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Vietnam reopens exclusive tours to world’s largest cave complex

Tours of Son Doong, the world’s largest cave, have reopened in Quang Binh after being closed for two months over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Oxalis, the only private company licensed to explore and conduct tours of Son Doong, was allowed to reopen its services starting May 15 as the Covid-19 situation improved in Vietnam.

Earlier, local authorities had closed all tourist destinations in the central province, dubbed ‘Kingdom of Caves’ in Vietnam.

Registration for Son Doong tours, organized between June and August this year, have to be made well in advance since stringent restrictions have been placed in order to preserve the complex’s ecosystem. Around 240 slots are available for the rest of 2020, according to Oxalis.

A four-day expedition that departs this year costs only $2,500 per person, down 16.6 percent from the previous price of $3,000. Buses can be taken from Hanoi to Dong Hoi, capital of Quang Binh, and from there to the park.

Nguyen Chau A, CEO of Oxalis, said the firm, with about 500 employees, focuses exclusively on adventure tours to explore caves in Quang Binh.

“We have done very well in the past years, with 20 percent (of our customers) being Vietnamese and the rest international visitors, with the biggest market being the U.S. With Quang Binh closing all tourist destinations in March, we refunded up to VND40 billion ($1.73 million) to customers,” he said.

Now, for tours booked from May 15 to December 31, visitors will receive a discount of 20 percent on the itinerary for the En, Hang Va, Tu Lan and Tien caves in the province.

Son Doong opened to tourists in 2013. It comprises at least 150 individual caves, a dense subterranean jungle and several underground rivers. British magazine Conde Nast Traveler has named Son Doong one of seven must-explore wonders of 2020.

Vietnam has eased its social distancing restrictions since April 23 and its popular tourist destinations have reopened after a prolonged shutdown.

The country received 3.7 million foreign visitors in Jan-April, a 38 percent drop year-on-year, as a direct impact of the pandemic. Tourism revenues dropped 45 percent to VND7.9 trillion ($337 million).

With international flights and foreigners’ entry remaining suspended except for special cases, local businesses are focusing on boosting domestic tourism.

According to a survey on post Covid-19 travel trends, carried out by VnExpress, which polled 1,700 Vietnamese respondents, nearly 86 percent of survey respondents said they were making travel plans for this year as the pandemic situation improves.

With no new case Tuesday morning, Vietnam began day 33 without any community transmission of the Covid-19 virus. The nation’s count of active coronavirus infections is 61 as 263 have recovered after treatment.