It’s only a matter of time. That’s the sinking feeling I got watching Alastair Evans’ environmental documentary, A Crack in the Mountain. The issue at hand is the certainty that one of Earth’s most beautiful untouched natural wonders will soon turn into a luxury tourist destination.
The largest cave in the world is Hang Son Doong, discovered not so long ago (2009) in the jungles of Central Vietnam. Its discovery is so recent that more people have scaled Mount Everest than visited it. Hang Son Doong is stunningly gorgeous and measuring over 38.5 million cubic meters, it’d easily hold several urban city blocks. The cave slopes downward toward a river bed base that doubles as a lagoon. The entrance gets just enough sunlight to sustain a green background along the path to the lagoon. During the dry season, locals set up tents, a campground, and all the amenities for skilled spelunkers.
Hang Son Doong is located near the town of Phong Nha, which was devasted during the Vietnam war. It’s a remote town living in poverty that overnight became a popular tourist and luxury destination. But, of course, when a small town starts to see success, the government must carve out its pound of flesh. So in 2014, the government decided to build a cable car system down into the heart of the cave allowing thousands of travelers to visit the cave every day. Unfortunately, this “development” means certain death for one of the most pristine geologic wonders of the world.
Take my advice and try to see A Crack in the Mountain on the big screen. I don’t know how but try. If it’s not available, watch it on the largest HD screen possible. The film is breathtaking, as Alastair Evans captures Hang Son Doong’s beauty incredibly. The imagery alone nails down the importance of keeping these caves untouched by anything resembling corporate greed. The film’s first half is about the cave, its history, and it as an adventure destination… that could get you killed if you don’t know what you’re doing. What more could you want.
“…once corporate greed steps foot at the base of the cave, its natural demise is all but certain. The film calls it ‘beautiful or s**t!’“
The second half of this almost two-hour documentary is about the environmental and economic fight over Hang Son Doong. First, the case is made that once corporate greed steps foot at the base of the cave, its natural demise is all but certain. The film calls it “beautiful or s**t!”
The battle over Son Doong is very real and uncertain now that the government has shown interest. Vietnam is still a communist country run by a single party. All protests against the government (even for the environment) are met with police action, beatings, and imprisonment. However, with a cable car to the cave all but inevitable, a social media protest was able to fend off government hounds for now.
Then there’s Phong Nha, poised to reap the riches from tourism. Environmental architects came to design eco-friendly resorts that complimented the surrounding natural beauty. But some feared that as the cave popularity grew, the land would become valuable, and locals would sell for a financial windfall. Then Covid happened. Due to travel restrictions, Phong Nha became a ghost town, and loans the locals made on improvements defaulted.
The only weakness in A Crack in the Mountain is its length. The film is a long 104 minutes (without credits), and there are sections about Vietnamese history and politics, which quite frankly made me wonder, “isn’t this about the cave system?” But I know that the politics are there for a reason. If A Crack in the Mountain is about getting the world to care about the fate of Hang Son Doong, it absolutely worked. I’m pretty sure I’ll never visit the cave. The day-long hike from Phong Nha pretty much seals my fate, but there are so few plots of untouched nature left in the world that the remains sections need to be protected.
For more information, visit the official website of A Crack in the Mountain.
"…see it on the largest HD screen possible."