Son Doong first named by Ho Khanh
Ho Khanh. Photo by Simon Dunne
The famed Son Dong cave, in the core of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park which was recorded as the biggest cave in the world, was firstly named by Ho Khanh, the very first person known about its existence. Ho Khanh (or Hồ Khanh in Vietnamese) is the very first person over the world known about the cave since 1991. There are lots of untold stories about this man who has attached his life to the jungle
Son Doong actually found about 20 years ago
We met Ho Khanh at his house in Son Trach, Bo Trach Districh, Quang Binh. This is hard to find any connection between this 43 years old man with a gentle face and the “trophy” of being the first discovered the Son Dong cave. After some “hovering” stories, he awkwardly admitted that in 1990s, he was a logger, as our current sayings. He said “Actually, it was a bit too much when calling us loggers. Because by this time, Phong nha Ke Bang had not been a National Park yet, no one took care. Not only ordinary people but some authorities made their livings on the jungle with all types of working in which seeking frankincense was the most popular”
In a frankincense seeking journey in 1991, Ho Khanh happened to find a cave, that later known by the whole world with the name of Son Doong. “I did not have much impression because Son doong appeared normally as hundred other caves I had passed by. The sole thing that I could not forget was the moment I reached to the cavern, I felt clearly a strong wind blowing from inside and the sound whistling through the cliffs made my spine freeze” – Ho Khanh remembered. Years later, Ho Khanh quit the job of frankincense seeking, back to his farming fields then the memory of the cave with “freeze wind whistle” was gradually replaced by the worries of ordinary daily life. Until 2006, Mr and Mrs Howard Limbert (the team of British Cave Research Association), after countless journeys to seek for new caves in Phong Nha – Ke Bang area but collect no results, finally arrive to Ho Khanh house by following the local words. “After listening to my description of the cave feature, especially the cold wind blows strongly and suddenly from inside, Limbert’s eyes brightened. Right at this moment, Limber determined 100% to me that, this cave was huge and he convinced me to lead the trail”. However, 2 years long with constant trekking from 8-10 days long, Ho Khanh and the exploration team had found many beautiful caves, but not the one that had such kind of strong wind from inside as in his memory.
Late 2007, Limberts had to go back UK and asked Ho Khanh kept seeking this cave (!). Till early 2008, however, Ho Khanh could manage his time and money. He took his own money for food, water and some equipment to restart the seek. After 2 days of mountain hiking, the cave mouth was finally shown up right in front of his eyes for 17 years of hiding. Inside is a whole different world that still astonishes him totally till today. Right after that, Ho Khanh led the team of Howard to the cave. The cave was named Son Doong and confirmed as the biggest cave over the world till this day with 6.5km length, 200m height and 150m width.
Skylight Photo by Ryan Deboodt
“Its almost named as Ho Khanh” – he suddenly smiled. “As world naming conventions, after discovering this cave, the team proposed to name it by my name. Then I put my name – Ho Khanh. This name was agreed and recorded by the team, but after that, they came back and asked my permission to change it to Son Doong. Perhaps, they took the base on geography: Son Dong Cave located in Lower Doong, in Doong village. Close to this area, there is an ethnic village named Doong village and Son means mountain”. Ho Khanh also found many other caves within this area and the team let him name all those caves. So he took his wife (Nghia cave), son (Thai Hoa cave), friends (Hung cave) and even his café shop (Lake on Mountain) to make naming. Son Doong is not the first one that Limbers found with strong support by Ho Khanh. “Recent years, I have helped them to find out dozen of caves including Paradise Cave which is so much beautiful and the authorities has just open an adventure tour to explore this cave.” Ho Khanh said. The interesting factor is that taking many years to discover caves with Howard Limbert, Ho Khanh suddenly found that he has a very strange hobby – cave exploration passion
Do you know this tip? The trail trek to Hang En cave is very similar to Son Doong cave. While Son Doong cave tour is very limited, camping inside Hang En cave is the best alternative for an active Vietnam tour. Hang En is the third largest cave following to Son Doong cave and Deer cave (Malaysia)