The Thai cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped for 17 days has now reopened as a tourist attraction
- Tourists can now enter the Thai cave where 12 boys and their soccer coach were rescued after spending 17 days trapped inside.
- The cave complex, located in Thailand's northern Chiang Rai province, was previously closed to tourists due to safety concerns and restoration efforts.
- But the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation reopened a portion of the entrance of the cave on Friday so visitors can get a sense of the environment where the daring three-day rescue mission took place.
- The Chiang Rai Public Relations Office said that the 30 people would be allowed to enter the area at a time, with a maximum capacity of 2,000 people per day.
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The Tham Luang cave in Thailand, which was the site of an elaborate rescue mission to extract 12 boys and their soccer coach, is now open to the public as a tourist attraction.
The Chiang Rai Public Relations Office announced on Friday that the entrance of the cave complex would begin to welcome tourists. The office said that the 30 people would be allowed to enter the area at a time, with a maximum capacity of 2,000 people per day.
Jongklai Worapongsathork, the deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, led the reopening ceremony, which was attended by journalists, monks, and government officials.
Jamie Fullerton, a freelance writer, attended the opening ceremony and wrote about his experience for The Guardian. He also posted photos of the ceremony on Twitter, which included cutouts of international rescuers who were instrumental in helping extract the boys from deep inside the cave.
He also documented dozens of visitors lining up to get a peek inside the cave complex, which is connected by a series of winding and narrow passageways.
Vernon Unsworth, the 64-year-old English diver who helped in the rescue mission and who is also locked in a bitter legal battle with Elon Musk, was at the opening ceremony. He told Fullerton that the rescue was the "biggest ever mounted."
"None of us ever gave up. Once there's hope you just keep going. I think what's happened since is a good thing for the area, a good thing for the people. It's brought a lot of hope," he said, according to The Guardian.
According to the Chiang Rai Public Relations Office, the entrance of the cave is guarded by a metal barrier for safety, though visitors can take photos of the attraction from a distance of about 30 meters. The tourist attraction is divided up into three points, including a shrine to honor a mythical princess Jao Mae Nang Non said to inhabit the cave, the mouth where the boys entered the complex, and the exit point.
Officials said at least 2,000 visitors descended on the cave complex on Friday, according to The Bangkok Post.
The 12 boys, known as the Wild Boars soccer team, and their coach visited the cave in June on the anniversary of the rescue to pay their respects to Thai Navy SEAL diver Saman Gunan, who died during the rescue mission. The boys - now aged 12-17 - are said to be doing well.
The daring rescue mission unfolded over 17 days and required the help of thousands of local and international experts, divers, medical staff, and volunteers. The boys entered the cave on June 23 and all of them were safely extracted by July 10 over a meticulously-planned three-day operation.
The cave site, as well as the surrounding area, has seen an increase in business and tourism since the incident and now features an art museum and souvenir shop, according to SBS. About 1.5 million people visited the area in the last year, according to the Bangkok Post.
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