IF, like me, your main exposure to caving began with watching the horror film “The Descent”, you may not be keen to strap on a head lamp and poke around underground for a few hours. After all, who knows what creepy crawlies you might find? If you are a natural explorer and enjoy a bit of climbing and rugged adventure, however, caving could be just the thing.
There is beauty underground that we seldom see. Sure, I visited Luray caverns as a kid, with its carpets and “stalacpipe” organ. It’s beautiful, but not considered a true caving destination. Caving usually means exploring in non-commercialized caves that don’t contain a Starbucks. Sometimes referred to as potholing or spelunking, caving may incorporate diving, swimming and kayaking, but (depending on the individual cave) it is not necessarily a risky sport. Caving areas are often home to both developed tourist sites suitable for the entire family alongside hardcore caving areas.
For those up to the challenge or just interested in a truly fascinating pastime, here is a short list of a few great caving spots in Asia.
Gulung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Surrounded by beautiful limestone peaks (karsts) and mountainous rainforest, Mulu is home to an incredible network of cave systems of varying difficulty levels. Deer Cave, formerly the largest known cave in the world (after Son Doong in Vietnam), is home to a whopping 12 bat species and got its name from the deer that came to drink from the cave’s streams. The largest section of Deer Cave is 169 meters (554 feet) wide with a ceiling height of 125 meters (410 feet).
Callao Cave, Cagayan, Philippines
Natural crevasses provide light for this enchanting 7-chamber cave system. The first chamber is a cathedral of stalactites and stalagmites surrounding the pews and pulpit. There are in fact over 300 caves in the area as well as the Pinacanauan River, which provides opportunities for water sports. Other caves in the area include Jackpot Cave, the rugged San Carlos Cave and the Odessa-Tumbali Cave System.
Liang Bua, Flores Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Ling Bua is a limestone cave and probably the best-known cave in Indonesia, due to the 2003 discovery of potential new species of prehistoric human colloquially referred to as the “Indonesian Hobbit”. Ling Bua is 50 meters tall, 40 meters wide and 25 meters high (164x131x82 feet). It was previously used by locals as a school and a temple.
Chiang Dao National Park, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
72 km (45 mi) north of the city of Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao is home to a rustic village and impressive scenery of soaring limestone peaks. It is more of a nature and culture tourism spot than an adventure sport destination. The Chiang Dao Cave itself is actually a 12 km (7.5 mi) network of caves, though only 5 large caverns are open to the public. There is a lighted section of the cave which you can explore yourself, but you need to hire a guide for the smaller, unlit passages. The cave contains a stream with fish and a Buddhist temple.
Son Doong Cave, Binh Province, Vietnam
Only recently discovered, the largest cave in the world, Son Doong, is situated in Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park on the Laos border. Son Doong has been investigated as far as 4.5 km (2.8 mi) in before explorers were cut of by floodwaters. The cave contains an underground river, 70 meter (230 ft) high stalagmites and a chamber reaching 140×140 meters (460×460 ft) a fair distance in.