Picture cavernous depths so immense an aircraft could fit right through with ease, stalagmites as tall as an apartment building and an entire self-sustaining ecosystem of primitive forests and a rapid flowing river, all these inside the passages of a mammoth cavern known to be the largest cave in the world, a throne previously held by Malaysia’s Deer Cave.
This exact scene, akin to a prehistoric untouched landscape was what drew the crew of Kong: Skull Island to choose Vietnam’s Son Doong Cave as one of the filming locations for the 2017 movie. The reboot of the 2005 classic also acts as the prequel to 2014 Godzilla film and stars Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson among others.
A rather recent discovery brought to light by an even more recent film, Son Doong Cave in Quang Binh Province, Central Vietnam is estimated to be up to 5 million years old, though its official discovery was only in 2009 when the British Cave Research Association stepped in, helped by a local logger by the name of Ho Khahn who had chanced upon it in 1991 when seeking shelter from rain.
In the film, Son Doong is featured as Kong’s place of residence, its colossal dimensions only fitting to Kong’s supposed size. With its magnificent structures, remote landscapes and pristine scenery, Son Doong and its surrounding areas in Quang Binh, along with other locations in Vietnam such as Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh proved to be exactly what director Vogt-Roberts was looking for in terms of an other-wordly backdrop “yet untouched by civilization”.
And while Vietnam has seen its fair share of local movies, one of Kong: Skull Island’s magnitude was still foreign, especially in the dense forests where Son Doong is located. The film’s positive response internationally has even led to a slew of changes in Vietnam’s tourism, especially the huge cave in particular.
Vietnam named Vogt-Roberts, director of the film as the country’s tourism ambassador for a 3-year term. The global success of the film has led to the Tourism board setting its sights on promoting Vietnam as a film destination and to help in boosting tourism in the less traversed parts of the country.
But while awareness about the previously unknown cave has undoubtedly magnified, it remains questionable as to whether or not this is a good thing. Developers have been planning to construct a cable-car system in the area, a move that would completely erode millions of years of history in an instant. And though there are yet to be any concrete plans that would allow construction to commence, an organization called #savesondoong has garnered over tens of thousands of followers in an effort to preserve this, a movement backed even by Barack Obama.
To date, adventure caving company Oxalis is the only tour operator of treks to Son Doong, limited to only a few hundred people per year.
• While usually only around 1 centimetre in size, cave pearls in Son Doong Cave have been found to reach up to the size of baseballs.
• Other filming locations chosen for Kong: Skull Island include Australia and Hawaii.
• Actor Samuel L. Jackson had told the Southeast Asia Global in an interview that Vietnam is his favorite filming location out of his entire 40-year career.
Text by Ng Shen Lee