The BBC returns to film Son Doong Cave for Planet Earth III

After more than 2 years of a complete disruption of international tourism in Vietnam, the country is now ready to welcome international visitors. Oxalis Adventures is thrilled to welcome the BBC film crew, who have patiently waited for two years for the opportunity to film in Son Doong Cave and Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park of Vietnam for the project Planet Earth III. This filming project is a part of the renowned BBC Planet Earth series, which is one of the world's top nature documentary television programs. It is an important step in showcasing the marvelous natural beauty of Son Doong and Vietnam to audiences worldwide.

Son Doong Cave is the largest cave in the world, situated within the core area of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the largest limestone mountain system in Southeast Asia alongside an extensive cave network. From 1990 to 2022, over 450 caves were explored by the British Vietnam caving expedition team led by Mr. Howard Limbert. There are still unexplored areas within Phong Nha-Ke Bang promising many surprises and mysteries for the future.

Hang Son Doong was found by Mr. Ho Khanh (a local jungleman in Phong Nha) in 1990 and later surveyed by British-Vietnamese cave experts in 2009-2010. This team of cave experts, along with National Geographic magazine had recognized Son Doong Cave as the largest natural limestone cave on the planet in the same year, with a volume of 37.5 million cubic meters. In 2013, the Son Doong Expedition tour was approved by Quang Binh authorities as an adventure tour with a duration of 6 days and 5 nights, operated by Oxalis Adventure. To preserve the ecosystem of the cave, only 1000 visitors per year are allowed to explore Son Doong Cave. To join the Son Doong Expedition, participants require suitable physical fitness due to its remote and challenging terrain. Prior registration is also necessary. Besides Son Doong Cave, Oxalis Adventure also organizes various adventure tours in Quang Binh's caves such as Hang En, Hang Va, Hang Ba, Tu Lan, Hang Tien, ranging from 1 to 6 days.

Let's explore together the challenges and efforts in conserving Son Doong Cave through the article 'Conservation of Son Doong Cave'!

The filming took place from January 27th to February 19th, 2022. The film crew of six members, led by producer Theo Webb, as well as cameramen and a safety expert from the United States and the United Kingdom. The focus of the shoot is the magnificent Son Doong Cave, the largest cave in the world. The crew carries over 1 ton of equipment and filming machinery to capture stunning footage of Vietnam's natural landscape. Due to filming inside caves, particularly under difficult conditions and complete darkness, the crew must prepare multiple state-of-the-art lighting systems and modern filming equipment to facilitate the shooting process. The BBC film crew now holds the record for the longest filming duration in Phong Nha and Son Doong Cave, surpassing any previous crew. Consequently, supporting the film crew throughout this period posed a significant challenge for Oxalis.

The team had a busy schedule and worked tirelessly for over 20 days in Vietnam. They captured scenes in many areas with beautiful natural landscapes in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, as well as famous caves like Son Doong, Hang En, Hang Va, and Hang Nuoc Nut.

Let’s learn more about the BBC filming process in Quang Binh:

  • On January 23, 2022: The team arrived in Vietnam and underwent quarantine procedures in Hanoi for 4 days, from January 23 to January 26, 2022.
  • On January 27, 2022: After the quarantine period, the film crew relocated to Phong Nha and spent the following two days preparing over one ton of equipment for the official filming journey in the area.
  • From January 30, 2022, to February 2, 2022: The team dedicated time to shooting the natural beauty surrounding the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Additionally, they conducted interviews with Ho Khanh, a local renowned as the "king of caves" who has extensive knowledge of the area.
  • From February 3, 2022, to February 16, 2022: This is a crucial period of the project as the team begins filming the main scenes in Son Doong Cave. Specifically:

    - On February 3, 2022, the team trekked to Hang En Cave, one of the largest caves in the world. The path through Hang En Cave is the only route to reach Son Doong Cave. During this expedition, the team filmed some stunning drone shots, capturing the breathtaking scenery of the mountains and the majestic Hang En Cave for 2 days, from February 3 to February 4, 2022.

    - From February 4, 2022, to February 11, 2022: The team completed filming in Hang En Cave and then trekked to Son Doong Cave. They spent a week capturing footage in various locations, such as the Son Doong Cave Entrance, the mysterious underground river, and Doline 1… Using modern equipment and setting different camera angles, the team carefully documented each life and movement within the ecosystem of the cave. The film crew witnessed a remarkable transformation when the initially dark cave suddenly revealed a vast and mystical world, thanks to the illuminated lighting system.

    Georgina, Production Assistant of this project shared her impression upon entering Son Doong Cave: "First impressions, it is just so unbelievably dark in here. It is like it’s a pretty obvious thing to say, but until you get the lights on, you have no idea what is in here. We are standing right next to a river. We have to cross this first river to get any further in the cave, so it would be quite exciting to go past that. But when you do turn on the lights, it is just an amazing place. It is so big.”

    Theo Webb, Producer of this project also expressed his excitement: "From here down (Son Doong entrance), you are in darkness. With the help of powerful torches, the scale is immediately evident, but remarkably, this cave gets bigger and bigger. The cave is so enormous and we are so tiny, so filming it is such a unique challenge. Filming in Son Doong is an amazing experience."

    There is a special story about when Theo Web approached Mr. Howard, Oxalis' cave and safety expert, to inquire about a place with beautiful water droplets. Howard guided the team to an area near an underground river, where small, delicate water droplets felt like stalactites or formed a small water gap inside the cave. The crew expressed their excitement about this phenomenon and immediately started filming. After reviewing the footage, Howard exclaimed, "Oh, truly amazing!". The film crew then spent three days capturing this scene.

    Mr. Howard shared: "They are so professional they had to get it absolutely perfect so things that we normally would expect a film person to do in a few minutes took many days because of the perfection of getting it absolutely correct. So things took a lot longer than we expected. So the length of the days that we were working were very early in the morning till very late at night which was difficult not only for the film crew but for all the people who were assisting in this project."

    In addition, the crew was fortunate to admire the breathtaking view at Doline 1 of Son Doong Cave. Rays of sunlight penetrated through the opening, creating a surreal and unique landscape. To capture every magical moment, they set up 5 to 6 cameras to capture different angles and shoot time-lapse throughout the day. At certain times of the year, the tilt of the Earth aligns the sun with one of the dolines, creating a magnificent light show. It is truly breathtaking.

    - From February 11, 2022, to February 16, 2022: The film crew continued their journey to Doline 2 of Son Doong Cave and spent 6 days capturing footage in this area. Their main focus was to explore the diverse ecosystem of Son Doong Cave and uncover the secrets of the Garden of Edam - a developed lush tropical forest located beneath Doline 2.

    Additionally, the team also filmed some exciting adventurous activities. One of these activities included abseiling from the opening of Doline 2, which was performed by cave expert Martin Holroyd of Oxalis; and climbing the Great Wall of Vietnam, a giant limestone wall standing 90 m tall at the end of the cave.

    Theo Webb expressed: “The ecosystems are unique here. The cave and its scale are unique, and what is so amazing about coming here is that, although humans pass through this area, the protected areas remain just as they were when first discovered. The biodiversity, plants, and animals here are truly special. Being able to film them in such a unique environment, where they are so well preserved, is a real privilege, and we are very excited to be here."

    Explore the remarkable ecosystem within Hang Sơn Đoòng, especially the diversity of wildlife in Son Doong Cave, through the article 'Life at Son Doong Cave' from the program 'The BBC returns to film Son Doong Cave for Planet Earth III'!

  • From February 16, 2022, to February 18, 2022: After finishing the filming in Son Doong Cave, the team proceeded to Nuoc Nut Cave and Hang Va Cave. The film crew thoroughly enjoyed Hang Va Cave and were mesmerized by its enchanting and mystical space. They were particularly captivated by the reflections of the lakes, which contained thousands of tower cones inside.
  • On February 19, 2022: The filming schedule in Phong Nha was completed. The team returned to the hotel in Phong Nha to rest and pack the equipment before heading back to Hanoi. On February 22, 2022, the team flew back to the UK.

Oxalis Adventure is proud to have supported the BBC team on this project. With our extensive experience in filmmaking in caves, particularly Son Doong, Oxalis is best placed to support the team. We were responsible for arranging logistics, with over 100 staff working nonstop for nearly a month to serve the film crew. This was a huge challenge for those not familiar with living and working underground. Even for our staff, 16 days without many home comforts such as a hot shower or internet access was a challenge.

Oxalis arranged all the necessary processes, such as the licensing procedures from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism of Vietnam, as well as the filming permit from the Press and Information Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Quang Binh Department of Tourism, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park Management Board, and the People's Committee of Quang Binh Province have all assisted Oxalis in welcoming the film crew.

The Planet Earth series of BBC always attracts a large worldwide audience. This will be the first time that the magnificent landscapes of Asia are featured in the specialized program of BBC on natural beauty. Planet Earth III promises to take viewers to pristine lands and witness wildlife from around the world, exploring the wonders of the natural world, with a special focus on Hang Son Doong in episode 6 of this series (airing on November 26, 2023) through the lens of the world’s leading documentary filmmakers. The wonders of the largest natural cave on Earth will be brought to life in amazing detail for this Planet Earth III series. Viewers will also have the opportunity to meet the amazing species and learn their extraordinary stories.

Planet Earth III promises to transport viewers to pristine landscapes, offering a glimpse of wildlife from across the globe and delving into their extraordinary stories. Episode 6, scheduled to air on November 26, 2023, will particularly spotlight Hang Son Doong through the lens of the world’s leading documentary filmmakers, immersing audiences in breathtaking detail. The wonders of the largest natural cave on Earth will be brought to life in amazing detail for this Planet Earth III series.

The Planet Earth III series is expected to reach up to 500 million viewers worldwide. By showcasing the unique beauty of Son Doong Cave, Hang En Cave, and Hang Va Cave through the Planet Earth III series, Oxalis Adventure expects to attract more tourists, especially foreign tourists, to Quang Binh. This will aid in the quick recovery of the tourism industry in Vietnam.

The Oxalis Experience.

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