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Surprising Sung Sot Cave In Halong Bay

The view into the first cave at Sung Sot, taken from the entry stairway.

The view into the first cave at Sung Sot, taken from the entry stairway.

VIETNAM’S HIDDEN GEM | Darrin Henry

We all hate being ripped off so isn’t it a great when you feel you’re getting your money’s worth for something? Tour excursions are a good example; it’s wonderful when half way through a tour you find yourself going, “wow, this is awesome!”

This is how we feel making our way through Sung Sot, the limestone caves of Halong Bay.

Approaching the limestone island with the cave. The large wide exit hole is visible in the exposed white cliff face.

Approaching the limestone island with the cave. The large wide exit hole is visible in the exposed white cliff face.

Climbing the steep, stone stairway to reach the start of the caves tour.

Climbing the steep, stone stairway to reach the start of the caves tour.

It’s part of a 24 hour tour of the famous island stacks, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our cruise boat dropped us on the jetty and after 10mins climbing the steep, stone staircase along with other very hot (temperature) looking tourists we then filed down through the narrow entrance of the cave.

Into The Fairytale

Initially it seemed we might be disappointed. The first cave was rather small and, as part of the human cattle herd, space for photography was at a premium.

Following an even narrower, uneven set of stairs, carved into the rock face, we climbed up and through a slit in the rocks. And then the “wow” kicked in as we descended into a large chamber which opened up before us.

Tourists cramming into the first cave area.

Tourists cramming into the first cave area. The entry is on the far side and the path moves right through to my camera position.

A mysterious, open hole in the first cave, roped off presumably for our own safety!

A mysterious, open hole in the first cave, roped off presumably for our own safety!

Sharon on the pathway that links the two parts of the cave together.

Sharon on the pathway that links the two parts of the cave together.

And so here we are, shuffling along on a wide ‘crazy pavement’ walkway, necks craning upward and turning left, then right, marvelling at this incredible sight.

Different colours of electrical up-lighting, strategically placed around the cave’s perimeter enhances the mystical effect of being deep inside some secret, fairytale hideaway. I feel like I’m part of one of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ adventure tales that I read as a boy.

The air is a lot cooler down here as we venture deeper into the mountainside, but it’s dry, not damp as you may expect.

Guess Who’s Showing Off

Winding and climbing up and down, the roped off path guides us through the bulbous pockets of spectacular space, curving at least 30 metres way above us. Overhead it’s like a beautifully designed indoor theatre. Intricate chandelier type formations, or stalactites, hang from the cocoon like ceilings, all carved and sculpted to perfection over thousands, or even millions of years. There are corresponding formations on the floor, called stalagmites, and just as impressive.

The larger, inner chambers of Sung Sot caves begin to reveal themselves.

The larger, inner chambers of Sung Sot caves begin to reveal themselves.

The honeycomb-like walls and ceilings are quite spectacular.

The honeycomb-like walls and ceilings are quite spectacular.

The size of the chamber is very impressive.

The size of the chamber is very impressive.

A glimpse of the walkway high above us.

A glimpse of the walkway high above us.

The lady in the white t-shirt in the foreground (middle) gives a good idea of scale.

Note the lady in the white t-shirt in the foreground (middle) which gives a good idea of the scale of the caves.

Another section of the impressive honeycomb-like ceilings.

Another section of the impressive honeycomb-like ceilings.

The view looking outward from near the back of the cave.

The view looking outward from near the back of the cave.

The name Sung Sot translates roughly to 'Surprising Cave' or 'Amazing Cave.'

The name Sung Sot translates roughly to ‘Surprising Cave’ or ‘Amazing Cave.’

Mother Nature certainly knows how to show off.

There must be a few hundred people in here, all from different tour boats, but there’s plenty of room for everyone, over 10,000 sq/metres in fact according to the brochure.

Great Spot For A Photoshoot

As we near the end of the tour the light from the large exit hole streams in, adding another mystical dimension to the scene. Everyone is trying to capture these last moments on their cameras, clearly aware we are leaving a special place – everything from professional looking DSLRs to mobile phone cameras. I would love to spend longer in here; do a model shoot, bring a tripod, experiment with the strobes – the light and backdrops are fascinating. If only!

Light from the exit area streams into the Sung Sot cave.

Light from the exit area streams into the Sung Sot cave.

Looking back from the mouth of the exit area.

Looking back from the mouth of the exit area.

I understand there are other caves that can be visited in Halong Bay, but this one, Sung Sot, is the largest. (Sung Sot translates to ‘Surprising Cave’ or ‘Amazing Cave’)

Our admission was included in the price of our $90 cruise tour of the Bay, but if you rock up and pay at the ‘gate’ entry is 30,000 VND, or just under £1 (sterling).

Near the exit on our way out. It's been a superb experience.

Near the exit on our way out. It’s been a superb experience.

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