Son Doong Photography Tour 5days
For the first time we are offering a specific photography tour to Son Doong, led by British caving experts who all have extensive experience with photo teams such as National Geographic, BBC, and recently ABC (Good Morning America).
This specific photo tour will have extended days to enable night time shooting. A large, top-class local guide team will carry special high powered LED lighting as well as other needs, such as a generator for charging. They will also act as models in this huge stunning new wonder of the world.
This is the first time such a tour has been run so the chance for amazing photo opportunities is unlimited. Our British caving experts will be there to offer you viewpoints very few people have seen, let alone photographed. With our powerful 32,000 lumens LED lighting we can light up many parts of the cave previously unseen.
The tour itself is demanding and with the extended days, so it will be a challenge for many people. However the rewards for both the amateur and professional photographer alike are great.
This tour is intended for those who are already serious about photography, and photography lessons will not be provided on this tour. It is expected that anyone who joins this tour already has extensive knowledge of photography, including use of all their equipment. Our British caving experts will be able to help set up shots, but they are not responsible for capturing the actual shots.
Drone information: In order to bring in and use a flycam/drone, you will need a permit from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The process of obtaining the permit requires that you provide them with an official letter addressed to the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, regarding the date, time, and filming location. They will also need the personal data of you and anyone travelling with you, which includes full name, passport number, DOB, gender, nationality. They will also need to know the make/model/dimensions of the drone. Once they have this information, they can discuss with you further about obtaining all the permits that you’ll need to use the flycam/drone in Son Doong. Note: If you need a permit, we cannot guarantee that you will secure this permission, nor quote you a price for the permission, as it must be applied for independently.
Note: Due to safety and conservation matters, the government of Quang Binh allowed TLV is the only operator bringing tourists to Hang En/Son Doong cave. Decisions: 47/VPUBND-VX (Dated January 9, 2015) and 878/UBND-VX (dated July 29, 2015) of the Government of Quang Binh Province.
- Operating: from Feb to Aug (closed from Sep to Jan)
- Duration: 5 days / 4 nights (plus 1 night before and 1 night after the expedition)
- Adventure Level: Difficult (50+ km) for physically active guests.
- Availability: on 25 February and 9 April 2016
- Small Group Tours: 1 – 10 pax
- Minimum Age: 18 Years (must pass fitness requirements)
We Will Provide
- Use of 32,000 lumen LED filming lights
- Use of small generator for charging batteries
- Extra guide/photography assistants to carry up to 20 kg of equipment per customer, act as models, use filming lights, so photographers can all take photos and are not involved in anything else
- Focus on more technical cave photography that cannot be accomplished on normal tours
- Night time photography
- Camping gear: tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag
- Caving & safety gear: caving helmet, caving headlight, harness and gloves
- Meals: breakfast (day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), lunch (day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), dinners (briefing day, day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- 1.5 L bottled water at the top of the trailhead/trekking point
- Base Camp water filter and purifier (application by guide and porters)
- Basic camping facilities with eco-friendly compost toilet using western toilet seat
- First Aid Kit, Medical Rescue Equipment & Satellite Phone (application by cave experts & tour guide only)
- Caving Expert from the British Cave Research Association
- Professional English-speaking tour guide and guide safety assistants
- Porter team to carry all gear and prepare all meals
You Will Need
- Your own cameras and lenses
- Related personal camera equipment
- Drone permissions (to be advised)
- 3 long quick dry, full length pants and 3 – 4 (easy to dry) shirts to wear during the trek; thick athletic leggings/running tights/yoga pants are acceptable pants (please make sure they are full-length and not see-through). For better photos, please consider bright colored shirts except white.
- 2 pair of shorts and t-shirts to wear at campsite (plus your swimsuit for Hang En).
- Trekking boots/shoes – difficult terrain, good footwear necessary. Recommended: Five-Ten Canyoneer 3. Consider bringing a backup pair of shoes
- 1 pair of flip flop (sandals) for campsite
- 1 medium size towel
- 4 – 5 pairs of calf-length close weave socks (not ankle socks or waterproof socks – no neoprene; SmartWool is a good brand; if you go with cotton, make sure it’s composed of 50% or less cotton)
- Anti-fungal foot powder (talcum powder)
- Wet wipes (very limited bathing inside the cave!)
- Bio-degradable soap and shampoo for use in rivers
- Medium sized rucksack/backpack for daily belongings (most people find 15 – 20 L adequate; backpack must fit the helmet we will provide for you and cannot be strapped to the outside)
- Water bottle at least 1.5 L
- Personal items – toiletries, medication, camera, tripod, spare batteries (toiletries should also include feminine hygiene products for ladies, even if it’s “just in case”)
- Sunscreen and hat
- Small head-torch for use around camp
- Rehydration tablets
- ‘Compeed’/blister dressings
- Medication – bring any essential medication and anything you take regularly (e.g anti-inflammatories). We supply drugs for emergency/unexpected conditions only.
- AA/AAA batteries if needed (low quality only available locally)
- Fleece, lightweight windproof, warm hat for evenings (February, March & early April only)
The following items are not required but highly recommended:
- Sleeping mat (Therma-a-rest is a great brand); if you bring your own mat, it must fit in your plastic bag which the porters will carry
- Gloves, as ours are one-size-fits-all (if you bring your own, please choose gloves with fingertips)
- Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner
- Ankle gaiters to help prevent silt/gravel inside shoes (especially if you have shoes instead of boots)
- Trekking poles; please only bring them if you are accustomed to using them
- Dry bag in the event of rain (for clothing and personal items within your daypack); alternatively, a backpack cover would be a good idea especially for the rainier months of February – April
Dong Hoi – Safety Briefing – Local hotel in Phong Nha
Arrive in Dong Hoi by no later than the afternoon (no later than 4 pm) of the briefing day where you will be met by a member of our team and transferred to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.
You’ll be dropped off at TLV Home hotel or Ho Khanh Homestay where you’ll have the rest of the day to rest, relax and wander around the village. You will be required to purchase your own breakfast and lunch on this first day.
Around 5:30 pm you will congregate in the hotel restaurant where you’ll meet your cave experts and guide team for your safety briefing and equipment check.
Please have all belongings you’ll be taking on the trek prepared before the safety briefing, as immediately after the briefing we will collect everyone’s belongings in individually labeled large plastic bags, and send them to our porters to prepare for the following day.
You will receive your belongings each evening once you get to your campsite. Therefore, anything you want to take with you during the day you should keep in a separate backpack (e.g. cameras, tripods etc.).
Before dinner, you will be given your helmet for the trip; the helmet will then be your responsibility for the duration of the tour. Enjoy dinner with your team at around 7:30 pm at TLV headquarter, after which you will be transferred back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Day1: Phong Nha – Ban Doong Village – Hang En Cave
Enjoy breakfast at 8:00 am with your guide before departing at 9:00 am for the first leg of the expedition. You’ll leave extra luggage and any valuables at the TLV headquarters before heading to pick up the porter team and setting off for adventure.
After a 25 minute drive along Road 20 of the Ho Chi Minh Highway you’ll reach the Tra Ang bridge, which overlooks the national park including the river running below the bridge. Your tour guide will explain the historical importance of this area and give you a chance to take any photos if you feel so inclined. It’s then about 25 more minutes through the national park to reach the trailhead, where you’ll start trekking for approximately 1 hour downhill through the forest, which is quite steep at times. Walk for half an hour along a small stream to the minority village of Ban Doong, which is a real highlight for many on this expedition. Learn more about this unique ethnic group of people and enjoy lunch beside a small river. Photography is allowed in the Doong village but it is asked that you are courteous of the citizens of the village and respect their privacy should they prefer not to have their picture taken.
After this point, you will be in the sun all afternoon with about 2 hours along a river, with very little shade. You’ll cross the river many times so please expect to have wet feet for the whole day. In the summer, the water is only usually knee deep, but Gore-Tex boots will fill and hold the water so therefore they are not recommended (please see our detailed FAQ for footwear recommendations).
You’ll then reach the entrance to Hang En Cave, home to thousands of swifts. Here you’ll be given your headlight and you will trek/boulder approximately 20-30 minutes to your campsite inside the cave. The group should arrive at camp by 3:00 pm where you can enjoy swimming and washing within the underground river. Photography from high level viewpoints is a highlight of this day.
Dinner will be served at the spectacular campsite with numerous photographic opportunities, followed by nighttime photography of the campsite. If there is a clear sky, you may be able to capture some unique shots looking out of the “second entrance” into the night sky. On the rarest of nights, a full moon can also be viewed from camp through this entrance.
Anyone who is unable to complete any stage of this first day comfortably will be turned around to Phong Nha and will not be permitted to continue the expedition. This will be the decision of the cave experts on your tour. Should you be turned around, all tour costs will be forfeited.
Day2: Hang En Cave – Son Doong Entrance – Hand of Dog – SD Camp 1
You’ll again begin your day with a delicious breakfast at around 8:00 am. You’ll be in for a very tough day today so it’s best to enjoy a big breakfast, as you’ll need your energy!
In February, there is a good chance of epic sunbeams shining through the cave in the early morning. If so, your tour guide will take you to a high overlook next to camp where you’ll be able to set up your camera and capture the brilliance of these sunbeams. A member of the porter team can also stand in below to give an idea of scale in the photo.
Start your trek around 9:00 – 10:00 am (depending on how long is spent on sunbeam photography) through Hang En Cave. There is a large, dark passage within the cave which can be lit up for those interested in photography here. 30 minutes after leaving camp, the team will journey to the magnificent exit again as you make your way to Son Doong. This site has been made famous by many photographers over the past few years.
You’ll scramble down to the river valley and then it’s an hour walk through the river, so your boots are going to be wet for most of the day; it is unavoidable, yet part of the fun.
You’ll then start climbing a steep hill for about 45 minutes with some rocky sections to start. At the top of the hill you’ll enjoy lunch, a safety briefing and fit your safety harness and prepare for your big journey underground. A steep descent with a couple of short rope climbs brings you at last to Son Doong entrance.
A number of locations on this day will be devoted to serious photography, such as the entrance climb and river crossings. With your safety harnesses, you’ll then start the 80 m descent into the cave by making a number of short climbs, using ropes and safety lines with your guides’ assistance. There is no rappelling or abseiling at any point during the expedition. You’ll then enjoy a few more climbs and bouldering to reach the first and second river crossings inside the cave, which are no more than knee-to-thigh deep depending on the water levels. You should have a wash here, as it will be the last washing place for the day.
On your way to the first campsite in the first large passage of the cave, you’ll have to be extra careful as there are a number of big drops and scrambling over boulders along a rocky path before reaching one of the most spectacular views: Hand of Dog and daylight streaming through the cave, thanks to the first doline! We will set up lighting within the Hope and Vision passage for photography at this point, where you’ll have views into Camp 1. This has rarely been done so you are likely to capture some really unique images at this point.
You will then scramble down to the first campsite of Son Doong and have the afternoon to soak up the views and rest your weary bodies. You’re in for another big meal with your team before setting up for nighttime shots of camps, and then turning in for the night.
Please note that there are no washing facilities at camp on this day.
Day3: SD Camp 1 – Watch out for Dinosaurs - Great Wall of Vietnam – SD Camp 2
Your day begins with a hearty breakfast with your team before a 9:00 am departure towards your second campsite in Son Doong Cave. A big day for photography.
You’ll start with some rocky climbs, which are quite steep in some places, as you reach the first jungle within the cave at Watch Out for Dinosaurs. It will take about 1.5 hrs to travel within the cave from Camp 1 to Watch Out for Dinosaurs. This is a really special spot to stop for some truly breathtaking photos, after which you’ll be trotting down the rocky path to reach the enormous Green Gours, one of the most magnificent and famous photography spots on the tour. A light lunch is provided with an incredible backdrop of the first doline. If you are lucky you may even catch some sunbeams! The Green Gours are a highly recommended spot for time lapse photography.
It is then a walk through the cave past gigantic formations and plenty of cave pearls towards the light of the second doline and main jungle within the cave. Follow the path past the beautiful foliage reaching towards the light, to reach the underground jungle, unlike anything you could experience on the planet! Cross the jungle for around 45 minutes to reach the steep and sometimes slippery path down to your second campsite within Son Doong Cave. Arrive into camp later in the afternoon and enjoy dinner.
After the evening meal at your campsite, you are back on your feet and heading deeper within the cave towards the Great Wall of Vietnam. You’ll pass through a very large dry passage with huge stalagmites and great views back to the second doline. Many new creepy crawlies have been discovered within this passage including white spiders, fish, woodlouse and shrimp species, so be sure to keep your eyes open, especially if you’re interested in macro photography.
You will reach at this point either a very large beautiful underground lake (where you’ll then paddle to reach the Great Wall of Vietnam) or you will find a fantastically adventurous muddy pit (at which you will need to trudge your way through for a few hundred meters to reach the wall). It is entirely optional if you wish to go further and reach the actual wall, as you will get very dirty in the mud and there are no bathing facilities on this day at camp (pack plenty of wet wipes if you decide on the plunge). The passage to the wall, known as Passchendaele, can be lit up with the big powerful lights so that you’re able to photograph the high cliffs.
You’ll be back at camp again in the evening to enjoy a sensational dinner with your team and delight yourself with an evening of games and entertainment, or simply relax and soak up the views at what is quite possibly the very best campsite in the world. Nighttime photography is a highlight here, as there is even a possibility of catching stars through the doline if you’re lucky. Time lapse photography is also an option.
Quick note: you may use a pair of dry boots on this day, as aside from the mud, there are no water crossings.
Day4: SD Camp 2 – Fossil Passage – Nat Geo View Point – Hang En Cave
After refueling with another hot breakfast you’ll pack up camp and start heading back to the first doline, with a slightly different route through a small oxbow passage above the underground river, in which there is a very steep drop, where you will need to use a rope and safety line. We can help you set up an awesome shot here where you are looking down into the first doline.
Once you have reached the first campsite around 11 am, you’ll have time for a short break before climbing down to the ancient fossil passage, where you will witness 350 million year old coral fossils. Here you can capture not only macro photography of the fossils themselves but the actual full passage as well. Enjoy a small wash in the pools and a hearty lunch before descending back to the main passage, crossing the river twice and proceeding to climb up to the entrance, again strapped in with your harness and safety lines. There will be opportunities to photograph the National Geo viewpoint, and large passage shots can be arranged for people interested in capturing those on the way back out.
Your group will appear out from the entrance of Son Doong no later than 4 pm, at which point you’ll have a chance to enjoy a small break and some snacks. Then head back towards the river valley, where you can enjoy a well-deserved and refreshing wash.
Walk along the river back to Hang En for your final evening, at which point you’ll be able to get any final photography of the magnificent Hang En exit in the evening light. Proceed to dinner and a celebration with porter team at this underground campsite, where you’ll have a second opportunity for nighttime shots on a clear night. This is also the last night for shots of camp, the porter team, the chefs cooking around the fire, etc.
Day5: Hang En Cave – Ban Doong Village – Phong Nha
Wake up early, and possibly have a last chance at photos of sunbeams if you’re lucky (only available in February). Then start your 10 km trek back to Road 20 after breakfast. You’ll follow the river along the valley and back through Ban Doong Village. Walk back along the river valley, where morning light can offer better natural lighting that you would have gotten on the way in with afternoon light. Also, there is another chance at Ban Doong village shots.
You will enjoy snacks and fruit along the way before starting on what is quite a difficult climb back up the mountain for the last hour of your big adventure! Cold drinks await you at the top of the hill before a 45 minute drive back to Phong Nha. You will have a brief stop at the office to collect your luggage and valuables before transferring to a local hotel in Phong Nha.
You can then enjoy the bath you’ve been awaiting for so long, or you could even go for a dip in the river. In the evening, you can enjoy a group farewell dinner with your fellow expedition team members.
Please advise our sales team in advance of your departure time for the following day so that they can arrange the logistics of your transfer back to the airport or train station. If you would like to extend your holiday in Phong Nha, let our team know so that we can assist you in booking extra nights at the hotel.
We can tailor make a tour that will best match your budget – the guide below serves as a reference point for you to decide how much to spend on this trip.
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