly, “The cave is so fantastic. I have come here many times and discovered different beauty each trip. It’s ineffable.”