Asia’s Longest Cave: Explore Shuanghe Cave in Guizhou, China

Asia’s Longest Cave: Explore Shuanghe Cave in Guizhou, China

Back entrance to Asia's longest cave

Shuanghe Cave was officially found to be Asia’s longest cave in 2018. Until then it was simply a contender, with Mulu park in Malaysia boasting tentatively that Clearwater Cave was Asia’s longest.

French caver Jean Bottazzi secured the designation when he discovered a new chamber connecting two known entrances to ‘different’ caves. Thus was the superlative born when Shuanghe cave’s length was pegged at roughly 238 kilometers.

Inside Shuanghe cave, Asia's longest

I recently embarked on an Shuanghe Cave adventure tour. I’m a sucker for records in nature. Biggest waterfalls, largest cave chambers, you name it; so when I learned about Shuanghe and noted that I live 3 hours away it was just a matter of time before I figured out how to get in.

We’ll first tackle the logistics of getting there. Afterwards (if you still care) will be the trip report.

Just outside of Shuanghe cave's back entrance
Area outside the cave

How to get to Asia’s Longest Cave

I live in China’s Guizhou province. It’s a powerhouse of tourist destinations without the international acclaim and foreign tourists. Because of this, it can be hard to get around this province’s rural areas as a layman.

Herein you’ll find the blueprints to help you along your journey to Asia’s longest cave.

Guizhou tourist map
A map of Guizhou tourist destinations outside of Zunyi bus station

The cave and corresponding ‘scenic area’ is located in shi er bei hou (十二背后), outside of Suiyang, Guizhou (绥阳,贵州). You can choose to take a private car or a bus from the well-connected city of Zunyi. As always, a bus will be cheaper and harder to pull off if you don’t speak Chinese.

Zunyi is connected to China’s high-speed railway network. It also has an airport. Getting to Zunyi shouldn’t be difficult, but to buy a train ticket you’ll need to go to any railway station with your passport and visa in tow.

Here’s where things start to get tough. You can arrange a driver beforehand if you’ve got the Chinese chops, but likely you’ll be better off finding a private one once you get to the city. Drivers are available at the bus station or train station.

Longest cave in Asia scenic area
Well, not these drivers – Shuanghe scenic area

‘Hei Che (黑车)’ or ‘black cars’ are private drivers who don’t work for a company and aren’t recognized as legitimate by the government. This may seem sketchy, and it is; however, everybody in China uses these guys. Beware, though! At least in Guizhou it’ll probably take 2 hours more than the driver says it will to reach any remote destination. There’ll probably be smoking, picking up/dropping off other passengers, and a general disregard for your convenience. You’ve been warned.

Option two is to hit the bus station. You’ll go to the long-distance station, or the ‘mao cao ke yuan zhan’. Show any taxi driver in the city these Chinese characters: 茅草铺客远站

Bus station where journey to asia's longest cave starts
Zunyi long-distance bus station

Bring your passport to the window and buy a ticket to Suiyang (绥阳). You can show the booth people this ticket and say you want the same:

Ticket to Suiyang
Ticket to Suiyang bought at Zunyi bus station

Finally, you’ll buy a ticket to ‘shi er bei hou’ (十二背后) from Suiyang station. If they’re confused about this tell them you’re going to ‘Shuang He Jing Se’ (双河景色).

Town adjacent to asia's longest cave

You’ll need to literally stroll along outside near the buses and mutter the place’s name over and over until someone directs you to the right bus. This applies in both Zunyi and Suiyang. They really don’t make it easy for foreigners.

Once you get to the Shuanghe cave scenic area, you’ll need to find the tourism center. From there, you can finally arrange your journey to the bowels of Asia’s longest cave.

Pool inside asia's longest cave
Inside the cave

It is possible to book a tour in advance online with a Chinese website. Unless your Chinese is impeccable, though, good luck with this option. The caving staff called me at least 20 times over the course of two days requesting ‘mandatory’ information.

Because of this, it’s best to arrange a tour for the same day (if possible) when you arrive, or for the next day. Lodging and food are available but are expensive for the region.

Local cuisine near shuanghe
Local cuisine – Chicken hot-pot. Expensive!

It’s prudent to remember that private cars can be hired from Guiyang or Chongqing as well, though this option will likely add time to the journey unless you have a very reliable driver.

Don’t expect an easy trip. The intrepid will find delight in all the pandering and annoyances needed to make it in Asia’s longest cave. After all, what’s exploration without a difficult journey eh?

Zunyi: A City of Culture and Food

With the generally heinous logistics of travel in the region it’s probably prudent to spend a night in Zunyi.

The city has its own attractions, the best of which is the spicy and exotic cuisine.

Zunyi pig organs and tails
And I do mean exotic – pig organs and tails for sale

I’ll be honest: I’ve never been impressed by Guizhou’s cities. Guiyang is the capital, my current home, and I’ve never had warm feelings toward it. Anshun, another big city in the area, honestly made me want to jump in front of the high-speed train. I was, and I’m sure you will be, only too excited to get out of Suiyang as soon as humanly possible.

suiyang, on the way to asia's longest cave
Typical Suiyang view

Zunyi, though, is aight. Not great mind you, but aight. Roughly equal to Guiyang and better than all the rest.

The best place to stay in the city is adjacent to its greatest pull: street-food. The premier street-food alley, 捞沙巷 (lao sha xiang), is nestled tightly among a cobbled courtyard which houses other restaurants and shopping centers.

Zunyi street-food alley
Zunyi’s street food center

From grilled oysters to pinapple rotis, the alleyway has enough to keep any foody stuffed for the duration of their visit. Don’t forget to also try Zunyi’s signature dish, Mi Pi (米皮)(elongated rice noodles).

Rotis in Zunyi
fried chicken in zunyi
Mipi, the best in Zunyi

We stayed at a hotel just a short walk to both the food street and, for the less intrepid, McDonalds. This area is centrally located between the railway and bus station.

Asia’s Longest Cave – Is Shuanghe worth the visit?

At the end of Asia's largest cave

Some of us love the drawn-out and even painful experience of remote travel. The crazy sights, smells, and people stick to your memory like your rump to the seat of a Chinese public bus (and that’s quite sticky).

If you’re not inclined to deal with the BS though you’ll likely not have fun. As stated before, private drivers are unreliable and expensive. Public buses are nightmare fuel for the hygiene-oriented. With such caveats in mind, does the cave itself make up for it?

A ledge in asia's longest cave

The adventure portion of the cave, called yin he, was designed by Jean Bottazzi so lay-people could get a feel for the more extreme nuances of caving. It’s definitely safe but also manages to be very exciting.

The cave entrance yawns like a behemoth. It draws you into its maw with barely a conscious effort, dominating the landscape and futile vegetation that clings to it.

The front entrance to Asia's longest cave

The first tunnel leading to the adventure portion is perfectly cast, more human-feeling in symmetry than natural. This works to sooth the mind before it rends expansively open where the meeting grounds are.

Here you’re fitted with a harness and introduced to caving equipment. You’ll learn to slide across a rope using safety carabiners and how to rappel a single-strand dynamic rope. My first impression told me this was more hardcore than the massive caves I’d already explored in Malaysia.

downclimbing in asia's largest cave

The path meanders ledges no wider than the laptop I’m typing on, forcing you to rely on the strung ropes to hold your weight. Anyone uncomfortable with heights or darkness is going to have rough time here.

The cave follows a stream of clean, clear water to a series of long rappels. The Chinese guides (who speak but a little English) helped to rig up the party one by one and send them onward before themselves rappelling.

Rappeling in Asia's largest cave

There’s no denying that this cave is ridiculously large. The network, as previously stated, winds through the karsts for 238 km. You get a sense of this enormity with Yin He (银河), or Milky Way, Cave.

Straddling ledges in Shuanghe cave

The whole trek is just a few kilometers, taking you out an entrance on the other side of the cave after about 4 sketchy traverses and a number of rappels. There weren’t any bats or other wildlife that I saw, which squares with my experience of wildlife in China generally (spoiler: there isn’t much). I’m sure they’re in there somewhere, though.

Shadow cast by rappelling in Shuanghe

Like all other Chinese tourist attractions, there’s commercialization here. Modern buildings made to look ancient, campy sculptures and signs, manicured shops at total odds with the surrounding village, etc. However, the cave itself is thankfully free of clutter, detritus, and reminders of these touristy signposts.

Workers next to Asia's longest cave
Typical scene a few steps off the tourist trail

All in all, I would say that Asia’s longest cave is not worth a visit to Guizhou by itself. However, if you were to pair it with, say, Asia’s largest waterfall and the myriad other attractions that Guizhou offers tourists it would become far more attractive.

Shadows distending in asia's longest cave

It’s not only a look into some of the Earth’s most boisterous natural wonders but also a culture trip which will give you a feel for how rural China actually operates.

next to asia's longest cave
Agriculture and tourism side by side

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