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The biggest cave in the world

VietNamNet Bridge reports on what some subterranean scientists are calling "the find of the century."

[Editor's note: The following story comes from our editorial partner VietNamNet Bridge.]

VietNamNet Bridge — A team of British cavers recently announced record-breaking news: the discovery in Quang Binh Province of the largest cave in the world.

But the presence of the British team has eclipsed one very important figure in the story — 40-year-old Ho Khanh — a local man and guide for the expedition who says he first found the cave nearly 20 years ago, but lost it again.

Today the 40-year-old farmer mans a tea stall in a village on the edge of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. "I first found the cave 18 years ago, in 1991," he said.

"I was out collecting firewood near the national park. My family were very poor, so I decided to go deeper into the forest to try and find some aloe. The resin is used to make perfume and it’s very valuable. Not many people went that far into the forest at the time because they were scared of the wild animals."

After walking for about 12 miles Khanh says he lost his way. Clouds started gathering in the sky, so he decided to look for shelter.

"I sat down with my back to a huge boulder. Then something strange happened. I heard the sound of a strong wind and running water coming from behind me.

"I was very surprised. I thought I knew many caves in this region, but this one was so different and seemed to be untouched by man. It was pitch black, but judging by the feeling of the air, I thought I was walking into a huge space. The strong wind blowing felt like something from the underworld."

With no ropes or lights, Khanh did not venture farther into the cave. A day after he’d first set out, he arrived back home.

"I didn’t have any aloe, but in my mind I had the image of a great cave."

Khanh’s story spread like wildfire, but not everyone believed him.

"I wanted to prove my word, but I couldn’t remember the way to the cave. It was a wild place, with no human tracks."

Eventually, the story became legend. Khanh quit his dream of becoming rich from aloe and went back to doing his daily chores: collecting fire wood and farming. But he never gave up on the hope that one day he would find the cave again.

It wasn’t until one morning in the early winter of 2006 that Khanh’s cave dream was rekindled. A group of cavers from Britain, on a trip to find new caves in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang region, came to ask Khanh for help, as they had heard about his discovery 15 years before.