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Behind-the-scenes stories of filming in Vietnam’s Son Doong

Friday, May 15, 2015, 13:34 GMT+7

Two Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters have recounted the intriguing behind-the-scenes stories while joining a crew from the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in filming Son Doong Cave, the world’s largest, which awed American viewers during a show earlier this week.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

The ABC show accentuating the astounding magnificence of Son Doong and En (Swallow) Caves aired 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.

It was the first time that ABC had reported live from inside the grottos, its crew members told the Tuoi Tre reporters, who joined them while filming last week.

After the Wednesday broadcast, Ginger Zee, the show’s host, continued to update the gorgeous photos taken during the trip on her Facebook page.

Her entries have drawn many comments from foreigners, who marveled at the Vietnamese caves’ resplendence and said that the caves are now on their must-go destination lists.

Some urged for another show on the caves to be produced to provide more in-depth looks into the cavernous wonders.

Though the arduous yet thrill-packed filming is over, the crew members feel blessed to have made it to the caves and become one with nature during the two days and nights spent inside them.

On Thursday morning, it took three trips by an Mi17 helicopter to transport the ABC crew members and their bulky loads of equipment back to the heart of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, where they got ready for their flight to Ho Chi Minh City today before flying back to the U.S.

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (front, left) and British cave expert Howard Limbert (front, right) are pictured on their way to En Cave, where Dam joined a live interview with ABC on May 13, 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Insiders’ stories

Ginger Zee, the show’s host, burst with energy and excitement during the entire trip.

She tirelessly trekked across the rugged terrain and reached Son Doong and En Caves’ most inaccessible, treacherous crooks and crannies.

Howard Limbert, 58, an expert from the British Cave Research Association, escorted the ABC crew during the entire trip.

Limbert is head of the British exploration team that has operated in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang area over the past 25 years.

He has discovered hundreds of caves in Quang Binh and taken steps to put 200 kilometers of local caves on the world map.

The expert gave detailed explanations on the cavernous background to Zee, show producer Bradley Price and the cameramen.

Pointing at the scraggy branch-less trees at Doline 2, Limbert explained that the trees have put all their energy into welcoming sunlight and thus growing tall becomes their priority.

He also provided the filming group with astonishing details on Son Doong Cave’s dimensions, including the sections which are capable of housing two large planes or a 40-floor building, and the cave’s estimated capacity of 38.5 million cubic meters.

Both Zee and Price then felt the need to create infographics demonstrative of the cave’s sheer dimensions.

With the crew’s two drone cameras operating constantly and their battery storage limit of around 18 or 19 minutes, two porters were tasked with carrying the batteries and cameras.

Wherever they stopped for shots, the first thing they did was to operate their generator to load their remote controllers and drones with batteries.

Price once got annoyed when his laptop was low on battery but there were no sockets left.

Porters are seen carrying bulky filming equipment. Photo: Tuoi Tre

To outsiders’ surprise, one of the hurdles the ABC crew faced while filming inside En Cave – Son Doong’s neighbor – was the “downpour” of swallow dung, their eggs and even young birds from the cave’s roof.

The feces smeared the remote controllers’ screens and dropped repeatedly onto the cameramen’s kits.

Zee had her shots disrupted several times by bird dung landing on her hair and shoulders.

She told the Tuoi Tre reporters before parting that she will throw herself into other projects as soon as she gets back to the U.S., but she would never forget the fairytale-like landscapes and engaging experiences she was blessed with during her time inside the caves.

Inside Son Doong and En Caves. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The “pearl” of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Son Doong Cave, which has a large, fast-flowing underground river inside, 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 an adventure expedition, which costs between US$3,000-6,000 each person, to the awe-inspiring cave. 

Ginger Zee, the show's host (left), is shown being filmed inside Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The "cave pearls" resting on the roof of Son Doong Cave's last chamber. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The resplendent Son Doong Cave. Photo: Tuoi Tre

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