High fees valid protection for world's biggest cave

Update: April, 11/2014 - 09:44
Last week Viet Nam News asked readers whether they had any plans to explore the world's largest cave, Son Doong, in central Quang Binh Province, and for suggestions on how to balance exploration with preservation. The cave, located in central Quang Binh Province, was first discovered in 1991, but was not fully explored until 2009 when a team from the British Cave Research Association made a trip. Limited numbers of tourists can visit the caves, but only after paying US$3,000 each!

Here are some responses:

Lee Hwan, South Korean, HCM City

The cave is something not to be missed. It is truly an amazing natural wonder. I love travelling and will pay a visit as soon as possible. As you know, the deterioration of tourist locations is related to both the number and type of visitors they receive. We now have a long list of people queuing up to explore the world's largest cave, Son Doong.

The more people visiting a cave, the more it can gradually show the strain. It is quite hard to keep a balance between exploration and conservation. Limiting the number of visitors each year is thought to be one of the best ways of controlling degradation.

Actually, public awareness is said to be the key factor in conserving any natural site. The natural beauty will be better protected if visitors – and the authorities – have a keen eye for beauty. If they don't, such things as waste dumps and litter will quickly ruin a scene. In this age of plastic, some visitors throw away endless piles of bottles, plastic boxes and nylon bags.

So, my suggestion is to organise a team of volunteers to keep the cave area and its approaches clean, monitoring and reporting any serious damage. Local authorities should not issue any building permits in the area so that the approaches to the site are kept totally natural.

Huong Thieu Huyen, Vietnamese, Ha Noi

I was surprised to hear that only 200 people a year will be allowed to tour Son Doong Cave. I was also pleased to hear about the high cost of a ticket, about $3,000. I believe that the high cost is workable form of environmental protection.

I was afraid that if people were allowed to rush to the cave en masse, they would threaten the pristine beauty of the cave. When visiting natural tourist attractions in the north, such as Huong Pagoda, Yen Tu Mount and some caves in Ha Long, I felt sad to see that they were not well-preserved.

People go to these places to enjoy the beautiful landscape or religious atmosphere, but they leave behind in ever increasing piles, tonnes of plastic waste that will take hundreds of years to break down.

Local authorities usually complain that they are too overloaded to manage the growing numbers of tourists or did not have enough staff, money, or skills to resolve existing problems.

I'm impressed by a sign in one national park: "Take everything you bring here, except your footprints". So, to preserve natural tourist sites – and Son Doong Cave in particular – we need to make sure visitors know how to behave, environmentally speaking.

However, I guess that those who can afford to spend $3,000 to visit a cave must be true nature lovers and aware of the need to protect nature.

I note that the numbers of tourists catered in each tour ranges from groups of two to eight. This enables tour operators to more easily manage visitors. More importantly, in small groups, there is less opportunity to be vandalistic or dirty.

Tour guides play very important role in ensuring that tourists do not harm the environment. Tour operators must tell their clients what to do and what not to do when visiting the site.

John Harris, tourist, Ha Noi

I just accessed a website by Oxalis Co Ltd, tour operator for Son Doong Cave and read its excellent rules about preserving the natural beauty of the area.

The tour management insists that everything taken into Son Doong must be carried out at the end of each trip. This even includes human waste. Gas burners are used to save any trees being cut down.

Only wood that has fallen to the ground outside the cave can be used for cooking rice. No wood can be collected from jungle trees outside the cave and used for cooking rice. Rubbish bags are set up to make removal easier.

Most important, of course, is that nothing at all can be taken from inside a cave or none of the delicate formations touched.

Washing and bathing is only allowed in certain places where contamination can be limited. After each camp is vacated, National Park Rangers do an inspection and sign a document about the state of the camps.

Thuy Minh, Vietnamese, Sydney

There is always conflict between exploring and preserving natural sites. Caves have unique eco systems with their own micro climate and ecology. This is closely linked to the availability of light.

The introduction of artificial light, even from electric torches, could encourage the growth of green algae and this will damage or alter the food chain.

To solve the conflict, cavers should be made to enter through secure gates and not leave behind anything that may change the airflow or humidity of the site. I think a management plan is also necessary to avoid destruction of such a natural treasure.

John MacDonald, Australian, Ha Noi

I think that the $3,000 fee is enough to deter irresponsible and foolish visitors to the cave site. For example, Bhutan protects its own special culture and pristine environment, by requiring all visitors to spend at least $100 a day.

This has definitely protected the Bhutanese public from more outrageous and irresponsible visitors.

But there is a further lesson Viet Nam and the world can learn from the tiny Himalayan country – putting a ban on the use of plastic bags! — VNS