Vietnam dives into the deep to generate more cash from precious cave kingdom

Vietnam’s northern province of Quang Binh has given the go-ahead for local firm to start three new tours into the country’s world-renowned cave kingdom in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

Jungle Boss Ltd. Co will offer the tours on a pilot scheme into caves that have been named Dai Ai, Over and Pygmy.

The company will report to local authorities regarding the success of the tours.

Dai A Cave is 1,616 meters long and 46 meters deep, while the respective figures are 3,244 meters and 104 meters for Over Cave, and 845 and 94 meters for Pygmy Cave.

Tourists face a 20-kilometer trek to explore these caves, that will take three days and two nights.

UNESCO Heritage Site Phong Nha – Ke Bang is home to over 300 caves and grottoes that date back  400 million years. Around 30 caves are now open to visitors, which have created a tourism boom and lifted the poor, war-torn province.

Among them are En (Swallow) Cave, which was catapulted to global fame when it was aired live on U.S. talk show Good Morning America in May 2015, and the world’s largest cave Son Doong.

En Cave stretches 1,645 meters (5,397 feet) into the mountain, and has been named one of the most captivating caves on earth by National Geographic. It is also believed to be the world’s third largest cave, according to CNN.

Discovered in 1991, Son Doong, or Mountain River, stretches more than six kilometers (3.7 miles), was first opened to tourists in August 2013, and tours are usually fully booked a year in advance.

In August, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc triggered a significant debate on the internet when he “agreed in principle” over a plan proposed by Quang Binh to build a cable car into the cave kingdom.

Unlike previous plans, it did not include the world’s largest cave, Son Doong. Instead, it will run 5.2 kilometers (3.2 miles) from a section of the Ho Chi Minh Highway to En Cave.

The cable car controversy in Quang Binh started in 2014 when the province announced plans to build a $ 212-million gondola lift into Son Doong.

Widespread opposition, including an online petition signed by thousand, and concerns from UNESCO, eventually prompted the government to ask the province to scrap the project.

Yet earlier this month, Tran Cong Thuan, the deputy chief of Quang Binh’s Communist Party unit, said failure to build a cable car in Vietnam’s UNESCO-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park would be tantamount to a “waste of natural resources”, hampering local tourism and economic growth.

Son Doong, En and many beautiful caves in the park have made Quang Binh famous, helping it become the fourth most popular tourist destination in Vietnam, after Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An, according to rankings released by travel site TripAdvisor last August.

Foreign visitors to Quang Binh surged 75 percent from a year ago to 60,000 in the first nine months of the year, according to the province’s tourism department.

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