Thai cave turns into tourist attraction after footballers’ rescue
THE dramatic rescue of a youth football team and its coach from a cave in northern Thailand caught the world’s attention from late June to early July.
People everywhere sent their support to the team, called the “Wild Boars,” while the rescuers, consisting of Thai and foreign divers, plus a large number of volunteers worked against the clock to bring them out of the partly flooded cave alive.
The rescue operation finally succeeded to global acclaim for the tireless efforts of those involved, especially the diving team that lost a member. Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died on the way back from his mission inside the cave in Chiang Rai province.
Shortly after the rescue team moved out and the cave area was temporarily closed for rehabilitation, a number of visitors from Chiang Rai and other provinces came to see the scene that they watched via news footage.
An accountant for a company, Akarin Siwong, 38, one of the visitors, said he brought his family and friends to visit Tham Luang Nang Non cave so they could see the place where the boys and coach were trapped.
“We watched and followed the news of the Wild Boars team trapped inside for many days, so it is good to see how it looks in reality,” he said.
Another group of women from Bangkok said they intended to visit after making merit in Chiang Rai because they wanted to see the cave. “I watched television and sent them moral support at the beginning when I heard they were trapped inside,” one of them said.
“The strangers whom I want to meet” was one of popular hashtags on Thai social media before the divers found the boys and their coach. The hashtag was interpreted as a hope to find them alive.
“I’m rejoicing being here to see the cave and to pay my respects to the goddess Nang Non for protecting them while they were trapped,” the woman tourist added.
A local official told Kyodo News that the number of visitors to the area dramatically increased following the rescue, ranging from several hundred to 1000 on weekdays and up to 2000 on weekends.
“Compared with the few visitors here in the past, many more people are coming to Tham Luang Nang Non,” he said, adding that most of them were Thai.
Construction of a museum is under way outside in the vicinity as a memorial to the cave rescue and to Saman, whose statue will be placed in the museum. The large number of visitors is generating income for local people, who have set up shops and stalls selling drinks and local products.
Krongsin Khambunchoo, 35, one of the vendors, began selling drinks and T-shirts in a mobile stall after the authorities allowed local entrepreneurs to set up stalls.
“We started selling around early August, and we’re making good money due to the number of tourists,” she said.
The cave rescue was a miracle for Krongsin, who believed that the boys and coach were saved because of the intercession of the goddess known to local people as Nang Non.
The mountain where the cave is located is shaped like a reclining woman. It was named after an ancient story of a princess who fell in love with a groom in the palace. Due to a prohibition against such liaisons, the lovers decided to flee and hide in the cave.
According to the story, the groom told the princess to wait inside while he went out for food, but he never returned, and she later found out her lover was killed.
The princess, heartbroken, decided to commit suicide with a hairpin, laying down her bloody body in the cave, which came to be called Nang Non, meaning “reclining lady” in Thai.
Thai soldiers walk to a cave during the rescue operation for missing football players and their coach at Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai, Thailand, on June 28.